1 August 2017

John 10:1-10

“The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” (v. 3)

Psalm: Psalm 46


On a quick reading it may appear that theological reflection using the motif of the shepherd and sheep in John's Gospel becomes stretched a little too far, especially here. Just who is Jesus supposed to be in relation to the sheep: the shepherd, the gate, the gatekeeper? Yet it is best to resist assigning Jesus to one of the roles too quickly. The pastoral images, both over-familiar and culturally distant, warrant time and attention. It is in the complexity, overlap and interplay of images that the writer explores a central theme of the Gospel: the relationship between Jesus and those under his care.

Jesus, here, seems to be all three: the shepherd, the gate and the gatekeeper. He is the one who approaches the sheep directly and in the proper manner (unlike a thief or a bandit). He is the legitimate shepherd and the sheep belong to him. He is also the gate, the one who defines what a proper approach is and the means by which the sheep leave their pen and discover all they need to live. He is the way to their salvation. Jesus is also the gatekeeper, the one who makes it possible, the one who opens the gate and leads them to abundant life. He is the one who brings their salvation. Although Jesus does not directly claim the title for himself, he speaks of his person and mission in ways that take up and extend common understandings of the Messiah. He is both the Messiah and the one who establishes the criteria for who the Messiah is and what the Messiah does.

However, that is not all: his people recognise him as such. He calls the sheep by name and they recognise his voice. At a deep level revelation occurs as those who follow Jesus know who he is and respond when he calls them by name. They know his voice and are prepared to follow where he leads. This idea of almost instinctive recognition flows through the Gospel. Even when Jesus' followers are confused, lost or floundering, they still have the ability to recognise Jesus when he calls them even if they do not always have the capacity to respond.

To Ponder

  • What has helped you to recognise God's call and presence in your life?
  • What does this passage tell you about Jesus that helps us you recognise his presence with his people today?
  • When surrounded by multiple voices and different perspectives, what helps you to discern the 'voice' of God day by day? 

Bible notes author

The Revd Nicola Price-Tebbutt

Nicola Price-Tebbutt is a presbyter in the Methodist Church. She has previously served in circuit in Sheffield and as a tutor at Hartley Victoria College in Manchester.