Recent research reveals that the grunts, bellows, squeals and “wheeze honks” made by hippos are not meaningless noises but the language they use to communicate. Scientists recorded the sounds and then played them back from the shore of the lake where the hippos gathered. The response was immediate, and the sound of unknown hippos produced loud and frequent calls with plenty of territorial dung spraying. Clearly the hippos could tell the difference between friends, neighbours and strangers.
Similarly, its often the way we speak to each other that gives us clues as to how to respond. We’ll warm instantly to a familiar voice but be wary of a stranger’s. Jesus used this idea to help his disciples work out who to follow in life. He told them that just as sheep only follow the voice of their shepherd, so they should be careful only to follow his voice as he was the Good Shepherd. But how were they to know for sure? Jesus told them that the Good Shepherd would lay down his life for the sheep and that more than that, he would call them his friends.
Christians today follow the same shepherd and for the same reason. Jesus did indeed lay down his life for us; and he still invites us to be his friends.