Living Lessons 5

The Good Shepherd

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” John 10:1-18

I have to admit that when I sat down to write this week’s blog post, I felt a bit stumped. Because of over four decades of participation in church and private Christian education, I have probably heard or read Jesus’ story recorded in John’s gospel about the good shepherd more times than I can count on all of my fingers and toes. So I was not surprised when I dug into the story again. There was no immediate “a-ha moment.” There were no phrases that I had missed all of these years. No special insights that grabbed me that hadn’t occurred to me before. But after a third or fourth reading, desperate for someplace to aim my hermeneutical flashlight, I realized that the significance of this story for me might lie in the fact that I don’t know much about being a shepherd, let alone a good one.
At best, I know about being a bad dog owner. However you choose to interpret that last sentence, it’s probably been accurate more than once. Our dog, Pearl, is not known, inside or outside of our family, for being an especially obedient animal. We affectionately refer to her as “our bad dog.” She is a prodigious escape artist and revels in the classic game of running just beyond my clutches when we are already late for church and I am standing teary-eyed and red-faced in the driveway in my robe and slippers—if the neighbors are lucky. I have thrown things (usually treats, but not always) in hopes of coaxing, scaring, enticing or otherwise coercing our strong-willed pup back into the safety of her own fenced yard. It’s hardly the picture of a good dog owner. Definitely not a good shepherd.

Maybe that’s why the story Jesus tells still holds so much intrigue for me—because everything he describes still stands in such stark contrast to what I see in myself so often. I don’t mean this in a strictly I-am-bad-but-God-is-good sort of way, although there is certainly some evidence to support that. At the very least, I am reminded when I am confronted by impossibility, he is infinitely capable. When I feel exceedingly small, he is eternally big. When I feel selfish, he is generous. I am worried or afraid, and he is ever-present. I am foolish and stubborn, but he reminds me that he was willing to give his life simply because he loves me.

In the middle of what has felt like a particularly difficult season for my family and some of the ones closest to us, I heard a song that gave me pause. Written by Cory Asbury, the lyrics of the song “Kind” capture what I believe is at the heart of this story. I’d encourage you give the whole song a listen, but at the very least I’ll share the words of the chorus in hopes that they will resonate with you as they did with me:

I've tried to run from Jesus, I've started holy wars
I've tried the patient waitin' and the kickin' down the doors
I've cursed His name in anger with my fist raised to the sky
And in return, all He's ever been is kind

By Elia King

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