GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
So in John 10:1-10 the Gospel reads as follows:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber; but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.
To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.
A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers."
This figure Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So Jesus again said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them.
I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
So obviously you can see that there is a lot going on with this particular passage.
Let me just try to walk through it image by image and line by line and shed some light on it from its first century Jewish context.
So the first thing I want to highlight here is that John refers to this teaching that Jesus is giving here as a paroimia.
That is the Greek word; it means a figure of speech.
It is very similar to what we see in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, where Jesus will give parabole
— in other words parables.
Because in the parables, Jesus compares one thing to another.
Usually he's comparing something to the Kingdom of God.
So he will say “the Kingdom of God is like X” or “the Kingdom of God is like Y” or “the Kingdom of God is like Z.”
So in this case Jesus is doing the same thing here.
He's giving us a figure of speech that involves a comparison, but it is not called a parable — although you could maybe call it that…like the parable of the shepherd o the sheep or whatnot.
So each of the images in this figure of speech — just like in the parables — is a comparison that is meant to have a particular meaning.
So in order to understand it you have to understand what the images are.
So if you look at it line by line there, first Jesus uses the image of a sheepfold.
Now as far as we can tell, based on ancient sources and ancient writings, what Jesus is describing is a little stone enclosure that they would often have — sometimes in the middle of the village — where they could keep the sheep safely for the night.
It would be a stone enclosure with one gate or one entryway into the sheepfold.
So the shepherds could bring their sheep there for the night and they would lock the gate and then there would be a gatekeeper — he mentions him —who would watch over the sheep for the night so that thieves or strangers — as Jesus also mentions — wouldn't break in and steal the sheep.
Sheep were a precious commodity in the ancient world.
They were the lifeblood of ancient Israelite society and so thievery was something that would happen — you wouldn’t want thieves to break in.
And what Jesus is describing here though is that unlike the thief who would break in to steal and kill, the true shepherd is going to come and call his sheep to him.
So he says that when he would go in the morning to collect his sheep he would “call out his own sheep by name” and then “lead them out of the sheepfold.”
And what writers who have studied this have said — I don't know because I am not a shepherd, but this is what I'm told — is that this is in fact the.
Shepherds will use particular voices.
They will give particular names to the sheep so that they can call their own sheep.
So that even if the sheep were mixed into a sheepfold with other sheep from other shepherds, that the particular sheep belonging to the true shepherd would know his voice and they would know their name.
So he can go in and call their names and then they would come out and they would follow him out.
So that's what Jesus is doing here in this figure of speech.
He's basically giving a parable or a figure that is drawing on the common experience of shepherding in the first century A.D. in his society.
However, what it says here is that the audience doesn't really understand what he is talking about.
They don’t understand to what does this apply.
“What is the meaning of this little story you are giving here?”
So Jesus, also like in the other Gospels, has to explain it.
He has to make explicit what the meaning of the parable is.
So he goes on to say “Amen, Amen, I say to you, I am the door.”
So he compares himself here to the gate that leads into the sheepfold or that leads out as well.
“I am the gate. I am the door.
All who came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep didn't listen to them.
I am the gate; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”
So notice, that is the key right there.
Jesus isn't talking about an ordinary shepherd or an ordinary sheepfold or an ordinary gate, he's talking about being saved.
He's talking about eternal life, and he's comparing himself to the gate through which the sheep will go out in order to enter into the pastures, in order to find pasture.
So the pastureland is a symbol for eternal life, the gate becomes a symbol for access to eternal life and Jesus is, in a sense, using a double metaphor here.
He's both the authentic shepherd who is going to lead the sheep out to pasture, and he is the gate, he is the way of access to eternal life.
Now you might say, “why would he say something like this?”
It is kind of strange to say that everyone who came before me were thieves and robbers, right?
Well it is strange unless you know your Old Testament.
Now in this case, because it's Easter, we don't have an Old Testament reading.
However, I would encourage you in this instance to go back to the Old Testament.
I just want to read you one Old Testament text because here Jesus, in John 10, is explicitly alluding to a prophecy about bad shepherds from the Old Testament.
It's in the book of Ezekiel 34:2-6, so just listen to this for just a moment and you will get a sense of the background of why Jesus gives us this metaphor, this figure of speech.
In the book of Ezekiel, the prophetess is prophesying against the wicked leaders of Israel, in particular the priests who have become corrupt.
And he compares the priests to shepherds, he calls them shepherds, and this is what he says:
Thus says the Lord God: Ho, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?
You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep.
The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the crippled you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.
So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the wild beasts.
My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.
Now Jesus’ allegory makes sense.
What's he doing?
When he says that “everyone who came before him was a thief”, he's talking about the previous leaders of Israel.
He is talking about the leaders of Jerusalem and he is saying that they were inauthentic shepherds, but he is going to be the authentic shepherd, a true shepherd who is going to care for the salvation of the sheep, who is going to lead them out into good pasture, into the pasture of eternal life.
Now here's where the rub is with this particular image.
For Jesus to refer to himself as the gate to eternal life and to even imply that he is the shepherd who is going to call the sheep out by name is a mysterious thing, because when you go back to the Old Testament, the same chapter from the book of Ezekiel, it uses the image of a shepherd not only to describe the future Messiah, but also to describe God himself.
In other words, if you keep going in the book of Ezekiel 34, it says this in verse 11:
thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep; and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness…So what is going on here? Well basically, God here is saying that although the people of Israel have been scattered among the Gentile nations because of the wicked leaders of Israel at the time of the Prophet, one day he's going to come as shepherd and he's going to call out to the sheep. He is going to bring them together, he’s going to gather them from the four corners and he is going to lead them to good pasture. He is going to lead them to green pastures. In other words, he is going to give them eternal life. So that's what Jesus is alluding to. He's taking the imagery from the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel and he's applying it to himself. He is both the true shepherd and he's also the gateway that's going to lead them out to pasture and to eternal life. And notice what he says there, that God is going to rescue the sheep on a “day of clouds and thick darkness.” Well what day might that be? Well if you look at the Gospels, the day of clouds and thick darkness is the day of the crucifixion. It is the passion and the death of Jesus Christ. That is how he is going to save his sheep. So this is a mysterious passage. It's a bit of a difficult passage, but I think it shows you here that in the Gospel of John, Jesus is once again revealing that he is not just the Messiah, he's the divine son of God. He is God come in person to seek out the lost, to save the lost sheep of the house of Israel and to bring them into green pastures of eternal life. That's what the good Shepherd does