Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Trying to take this all in

"Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers."

Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come 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.

 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.

“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father."

- John 10:1-18

I once saw a drawing a child had made of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. A wolf was about to attack the flock, and Jesus was flinging himself between the wolf and the sheep with an expression of fierce anger, holding out his staff to frighten the wolf away. It was a gripping image.

This sheep-and-shepherd imagery may be hard for us as Americans to grasp, especially if we live in the suburbs or the city. Yet I still find it one of the most compelling. Granted, it doesn’t give us humans a lot of credit for our intelligence, but maybe that’s OK. At the end of the day, we all feel lost and in need of a rescuer and protector.

Today I’m struck by this verse: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Let’s remember this verse as we plunge inexorably toward the relative gloom of Holy Week. The entire Christian story is about life, not death. Death is subsumed in the abundant life Jesus gives through his willingness to sacrifice himself.

Here’s my very favorite song about living life abundantly: “Senses Working Overtime” by XTC.

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