God Loves Us Dirty Sheep: Reflections on John 10:1-10
It takes time and attention for the shepherd to know her sheep. I take comfort in the fact that God has taken that time and attention to know us—by name.
I believe that Jesus is telling a joke that goes over the heads of the Pharisees when he says that sheep won't follow the voice of a stranger. Of course, we, like sheep, have been led astray by thieves and bandits who intend to do harm! Verses 5 and 8 are soaked in sarcasm, explaining why it is that some have not followed Jesus. The more time the sheep spend with the shepherd, however, the easier it is to identify his distinct voice.
It's helpful to carry our deeper understanding of sheep into verses 7-9. "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.'" Yes, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Abundant life is found through him, but for whatever reason we, like sheep, seem to have a dang hard time recognizing the gate when it's right in front of us! We need a God, a shepherd, a gatekeeper to help us find the freedom for which we thirst.
Beyond all the sheep metaphors and wisdom, what I find most interesting in all of this scripture is that the well-educated Pharisees would not understand the meaning behind much of what Jesus was saying. I imagine poorly-educated rural types in the background of Jesus' conversation with the Pharisees, laughing together at jokes the Pharisees didn't get, nodding knowingly to wisdom the Pharisees didn't understand.
I have a bachelor's degree from Duke University and two master's degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary. I've even had the chance to contribute to a bunch of books. I know that I am, as a result, privileged and I do whatever I can to leverage that privilege to benefit the church and world. Yet I know that aspects of Jesus' message will make much more sense to those on the outside of knowledge who learn more about discipleship by tending sheep, cleaning houses, serving espresso, and driving buses than I ever will from a book. As insightful as my exegesis—any exegesis—might be, there will always be aspects of our faith that I will just not understand, appreciate, or realize. In this story, Jesus embodies the kingdom of God in which the powerful are humbled and humbled are made powerful.
So maybe on this week of the lectionary, us pastor-types could take a step back and listen to people who haven't benefitted from the same pedagogical advantage that we enjoy. Buried in their testimony is a rich understanding of God that we need to hear and learn from. May we humble ourselves and follow the lead of some other sheep who know the shepherd's voice in a different way.
Rev. Mike Baughman is a United Methodist pastor from the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference appointed to Union (uniondallas.net), a new kind of non-profit coffeehouse in Dallas, TX. As a part of his responsibilities at Union, Mike leads a worshipping congregation made up largely of church refugees in their twenties. A frequent contributor/editor/developer for Sparkhouse Press, Mike has contributed to books like The Hyphenateds (Chalice Press) and co-authored Worship Feast: Lent (Abingdon Press) and neglects a blog at ireverant.wordpress.com.