John 10: 1 – 5
“Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you know he’s up to no good—a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. They won’t follow a stranger’s voice but will scatter because they aren’t used to the sound of it.”
I have some questions as I ponder Jesus’ story:
Who exactly is the gatekeeper? How do they get their job? What do they do while the sheep are out of the pen following the shepherd?
Many will likely assume that today’s application assigns the gatekeeper role to pastors and church leaders. If that is so, I wonder if we can make some observations about the role of the gatekeeper in the story. What we see is that they’re essentially the night-watch-person. While the sheep sleep, they ensure no predators get into the pen. No wolves. No coyotes. No big snakes. No bears. You get the picture.
When the sheep are awake – they are with the shepherd. They know the shepherd’s voice. And they follow the shepherd, even to unknown places, because they are familiar with that voice. They trust that wherever the shepherd leads them, it will be good for them. They will find sustenance there. They will find food and water and they will be safe.
The pen isn’t where the sheep find life – it is only where they sleep.
Lots of gatekeepers I know act as though the pen is the whole show. It is where the teaching happens. It is where the discipleship happens. It is where the growth happens.
That’s not the story Jesus tells.
Jesus paints a picture of sheep roaming the hills with their beloved shepherd. The one who knows where the clover is the sweetest and the water the clearest.
The pen isn’t meant to control the sheep’s life. It’s merely meant to be a safe place to rest up for the next day’s escapades with the shepherd.
If you’re feeling dissonance between what your heart is telling you and what your church is teaching, remember that you’re meant to be galivanting over the hills and through the meadows with your shepherd. If you’re relying on your church leaders to tell you what to believe and what to do, perhaps it’s time to get out of the pen and set out on a Spirit-led adventure. And if the sheep around you want to cling to the pen, maybe you need to step out and find some new mates who love the risk of following the familiar, trustworthy voice of the shepherd into new and generous spaces.
What is familiar about the voice of the shepherd for you?
What new nourishment have you discovered lately?
Remind us that you created us to adventure with you God. Speak deep within our beings the message that is familiar, trustworthy and true. And give us the courage to follow you wherever you choose for our nourishment and joy. Amen.