The Sheep That Have a Name

By Jennifer Woodruff Tait

April 29, 2023

Scripture — John 10:1-10 (NRSV)

Jesus said, “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.”


Be assured that your good shepherd cares for you. He knows you by name, and he will be your gate, your bread, your light, your life, your true vine, and your way.


In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes a number of statements about his identity which have come to be known as the “I Am” statements. More familiar to us than today’s are perhaps “I am the bread of life” and “I am the light of the world.” In fact, pretty much all of the rest of them may be more familiar to you than today’s:

  • “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11—directly after this passage ends)
  • “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25)
  • “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6)
  • “I am the true vine” (John 15:1)

Nevertheless, here on what some folks at my church like to call “Sheep Sunday,” Jesus is asking us to consider what it means that he is the gate for the sheep. It ties in with the point he will momentarily make about being the good shepherd, of course. One of the things a good shepherd does, apparently, is open the door for the sheep so that they can go in and out and graze. But that’s not all. Jesus doesn’t open the gate to let the sheep in and out and then leave them to wander on their own. No; he calls out the names of the sheep and leads them himself.

Many of us are used to naming dogs and cats and maybe even guinea pigs and fish. But I have to admit that I had not thought really deeply about naming sheep. When I encounter sheep, they are usually in large bunches and I am in their way because I have accidentally wandered into where they are grazing. Nevertheless, I know, because I have met relatives of my husband in the Shetland Islands who are sheep farmers, that they do name their sheep and lambs, that they tenderly care for them and worry about them, and their sheep do in fact know their voice—and run when they come to open the barn door.

The world continues to be a worrisome place, and you may feel as though you are being overtaken by thieves and bandits. Be assured that your good shepherd cares for you. He knows you by name, and he will be your gate, your bread, your light, your life, your true vine, and your way.


Where does Jesus let you out?

Where does he let you in?

Where and when do you hear his voice?


There is no shortage of songs about the Lord being our shepherd. Here’s one of my favorites. (It’s not very well known, and the only recording I could find is of a small Presbyterian church in Virginia performing it in May 2022—I have not listened to the rest of the service, but this link should start right at the anthem, and the familiar words are taken from Psalm 23.) Listen and thank him.


(Taken from a prayer for the Fourth Sunday of Easter in the Book of Common Prayer.) O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Banner image by Paul Moody on Unsplash.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Jesus’ Sacrifice (John 10-12).

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Jennifer Woodruff Tait

Editorial Coordinator

Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University; MSLIS, University of Illinois; MDiv/MA Asbury Theological Seminary) is the copyeditor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also senior editor of

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