4th Sunday of Easter | Year A
Jesus said: ‘I tell you most solemnly, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold through the gate, but gets in some other way is a thief and a brigand. The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the flock; the gatekeeper lets him in, the sheep hear his voice, one by one he calls his own sheep and leads them out. When he has brought out his flock, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow because they know his voice. They never follow a stranger but run away from him: they do not recognize the voice of strangers.’
Jesus told them this parable but they failed to understand what he meant by telling it to them. So Jesus spoke to them again:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
I am the gate of the sheepfold.
All others who have come
are thieves and brigands;
but the sheep took no notice of them.
I am the gate.
Anyone who enters through me will be safe:
he will go freely in and out
and be sure of finding pasture.
The thief comes
only to steal and kill and destroy.
I have come
so that they may have life
and have it to the full.’
In New Zealand we are used to sheep in large flocks, each one anonymous except perhaps for an ear tag. Some people have small flocks and may know each sheep by name.
Farmers with large flocks and people with a few sheep both care for their sheep with passion and skill. What we don’t really know is whether it makes a difference being a sheep in a small flock, known by name, and with an individual relationship with the carer, compared to being a sheep in a large flock whose primary relationship is with other sheep (and possibly the sheep dog).
The metaphor Jesus uses relates to the small flocks of his time, each flock looked after by a shepherd who knew the sheep individually. The personal relationship with the shepherd carer is at the heart of his message, and it reaches deep into our human psyche. Each of us needs to be known by others, because that is the foundation for the relationships which sustain us and enable us to “have life to the full”.
One of the fears the elderly may have when going into a rest home is that they will lose their identity; that after having built up a network of relationships in the community over a lifetime, no one will know who they are among the many elderly in the home.
Being known is not just about our name being known. We are truly known when people are aware of our life history, our family connections, our community networks, our accomplishments and even our failures. That is the kind of relationship Jesus is offering us, with an even deeper dimension. Our true self is completely known to him, in a way we may not even know ourselves. This is the “knowing” he means when he talks about the sheep being called “one by one” by one by the shepherd.
We don’t reveal ourselves to everyone, and only a few people may know us really well. It is very different in our relationship with Jesus. In that relationship no part of us is unknown to him. We do not fully know ourselves, and one of the very fulfilling aspects of our relationship with Jesus is his revelation to us of ourselves.
The relationship we have with Jesus the Shepherd has the potential to be the most honest and transparent relationship of our lives, the gate to “having life and having life to the full”.