"Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep...Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture." John 10
When I was 10 years old, my family lived on the rural edge of Idaho Falls in eastern Idaho, an already very rural and agricultural place. Our home sat on an acre of land and next to the house was a pasture and a barn. Doing what all kids in that place and at that age did, I was enrolled in 4-H, to learn about animal husbandry and to gain some life lessons in responsibility. And behold, I found myself caring for my very own lamb. This was new territory for me as I had not been raised on a farm, and compared to my peers, I had a lot of catching up to do. I had to take the responsibility of feeding the lamb, administering medication and vaccines, daily mucking out the barn, and making sure the animal was clean and content. My overall memory of this time was that of being overwhelmed! Here I was, a young and inexperienced boy, faced with caring for the life and wellbeing of this creature on a daily basis, learning as I went. I remember the lamb being obstinate; it would butt its head at me and run away as I tried to examine it for ticks (of which it ended up having many!). It would flee equally as passionately as I attempted to give its medication. It would even look at me with suspicion as I would go to open the sheep gate for it to get some exercise and to feed in the green pasture. And all of this was ultimately leading up to me being ready to "show" the lamb at the Bonneville County Fair in the hopes of presenting a nicely fattened animal so that it could be shorn for wool and so that I might take home a blue ribbon (I think I got an honorable mention). That was my one and only real foray into the world of shepherding...if you could call it that...but I learned a great deal.
Caring for a lamb was immensely challenging. And so when I read our Gospel from John this week about Jesus being the Good Shepherd, who cares for many sheep, I am enlightened with some real perspective. I think the Evangelist is on to something when we are likened to sheep in need of a shepherd. We, too, can be obstinate. We, too, can butt our heads at people and situations we'd rather not be a part of, though they may well be for our own good. We, too, get dirty and afflicted by our surroundings and would often times rather wallow in it rather than receive a good cleansing. We, too, shirk the medicine that is so needed and good for us. And if one lamb does all that under the care of a ten year old, I marvel at the work of real shepherd with hundreds of sheep, and indeed, the work of our Good Shepherd, Jesus.
Our Gospel this Sunday (John 10:1-10; The Good Shepherd) isn't there to accuse us of being obstinate sheep. Most of us are already fairly well versed in and aware of our failings and our weaknesses. Instead, the Gospel of the Good Shepherd is there to remind us that we are under the care, and the guiding hand, and the loving presence of a skilled shepherd. Even at our most obstinate; even when covered in proverbial, spiritual ticks; even when we shirk the medicine most needed; even when we look with wary eyes at the promise of greener pastures; The Good Shepherd is always by our side to gently guide us right. Maybe one way of looking at this Gospel story is to turn it upside down. Yes, being a shepherd is hard work and takes practiced skill and the patience of the angels. But maybe its also OK to admit that being a sheep is hard. The dangers out there are many. We tend to sabotage ourselves. We don't like to listen, even when we should. But in facing these realities and not just running away, we come to realize we are under the care and guidance of someone who loves us beyond all measure. When these two realizations match up, it's at that moment when we discover that we are invited to enter the sheep gate, and, as the Gospel describes, we are able to find pasture, and to be saved.
"I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."
Yours faithfully in Christ the Good Shepherd, and the Gate,