It is Jesus’ life, given freely and completely, without hesitation, that has made the reality of life to the full possible for each one of us.
Life! That is what the love of God is all about. Life in abundance! Life eternal! This passage comes from the “Good Shepherd” discourse in John’s Gospel. In this discourse, Jesus uses the powerful poetic metaphor of the sheepfold and the Good Shepherd as a brilliant contrast to the leadership of the Pharisees. He compares the Pharisees to robbers and thieves, who have climbed over the wall of the sheepfold, instead of having come through the gate. Jesus reveals that he is both the gate through which the sheep can enter the sheepfold (heaven), and the Good Shepherd that leads them. They follow him because they “know his voice.” The Pharisees have heard the voice (of Jesus), but they do not recognize it and they do not listen to it. The thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy the sheep, whereas, on the other hand, “[Jesus came] that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
There is a paradox here too. For Jesus goes on with the comparison saying that, “A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” (John 10:11-13) The Pharisees, like thieves and robbers, were only interested in themselves, their power, their importance, the honors they felt they were due, but the depth of their faith was that of a hired man. They did not love the people, the sheep, and were unwilling to lay their lives down for the them. They were too self-absorbed. Their only concern was for their own welfare. Because of this, they did not love the people enough to suffer and sacrifice their all for them.
On the other hand, the true Good Shepherd, Jesus, knows his sheep. He knows each one of us by name. His knowledge of each of us is charged by his intimate love for us. He is the One who not only preached about the nature of a good shepherd, he lived it. He walked his talk. He lived so fully for us, for each and every one of us, that he was willing to lay down his life for us, so that we could “have life to the full.” There is the paradox. It is Jesus’ life, given freely and completely, without hesitation, that has made the reality of life to the full possible for each one of us. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calls each one of us by name to enter through him, the gate, into that sheepfold where eternal life, in his loving presence, will be ours.
Here is the unspoken side of the metaphor. Which will we choose to be, the robber/thief, who hears Jesus voice, but does not recognize it and does not listen to it, or will we be the sheep, who hear the Good Shepherd’s voice and follow it home? As John tell us, “The Jews who heard these words were again divided. Many of them said, ‘He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him? But others said, ‘These are not the sayings of a man possesses by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?'” (John 10:19-21)
Lord, open our ears to hear your call. Help us to recognize your voice and to follow you willingly. Protect us from both the corporal and the spiritual wolves who are always ready to attack us. Help us to turn our hearts toward you so that in following you and living openly and joyfully in accord with your words and your deeds, we may help bring other “sheep that are not of this sheep pen” to you. We pray this in your name, Jesus. Amen!
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