(Psalm 23, John 10.1-10)
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our readings today began with the much loved Psalm 23. ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ has been recited and sung for thousands of years. There is something deeply reassuring and comforting about these well known words from the psalm.
What are your favourite lines?
The thought of lying down in green pasture, beside still waters?
Or of sitting down at the table with God, and receiving the overflowing cup?
I felt particularly moved, as we sit at home and unable to meet in our churches, by the psalmist’s promise to dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. How I yearn to return to our sacred spaces, and how I yearn for that place in the eternal presence of God.
There are also words here that speak into our very situation – “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil – for you are with me.”
How wonderful to remember that. God is with us. Even when it is dark and perilous, God walks besides us, our Emmanuel.
And then today’s passage from the Gospel of St John is also packed full of imagery and metaphor, which Jesus uses to tell us about God, about his own nature, and it builds upon that precious psalm.
Jesus places himself into the heart of the psalm by depicting himself as the shepherd in charge of the sheep. We are told that as one of Christ’s flock, we lack nothing if we follow our Shepherd. Often we pray to keep our eyes set on Jesus, but in this passage we are called to listen for Christ’s voice and respond to it.
And we are to know the difference between Jesus and strangers. There is an intimacy of relationship here. To know someone’s voice, and to be known by them, is a relationship which takes time. Trust and confidence is built up.
He extends the metaphor with one of the great “I am” sayings: “I am the door of the sheepfold” (John 10.7-9).
The seven “I am” sayings from John’s Gospel are not stand alone sayings, but are intertwined and build upon each other. They all have in common a sense of revealing the links to the Hebrew Scriptures, both the name of God at the burning bush (“I AM who I AM” – Exodus 3.14), but also as a reflection of key ideals of Israel or the promised Messiah.
They lead to an understanding of Jesus as strongly and inherently connected with the divine; Jesus can take upon God’s name because he is the very expression of God himself. Depicting himself as the Door, this saying is not only about Jesus, but also about those who oppose him. It has resonance with the saying in John 14.6 about being the ‘way’; only through belief in Jesus does safety or salvation lie.
In the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy (2015-2016) Bishop Martin led a pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi. The great Holy Doors of the major basilicas in Rome, normally sealed by mortar and cement from the inside so that they cannot be opened, were ceremoniously opened for the pilgrims to enter through them.
On more than one occasion a sign was placed by these huge and extraordinary doors that read simply “I AM the door”. We entered not as tourists just entering another beautiful church, but as members of Christ’s flock, through Christ, and into the sacred space dedicated to God.
Although our reading today did not continue any further, in the very next line Jesus went on to say “I am the good shepherd” (John 10.11-14). Jesus changed his metaphor slightly from gate to shepherd.
Part of this has historical context, since shepherds sheltering their sheep in caves over night would have laid themselves down to prevent the sheep from escaping or predators from entering the cave. Jesus is therefore both gate and shepherd at the same time.
But it isn’t about keeping everyone in a sheep-based lockdown. Notice how the flock are to go in and out and find pasture. Yes, there is safety in Jesus, but it is not a cotton-wool, protective bubble. Retreat and mission, moving and breathing in and out through Christ.
These are powerful images of Jesus, and today I invite you to spend a little time reflecting on them and how Jesus speaks to you through them.
How do you see yourself? Sheep in his flock, or pilgrim passing through his door?
How do you relate to Jesus? How do you listen for his voice?
Perhaps you are a seeker, tentatively thinking about knocking upon that door. Today consider asking Jesus to let you in and receive life from him.
Jesus reassures us that if we follow him, and accept all that he wants to give us, we will receive life in abundance. Our cup shall be full.
(Photo taken in Rome, 2016 during the Diocesan pilgrimage for the Year of Mercy)