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.
When I was a teacher, one of the things I learnt pretty quickly was that stories with images always helped. There would always be someone who didn’t quite pick up on the image or the concept the first time, so a repetition with a different image would sometimes help. Then there would always be someone for whom the first two images might not have struck a chord, and so the process is repeated again.
It might sound daft, repeat, repeat, repeat, but we all know that this is just one tool that can help to cement an idea. Using slightly different images each time, but with broadly similar meanings, adds to the roundedness of the story and so the teaching can hopefully continue with a sense that everyone knows what is being explored or discussed.
But, when we see something like this written down in our bible passages, we can sometimes get caught up in thinking each image is designed to mean something different. Our passage today is one such example. Jesus is talking to the Pharisees using an illustration to make his point. He chooses something familiar to them, a sheepfold, a shepherd and his sheep. But they do not understand, so Jesus repeats his point more directly.
Jesus uses the image of a gatekeeper for a flock of sheep first AND then also a shepherd who is committed to the wellbeing of his sheep. Jesus is identifying himself as one who is able to keep away predators and one with whom they have a relationship and trust him to lead them safely. The shepherd knows the sheep and provides for them, and the gatekeeper stops the predators from entering into the fold.
We are followers of Jesus, part of his ‘flock’. He, as shepherd, leads us and provides for us; and he, as gatekeeper, protects us. And to all who stick with him, who reject persuasive arguments, distractions and many other things that can lead us away from him, Jesus offers – indeed, promises – his risen life, a life of abundance.