THIS BLOG PROVIDES A MEDITATION ON THE EPISCOPAL DAILY READINGS ALONG WITH A HEADLINE FROM WORLD NEWS
PALESTINE TELLS OBAMA-YOU HAVE CLOSED THE DOOR ON US
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. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ 6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7 So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
11 ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes* it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.’
There are two splendid images here of Jesus. Because one of them is so well known-the good shepherd-the other-Jesus as the gate-is often ignored. The image of the good shepherd picks up the ambiguity of Israel’s royal tradition. Leaders of Israel were called “shepherd” from earliest times; King David was remembered as originally a shepherd boy; the prophet Ezekiel used the image of shepherd for God, as did the writer of Psalm 23. Not all the human kings had been good shepherds and John imagines Jesus as the perfect fulfillment of this tradition, especially of the promise of Ezekiel that God would himself come to shepherd his flock. Of course the tradition had been nationalistic-God was Israel’s shepherd- but John reports Jesus insisting that he has another flock, the Gentiles, which will be united in one fold with the flock of Israel.
John has Jesus distinguish between his own shepherding and that of the kings and maybe of contemporary religious leaders, of Israel.
1. The sheep know his voice. It is the authentic voice of truth to which people respond.
2. He knows how to lead them to sources of true nourishment. The life Jesus offers is “abundant”
3. He recognizes the enemies of the flock and is ready to lay down his life for their safety. The passion of Jesus for the life of his people leads to his “passion” his suffering and death on the cross.
These are the marks of true leadership in all spheres of life, including politics.
Jesus is also the “gate” of the sheepfold. In this image the sheepfold is God’s household to which Jesus gives entry. In one sense this is restrictive: Jesus is the way in. Those who want to enter must be prepared to take this way. In another sense it is open and inclusive since Jesus invites all, without restriction, to come in through him.
Lately my church used the slogan “church without walls” as a challenge for the church to be more open. I was never convinced it was a good slogan. The church has walls, or fences, otherwise who would need a gate? The walls are the distinctive convictions and customs of the Jesus community. But Jesus himself, the gate is forever open to newcomers. This is like the image of the holy city in the Book of Revelation. It is a walled city, but its twelve gates are always open in all directions.