SCRIPTURE: John 10:1-10
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VERSES 9:41 - 10:22: THE CONTEXT
This discourse (lengthy, serious speech) grows out of the story of the man born blind (9:1-41). The Jewish leaders, responsible for the care of the people, "agreed that if any man would confess him as Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue" (9:22). Their action is characteristic, not of a shepherd, but of a thief or a bandit who cares nothing for the sheep (10:1).
VERSES 1-10: AN OVERVIEW
Jesus uses two metaphors for himself in this passage. He is the shepherd who enters by the gate which the gatekeeper opens for him (v. 2-6), and he is the gate by which the sheep enter into salvation and go out to find pasture (v. 7-9). These metaphors are confusing if we treat try to assign precise meanings. We must accept a bit of ambiguity here. Jesus is the shepherd ––a valid image –– but he is also the gate –– another valid image. We gain nothing by forcing the images together.
We sometimes refer to ordained clergy as pastors or shepherds. There are other passages that support such terminology (John 21:15-19; Acts 20:28-29; 1 Peter 5:2-3) but John 10 does not. Verses 11-18, which go beyond this Gospel lesson, emphasize the Christological nature of this passage and the inappropriateness of applying its imagery to anyone but Christ.
VERSES 1-6: JESUS AS THE GOOD SHEPHERD
1"Most certainly, (Greek: amen amen) I tell you, one who doesn't enter by the door into the sheep fold, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. 2But one who enters in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out. 4Whenever he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5They will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him; for they don't know the voice of strangers." 6Jesus spoke this parable (Greek: paroimian) to them, but they didn't understand what he was telling them.
"Most certainly, (amen amen) I tell you" (v. 1a). "Amen" expresses strong affirmation of that which is being said.
"one who doesn't enter by the door into the sheep fold, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber"(v. 1b). This brings to mind Ezekiel 34:11,15-16, in which God rebuked the shepherds of Israel (religious leaders) who fed themselves rather than their flocks. God stopped their exploitation and took on the role of shepherd.
"But one who enters in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice" (vv. 2-3a). What is being pictured here is apparently a large sheepfold capable of accommodating several flocks. The gatekeeper recognizes the shepherd and opens the gate for him. The shepherd would use a distinctive call to call his sheep, and they would recognize his call and gather around him.
"He calls his own sheep by name" (v. 3b). "His own" reflects the personal nature of the relationship between shepherd and sheep. Shepherding is not just a job for this shepherd, and the sheep are more than an asset.
Names are important in the Bible, because they denote the identity of the one who is named (Genesis 2:18-23; 17:4-7; 32:26-30).
"and leads them out" (v. 3c). While inside the sheepfold, the sheep have the protection of its walls. When the shepherd leads them out of the sheepfold, the shepherd is their only protection –– and all the protection that they need.
"Whenever he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice" (v. 4). The shepherd leads them out of the sheepfold to pasture and water. He leads rather than drives them. He calls periodically to keep the sheep together, and the sheep recognize his voice and follow him.
"They will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him; for they don't know the voice of strangers" (v. 5). The sheep know their shepherd's voice and follow him willingly, but will not follow a stranger whose voice they do not recognize. We see something similar with babies who readily accept their mother or father but reject being held by strangers.
"Jesus spoke this parable (paroimian) to them" (v. 6a). Paroimian can be translated "figure of speech" or "proverb" or "parable" (O'Day, 667-668).
"but they didn't understand what he was telling them" (v. 6b). To whom does "they" refer? The Pharisees? The disciples? Probably the Pharisees, given that Jesus is addressing them in 9:41.
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VERSES 7-10: JESUS AS THE GATE OR DOOR
7Jesus therefore said to them again, "Most certainly, I tell you, I am (Greek: ego eimi) the sheep's door. (Greek: thura –– gate or door) 8All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep didn't listen to them. 9I am the door. If anyone enters in by me, he will be saved, and will go in and go out, and will find pasture. 10The thief only comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly" (Greek: perisson).
"Most certainly, I tell you, I am (ego eimi) the sheep's door" (thura –– gate or door) (v. 7). Jesus changes the metaphor. He was the shepherd, but is now the gate.
"I am" (ego eimi –– God's name –– see Exodus 3:14-15) the thura (door or gate –– the latter translation better fits a sheepfold, which typically has either a hinged gate or simply an opening). In this Gospel, Jesus will use "I am" to identify himself as "the bread of life" (6:35) –– "the living bread" (6:51) –– "the light of the world" (8:12; 9:5) –– "the son of God" (10:36) –– "the resurrection and the life" (11:25) –– "the way, the truth, and the life" (14:6) –– and the "true vine" (15:1).
Villages often have a large communal sheepfold with a strong door. In the hinterlands, however, sheepfolds are much less grand. Instead of a well-made door, they have only an opening. In that event, the shepherd makes his bed in the opening –– protects the sheep with his body.
"All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep didn't listen to them" (v. 8). In this Gospel, Jesus speaks positively of Moses (5:45-46) and Abraham (8:56) and negatively of Jewish religious leaders (5:39-40, 47). These Jewish leaders are the thieves and bandits.
"I am the door" (v. 9a). It is popular today to believe that there are many, equally valid, doors that lead to God. This verse suggests otherwise.
Quite apart from issues of world religions, we are tempted to seek salvation from psychiatry, free enterprise, education, or science and technology. "Most of these institutions...have been around long enough to be evaluated as salvational systems. They flunk" (Snow & Furnish, 30-31).
"If anyone enters in by me, he will be saved" (v. 9b). That is the purpose of the sheepfold –– safe haven in a dangerous world. It protects sheep from thieves and predators and saves them from their own foolishness.
"and will go in and go out, and will find pasture" (v. 9c). To find green pastures and cool running water, the sheep must leave the sheepfold. To do that safely, they must use the Jesus-gate.
"The thief only comes to steal, kill, and destroy" (v. 10a). The thief focuses only on satisfying his own needs, and cares little about the welfare of others.
The Pharisees of 9:41 are one example of thieves and bandits, but there is no lack of others. When this Gospel was written, late in the first century, the church was struggling with antichrists (1 John 2:18-22) and false prophets (1 John 4:1-6; see also Acts 20:29-35; 1 Peter 5:1-5).
We do not lack for examples of thieves and bandits in the church today –– clergy who show more concern for their perquisites than for their flock –– who engage in sexual malpractice –– who teach false doctrine –– who tell people what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. We clergy need always to remember that the devil works especially hard to bring us down. We must be always on guard against temptation lest we find ourselves numbered among the thieves and bandits.
"I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly" (perisson). (v. 10b). Unlike the thief, Jesus is focused on the welfare of the sheep. Coming or going, Jesus' sheep are safe and well fed. They have life, and have it abundantly.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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