4 Easter – May 3, 2020
This morning Jesus speaks to us about shepherds, sheep and gates. In fact, he says that he is the gate. “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.”
I think it may help to understand shepherding and sheep and how it all worked back in that day. Once the sheep have been herded and are back in their fenced in area for the night – which is the most dangerous time for sheep – herders in that part of the world would lay their own bodies down for a night’s rest in the gap of the fence. In this way, the body of the shepherd literally serves as the gate, protecting the sheep from danger. Notice that Jesus describes himself in this passage as both the gatekeeper of the sheepfold and as the gate itself.
Jesus’ images of himself as a gatekeeper, and as the gate, underscores the fact that his way is one of hospitality, not of threat. The gate—the one that Christ opens to us, the one that Christ himself is—does not open by way of force. The entry becomes compelling because of the one who offers it, who opens it to us as a way of blessing. “I came that they may have life,” Jesus proclaims, “and have it abundantly.”
It may be difficult right now to hold on to the concept of abundant life. You may be thinking, that’s all well and good, but we’re in the middle of a pandemic. What is abundant life?
Well, Jesus is sharing the metaphors of shepherd and sheep and gate during a time when people were displaced, felt uprooted, adrift in a threatening world. Does that feel familiar? Jesus takes great pains to promise that he is the good shepherd, that he will provide protection and sustenance, that he will lay down his life for his charges.
Notice that Jesus is also talking about the sheep listening to and knowing the shepherd’s voice. This is all about relationship. Jesus not only says that he is the good shepherd, he also reminds the sheep that they know him, that they’ve trusted him, and that they will continue to trust him. That they will be able to tell the difference between false hope and real hope. This is a story that is about the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep. Perhaps this is Jesus’ version of “I’ve got you” and “You’ve got this”.
Jesus is making a promise about what he is doing for us – protecting, providing, caring, sacrificing, and giving life; and also a promise about how we will respond – by trusting, listening, embracing, thriving. Something to think about. How do we, how are we, responding to Jesus’ promise?
Last Sunday we looked at the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus and how Jesus walks alongside of us, all of us, whether we notice his presence or not. Today we hear a story about Jesus operating very much like a shepherd. Shepherds walked the roads and the pathways with their sheep––leading them to green pastures––keeping them from danger––talking to them––calling them by name.
And today we hear that Jesus is a gate. Literally laying down his life for the sheep. His protective presence is with us through the day and through the dangerous dark night. The Good Shepherd goes before us to prepare the way, which means there is no place that we go that the Shepherd hasn’t already been. There may be hardships, there may be mishaps, there may be struggles but the Good Shepherd has already seen those and knows how to help us negotiate through the treacherous territory. He has already prepared a way for us to get through. All we have to do is continue to listen to His voice. To trust in the promises of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
So, listen to the confidence in the voice of Jesus saying to us all at this very difficult time….saying “You’ve got this” …..because, of course, we already trust in the voice of Jesus saying to each and every one of us “I’ve got you”. You are my sheep and “I’ve got you”. Thanks be to God! Amen.