So Jesus 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 hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and he will go in and go 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. John 10:1-10
This coming Sunday we will observe Christ the King Sunday. Of course, we will hear the famous Gospel from Matthew 25 about the sheep and the goats, those with whom Jesus finds pleasure (or not) on Judgement Day. The sheep in the lesson made me think of the text above from the Gospel of John. In the first verses of this chapter, Jesus talks about the door a shepherd goes through compared to the way a thief or a robber would gain access to the sheepfold. He speaks of the way a shepherd calls his sheep by name and leads them to feed in the pasture. Those sheep, they won't go with a stranger, Jesus said. No, they run from a stranger because they don't know the stranger's voice. That is how the sheep and the shepherd live together.
Do you understand what Jesus is saying? The Pharisees didn't. In fact, John tells us that the premier and educated church leaders of the day "did not understand what Jesus was telling them". They weren't thinking about shepherds and sheep. And, honestly, I would imagine that the majority of you don't dwell on the details of what it means to be a shepherd, or a sheep, either. At least not on a daily basis, right! When you make your way through your week, as you handle stress and responsibilities, when you ponder your troubles and challenges, as you think about family and health and finances and work, when you finally sit down and take a deep breath, I would imagine that your first thought is probably not, "You know, I could really use a shepherd."
Yet, perhaps we should. Because this shepherd in the Gospel of John, Jesus that is, gives us a tremendous promise: abundant life. In Psalm 23 we love hearing that "the Lord is my Shepherd" and that He leads us beside still waters and restores our souls. We love hearing about the tender care given by God, as it is expressed in the Shepherd verses of the Bible; it is beautiful; it is refreshing; but I don't regularly think about it.
Again, we might want to reconsider that and let our thoughts drift toward that shepherd more deliberately. In John’s Gospel we hear many wonderful descriptions of Jesus aside from ‘the good shepherd’: the door, the bread of life, the light, the vine that nourishes the branches….all of that eventually and somehow leads always back to “abundant life”.
What does abundant mean? Especially at a time when our movement is more and more restricted. Let’s think of plentiful - lavish- fruitful- rich- unstinted- ample- luxuriant – liberal- teeming- unmeasured- profuse- generous- overflowing- exuberant- opulent – abounding- chockfull- bountiful- well-provided – full. Yes, all of that. Where in your life today can you insert one or some or all of these expressions? Is the love of your grandchildren unmeasured? Is your spouse providing you with exuberant support in your latest plans? Do you find the food on your table to be opulent? Is your boss profusely praising you for the latest project you finished successfully? Are your friends liberal with their time in reaching out to you – or you to them?
Think about it? Has Covid been able to kill all of the abundance in your life? I hope not. I pray it is not so. It has not for me even though, yeah, some things could be easier. Yet, I still see abundance. Perhaps we have to look a bit longer and deeper. But, it is still there. No? Yes? Thank you, Jesus, for giving us abundant life, good shepherd, and thanks to St. John for reminding us. Amen