This passage in John is familiar but confusing. It is familiar because for the most part we have a good idea of Jesus as a shepherd…although none of us have been shepherds and probably don’t even know a shepherd…we have some sort of image we have inherited/created.
But why is it difficult? Well, Jesus doesn’t just talk about himself as a shepherd. What else does he say he is? A gate! In the first part, he talks about himself being a shepherd who walks through the gate, but in the second part he says he is the gate that the sheep walk in and out of to find pasture.
This passage also comes on the heels of the story in which Jesus heals the man blind from birth. If you remember that story, the parents were afraid of getting too involved in the whole matter because the religious authorities were kicking would-be followers of Jesus out of the synagogues.
John puts this teaching of Jesus’ in his book to addresses such treatment. So, right away, we are aware of who the sneaky thieves and killers are and we understand what they are doing. Jesus is condemning anyone who is trying to steal away his sheep. He is also flexing his authority as to who is the only sheriff in town and giving his followers hope and comfort.
Jesus is saying that there have been many leaders throughout time (past, present, and future) who have tried to influence God’s People. Some have truly heard God’s voice (Moses, Elijah, David, etc.) and led the people wisely. But many more have tried to imitate the Shepherd’s voice in order to manipulate God’s Sheep.
These false shepherds are wolves who don’t love the sheep; they want to use the sheep to fulfill their own desires. They claim they know Jesus or God or Truth, but they did not come through the Gate—they do not know Jesus, God, or the Truth.
This scripture warns us that there is only one gate of salvation and that is Jesus. Jesus warns his flock that there are many deceiving people and ideas out there—their intent is not for our well-being, but our destruction for their enrichment.
But I want us to look at the verses from Peter, too. The connection is that Peter tells the Church that they were once scattered sheep…we, Gentiles, we weren’t even in the sheep pen…we were out in the wilderness, untamed and reckless.
The Good Shepherd collected us in—brought us into his sheepfold—teaching us to know his voice and follow his lead. And what is his specific lesson, here? Peter tells us: when good things happen to you because you have practiced good…you’ve received your reward; when bad things happen to you because you practiced bad…you’ve received your reward; yet when bad things happen to you because you practiced good…that is the Way of Christ. This is when we can identify with Jesus’ experience on Earth. When you are beaten for Truth, endure it. When you are abused for Truth, do not return abuse. When you suffer for Truth, do not threaten. Let God be the Judge of such things.
But I had a strong gut reaction…the command Peter gives is not the Church culture I know (Peter must see the same thing and that is why he writes about it). That is not the thinking I hear. That is not the heart I see lived out day to day. We are Fighting Sheep. We not only kick, spit, and bite when someone does it to us, sometimes we respond with vengeance before anything happens—better to get them first before they get us. “We’ve got to defend ourselves!” And we’ve created so many holy justifications as to why we should defend ourselves.
And yet, what is missed…are the words of Jesus…of John and Peter. We miss the example Jesus set before us…and that John followed…that Peter followed. Turn the other cheek…love your enemies…let God be their Judge.
As our culture continues to move away from the Christian foundations it was built upon, we will continue to see ever-increasing anti-Christian attitudes and actions. So far, the Church’s response has not been good: we are complaining; we are arguing (internal/external); we are being political; we are suing; and so many other ugly things.
We have lost the message. We have gotten “off track.” We have lost the message because we have gotten “off track.” “We’ve got to defend ourselves!” No, no we don’t. Actually, if we want to be Biblical, we mark our faith by not defending ourselves!
My fellow sheep, how do we get back on track? My friends, how do reclaim the message? …It starts with us hearing the Shepherd’s voice? In us following him in where he wants to lead us, in following him by the manner he wants us to follow.
Chuck and Pat munch grass at their favorite spot of the pasture. There’s a lot of clover, here, and it’s far enough away from the rest of the flock that they can’t be overheard. Between bites Chuck starts with his litany of wrongs he has endured at the hands of others in the flock. “I don’t know what Paul’s problem is, but I deserve better than to be treated this way. I was doing a good thing…just wasn’t good enough for Paul, I guess.” (Chuck had a choice in how he was going to respond to being treated. Chuck chose to cry victim and is wanting some comradery with Pat in anti-Paul sentiment…rather than being consoled by being united with Jesus in being treated poorly for doing good.)
Pat just shakes her head, “I see it all the time. The government is the same way. They are taking away our flock rights and aren’t allowing us graze and bleat the way we used to do.” (Pat had her choice, too. She could have exhorted her friend to better follow Christ. Instead, she mirrored the same negative behavior.)
The Good News is that we have a Savior who loves us none-the-less. We have a shepherd who wants to train us and lead us to better pastures. His love is not dependant on our perfection. His love is a result of his perfection.
Jesus is the only way to find eternal salvation—he is the gate of Life. Jesus is our shepherd and we will know his voice—he leads us in and out taking us to rich pastures. But we have work to do—we have room to grow—in how we deal with being treated poorly. We can easily get scattered through our sense of justice or the way things ought to be for us. We must learn to be sheepishly good. We must learn Christ.