11 May 2014John 10:1-10
“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.” (vv. 9-10)
The idea of living a life of abundance perhaps seems a little incongruous with the life of a shepherd - living and working on the hills in all weathers, sleeping under the stars, excluded from the comings and goings of life in the towns.
The previous chapter of John's Gospel tells how Jesus healed a blind beggar on a day that happened to be the Sabbath (John 9:1-41), a day set aside for rest and religious reflection, when work of all kinds was forbidden. Some religious leaders were outraged and declared that Jesus must be doing evil work, as they knew nothing about him. Meanwhile, the man who had been blind saw and believed. Jesus told the religious leaders that they were guilty precisely because they claimed to know God's will - but were more than happy to prioritise rules and regulations over giving someone life in all its fullness through the miraculous gift of healing.
The sheep, Jesus says, will recognise the voice of the true shepherd. He warns us that there will be others who will come like a thief in the night, leading the sheep astray while pretending to have their best interests at heart.
David, before he became a king, started out as a humble shepherd - the youngest in his family. If the sheep were attacked by lions or bears, David would strike them down and rescue the sheep, putting his own life on the line. The good shepherd in Jesus' story takes this dedication to the ultimate conclusion, as Jesus did indeed sacrifice his own life for his sheep - and "no one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:13).
The Pharisees are often portrayed as moustache-twirling villains - but in reality, it's all too easy to fixate on rules and procedures as an airtight way to ensure we are 'doing the right thing' as Christians. But the shepherd doesn't fight off bears and lions or lie down across the gate to the - sheepfold to keep out intruders because he's required to do so by the rules - he does so out of love for his flock.
- What motives can you attribute to the Pharisees (the religious leaders who, in the story, come to steal and kill and destroy)? Were they really all that bad?
- How can we have "life, and have it abundantly" in a world filled with inequality and poverty?