John 10: 1-10
‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them.
I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.John 10: 1-10
Lockdown walks are proving very interesting. Should you really stop and join that 40 metre queue at the shop? For milk and a few other basic essentials.? How long does it take for roughly 20 people to come out of a shop before you can go in? So you resolve to stroll along and maybe try elsewhere, whatever the result.
On my outward and return walk home, more people seem to be wearing face masks, but even these are changing, becoming less structured, some seem improvised, scarfs etc. they are now “face coverings.”
Through the gate back at the front door, I wash my hands in hand sanitiser, go to the kitchen and make a tea or coffee. It’s good to be home. I relax. It’s here I feel safe. That scenario is probably something we all feel.
There is something of the moment in all of these things. Outside or inside our homes in these times, we want to feel safe, and currently of course, it’s natural that we want to absolutely minimise the risks of catching or passing the coronavirus to someone else.
There is that tension and psychological sense that “outside” there is risk and at “home” we are somehow “safe.”
All of this, of course, has to be noted within the bounds of perspective and reality. Fifty years ago, an aunt of mine was a young, capable and energetic nursing sister on a constantly busy ward, in a very busy Belfast hospital- at the height of the Troubles. She understood the fragility of life, its sorrows and its joys; losses and hope. She knew life’s risks, but one of my fondest memories of her was encapsulated in a common phrase that she used with a sense of laugher “you can’t wrap yourself up in cotton wool.”
We are always challenged in how we live our lives. Today’s gospel takes us into the territory of not cotton wool but real wool! Sheep.
In John’s gospel, in this morning’s parable, we meet with sheep. Right at the start, these sheep are safe in the sheepfold, content in their normal environment –it’s a safe place for them. They know their shepherd is keeping watch over them; he is the gate keeper. The shepherd knows them best, in fact, he knows each one of them. When the shepherd is with them they are safe and graze happily.
Yet it is not always like this. Jesus warns that there are other people who want to come in through the gate, or maybe over it, but these people do not have the sheep’s interests at heart. The problem is they don’t know their sheep. Because at the core of being a good shepherd is that ability to know and take interest in your sheep on an individual basis. That is all about taking time to build relationship. The uncommitted shepherds, thieves and bandits don’t have that as part of their agenda. They want the quick deal or other things.
Jesus explains to those who have ears to hear; I am the gate. I am the one who says to you, look – this is the time to stay in my shadow, to stay behind me and behind the gate. Or he says, look I am opening the gate for you, you go ahead and push on and I am at your back. Either way, Jesus’ promise of protection, love and hope is given to all.
We are beckoned, in John’s Gospel, to stay within the protection of Jesus who is the gate. We are to step in through the gate of faith and into the life that is found in Jesus, into the life found in Christ.
That abundant life in God means we are free to safely come and go in life, in God’s world.
That when we leave behind our small sheep like “security”, we find in God the complete security of who we are and what we can be.
“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”John 10.10