John 10: 7 – 18
“I’ll be explicit, then. I am the Gate for the sheep. All those others are up to no good—sheep stealers, every one of them. But the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for—will freely go in and out, and find pasture. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.
“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary. A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. He’s only in it for the money. The sheep don’t matter to him.
“I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. In the same way, the Father knows me and I know the Father. I put the sheep before myself, sacrificing myself if necessary. You need to know that I have other sheep in addition to those in this pen. I need to gather and bring them, too. They’ll also recognize my voice. Then it will be one flock, one Shepherd. This is why the Father loves me: because I freely lay down my life. And so I am free to take it up again. No one takes it from me. I lay it down of my own free will. I have the right to lay it down; I also have the right to take it up again. I received this authority personally from my Father.”
Jesus carries on with his sheep metaphor in today’s text. As Jesus identifies himself as the source of care and freedom, he differentiates himself from those who seek to control, take, and limit the ways another can navigate life. In Jesus’ way, sheep freely go in and out and find sustenance. In Jesus’ way, sheep experience a better life than they ever dreamed of.
Notice in this text that Jesus is not asking the sheep to lay down their life – but that Jesus will lay down his life.
In other parts of scripture we are exhorted to take up our cross and follow Jesus. And anyone who has tried to follow Jesus recognizes that life can be challenging and often marked by suffering. But in this text, we are reminded that it is Jesus, God incarnate, who lays themselves down for us – and does so in the context of us having freedom and abundant life.
Jesus know his sheep personally. When I pray – or simply when I’m struggling to connect to my own belovedness – I often remember that God knows our name and counts the hairs on our head. This is intimate knowing. And in this intimate knowing, Jesus offers freedom to flourish. The sheep come and go freely – finding what is needed to flourish. God is for us. God longs for us to experience abundant life.
Good shepherds love it when their sheep are healthy.
So if what you’re hearing isn’t actually helping you flourish …. maybe you need to question whether it is actually the Good Shepherd speaking.
Reflect on a time you felt you were really flourishing. What helped you experience abundant life in that situation?
What might you need now to feel more free to flourish?
When we have heard messages that have shamed, controlled, or prevented us from fully experiencing abundant life, it can be hard to trust that you really desire that for us God. When life is difficult and the idea of flourishing seems so remote and inaccessible, it can be challenging to believe that you want more for us. Remind us that you are trustworthy and true. And love us today in a way that we can perceive and receive – and share. Amen.