27 April 2010

John 10:1-18

"He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out." (v.3)


So often sheep, in our culture, are seen as rather stupid animals. The old TV programme One Man and his Dog used to show the shepherds working with their dogs who, on hearing their master's whistle, would move the sheep from one place to another and ultimately collect them together in a pen.

The picture painted in today's passage in John's Gospel seems to give a different impression. Here the sheep are credited with some sense of their own. Harry Morton (a travel writer of the early 20th century) explains how shepherds in the time of Jesus did not work with sheep dogs. They had to work the sheep themselves. Morton explains how the shepherd would use a variety of sounds to call the sheep and the sheep would respond. There could even be two flocks together and, as the two shepherds called their own sheep, the sheep would respond and divide into their respective flocks.

If Morton is correct then these verses from John's Gospel about the sheep hearing and responding to the voice of the shepherd make sense. It suggests the sheep know which shepherd they belong to. They follow, not because they are being rounded up by a sheep dog, but because they know that the shepherd is going to lead them to the right places.

The idea of the sheep freely responding to the voice of the shepherd is more compatible with the gospel - the good news of Jesus. Jesus does not force us to follow but calls us and we can choose whether we respond to him or whether we listen to the alternative voices in our contemporary society that clamour for attention.

To Ponder

In what ways do you try to hear Jesus speaking to you?

Where do you think Jesus is trying to lead you to in today's culture?

What, for you, are the other 'voices' that compete with the call of Jesus to follow?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Christine Jones

Christine Jones, an ordained Methodist minister, is currently director of the Urban Theology Unit in Sheffield, a centre which emphasises the importance of bringing theology and contemporary culture together. At UTU she is responsible for preordination training, teaching on the Foundation Degree, MA and supervising MPhil PhD students.