“But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.” (John 10:5)
This week’s reading speaks to the nature of trust. The sheep only go after the Lord because He isn’t a stranger, which means they would have had to meet Him enough times to not only learn what He sounded like, but that he is trustworthy. That’s a very similar process to growing in our own discipleship. God initiates the encounter with us and He doesn’t expect us to know He is safe from our first interaction.
In a way, salvation history is a testament to the slow building of trust between God and His people. This is likely why Jesus came to the Jews first. They had centuries of encounters for them to know who God is and be able to recognize His voice. Not all of the Chosen People followed Him, but their hearts were the most ready to accept Him because they had heard God's voice for generations.
It's the same way today on an individual level. For some of us, this process begins in childhood, as we grow up in a family or community that teaches us about God and models a relationship with Him. Some people don’t have that communal trust built before meeting God, but they do have a different grace that helps convict them later in life. But for anyone, a true relationship with God needs a foundation of personal encounters that show us that God is good and wants what's best for us.
All this is to say that faith is a gift that we need to cultivate to its fullest bloom by spending time with the Lord. God may come to us first, and is patient wherever wounds make trusting difficult for us, but we cannot know that He is safe to follow unless we learn what He is like.
That can be comforting, especially if people in our lives have taken advantage of our trust in the past. We know that God won’t give up on us and will work with us through our trepidations. It does, eventually, require us to push past our fears to be vulnerable and to believe that God won’t lead us astray. So it’s good to not follow the voices we don’t know, but it’s also necessary to get to know the Good Shepherd's voice by spending time with Him.