John 10. 1-16
7 Therefore Jesus said again, ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a] They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
11 ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
The gospel reading this week shows us a clear image of Jesus as the Saviour, Guide and Protector, through a metaphor of shepherd. Nowadays shepherd is a rare job, not only in this country but also in the Middle Eastern countries. In my visit to the Holy Land last February, I hardly saw sheep in the field, and shepherds either. But, it was an important job in the past and shepherds had got crucial roles and responsibilities in sheep farming, particularly as they had to travel afar with a flock of sheep to find the green pastures. But, it wasn’t a popular job at all, because the work was hard, and the working environment was very tough. Therefore, they were the people who belonged to one of the lowest classes in society, despised and neglected. However, it is interesting to see that in the Scriptures, shepherd is often described as an image of ideal king or leader. We see an example from Ezekiel 34, saying, “I myself will tend my sheep and make them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.”
It is a clear picture, which shows the role of the king through that of the shepherd. We see the image of shepherd is used here to describe the model king, not because of its status, but because of its nature. So, it is interesting to see that the role of the highest job is to be explained through the role of the lowest one. It’s very symbolic, and a metaphor which tells us of what kind of leader he or she should be. And, Jesus never hesitated to use this title ‘shepherd’ to describe himself, saying ‘I am the shepherd, and the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture’. It is actually what the shepherd does. It is said that in many Middle Eastern sheepfolds, shepherds often lie down at night in the gateway, to stop the sheep getting out, and to stop predators getting in. It is an important job to keep them safe. But, what we need to notice is that Jesus is not just talking about the safety of life by locking them in, but also about the fulfilment of life, as he says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly”.
Well, you may find it not easy to accept this passage as it is, as most of us are just managing to live everyday life in lockdown and find certain items are far from abundant. You may say it is far from abundant life. However, what we need to remember is that Jesus, as the shepherd and the gate, will lead us out to the green pastures, where the abundant life (the life to the full) can be experienced. The only question to us is whether we listen to his voice and follow him alone. One of the issues we face today is that there are too many voices around us, and we are constantly annoyed by the news and information, unchecked or source-unknown. Even in this time of unprecedented pandemic crisis, we are to hear so many voices, of which some are unproved or contradictory, and therefore, we are easily confused or distracted so much. Not only that, but also if we look at the commercials and adverts, what they are saying is too good to be true. The former bishop of Durham, Tom Wright says, “The modern world has discovered how unsatisfying materialism really is, and is looking for something more, something beyond. Many thieves have told lies, and have deceived the sheep, stolen them and left them for dead. The call today to Jesus’ true sheep is to listen for his voice, and to find in him and him alone the life, which is overflowing life indeed”.
Are we listening to the right voice, then?
Let us pray.
Lord Jesus, we thank you that you have called us to be part of your flock. So, help us to continue to hear your voice, to hear your leading: who we should contact, and what we should pray for. And, help us to know that we are not alone, and open our eyes to the abundance of your presence with us. Amen.