May 3, 2020 • Life for Leaders
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.”
My grandmother, who has been with the Lord for many years, had a little Bible chorus that she used to sing based on John 10:9 and Psalm 23:2 as they read in the KJV. As I recall her singing it, the words went,
“I am the door, by me if any man enters in
I am the door, by me if any man enters in,
He shall be saved,
And go in and out finding pasture, green pasture
Green pasture, green pasture
He shall go in and out finding pasture.”
I hoped to find a version of the song for you to hear: this is the closest I came, though it isn’t exactly what I remember from my grandmother. To this day, whenever I read John 10, or hear it read, I hear her voice in my head singing this song.
As we discussed yesterday, and as Mark Roberts has been dealing with in his weekday Life for Leaders devotions, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of pasture out there in the world right now, green or otherwise. We lament the loss of the world we used to have. We fear for our jobs, or perhaps we are already dealing with the bureaucratic and financial struggles of having lost them. We grieve the illness and death of loved ones.
Into this pain and disruption this scripture speaks assurance. This is one of the famous “I am” statements from John’s Gospel. These statements echo the famous story in Exodus 3 where God reminds Moses “I am who I am” when Moses asks God his name. In the ancient Near East, names were power: if you knew the name of a god, you could make that god do what you wanted. In Exodus, the Lord of the universe refuses to be bound by those rules. He is what he is; he will be what he will be.
But in John, the incarnate Lord fills in some of the blanks in that picture. He is the Bread of life (John 6:35, 41, 48, and 51), the Light of the world (John 8:12), the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25), the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6), the true Vine (John 15:1-5), and—in what seems the strangest description of all in this passage—the gate for the sheep.
He is also, as the early part of the passage reminds us, the good shepherd who cares for the sheep and will not kill or destroy them. I think it’s important to see this passage’s strange description of Jesus as a door or gate in light of that clarification. Whether gate or shepherd, Jesus is the one who takes care of the sheep.
In the other “I am” statements from John we also see that same note of sustaining and guiding: bread, light, way, life, and ultimately resurrection. We don’t follow Jesus blindly, and his guiding is not arbitrary. When we trust in him, he will lead us, and his guidance is meant to lead us to the pasture that will nourish us.
We know—even in what my bishop calls “COVIDtide”—who God is and who he will be. Even in our darkness, we look for the light, the door, and the way. And we trust that someday again we will go in and out finding pasture, green pasture.
Something to Think About:
When has Jesus provided green pasture for you?
Where do you see Jesus in your current situation as bread, life, light, way, vine, and even as a gate?
Something to Do:
Meditate on the image of Jesus as good shepherd and as gate for the sheep whom he loves—including you!
Lord, guide us, sustain us, and light our way in these dark moments. Bring us in your good time to green pasture that will refresh our souls. Amen.
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. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Jesus’ Sacrifice (John 10-12)
Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
Click here to view Jennifer’s profile.