Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt:

Read  John 10:1-18

“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.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

More thoughts for meditation

Over the next week we’ll be looking at the parable of the good shepherd found in John 10:1-18 and what it can teach us about prayer. This parable, which is really more of allegory, surely resonated in very specific ways both for Jesus’ initial audience, and for the original readers of John’s gospel. The identities of the thief, the wolf, the hired hand, and the “other sheep that do not belong to this fold” probably brought to mind particular individuals and groups. For example, the “other sheep” likely referred to Gentile Christians who were joining the early community of Jewish believers. Today, we will take a first look at the passage and consider a meditation that invites Jesus to be the shepherd of our souls.

Early interpreters of the text generally took the flock to mean the Church. I would like to suggest that we can read it also as referring to the individual person. In this reading, we can see the sheep as the many different desires and appetites of our soul. These desires can be for anything—food, companionship, self-esteem. Desires, like sheep, are not intelligent. They are mouths without brains. They simply want what they want.

Sheep, though they are notoriously not intelligent, are smart enough to stick together with their shepherd. We also are in need of a shepherd to bring together our many and disparate desires. When we were created, we had such a shepherd. Adam and Eve were created as whole, integrated beings with all of their many parts unified and held together by the simple and direct knowledge of God’s goodness. It was as though all of their desires were flowers reaching towards the sun in unison.

Unfortunately, this state of integration was not to last. When they listened to the voice of the serpent, they turned away from the singular knowledge of God’s goodness; and, in turning away, lost sight of the shepherd. The flock became confused and helpless. Without a shepherd, the sheep wander aimlessly, often in contrary directions, hopelessly confused about what is good and what merely tastes good. So also do our desires fly this way and that, latching on to one thing after another. Instead of moving towards integration, we are moving toward disintegration.

We lost sight of the shepherd, but the shepherd did not lose sight of us. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and He has come to find His lost sheep. He stepped into our mortal life to share fully in our humanity and make Himself known to us. He calls out to His sheep, to come so that He can lead them out to good pastures, where our minds can feed and our hearts drink of His beauty and goodness once again.

Suggestions for action:

Take a meditative walk, and practice letting your thoughts and desires be shepherded by God. You have many thoughts and feelings wandering around in your mind and body. They do not always move in the same directions. However, you can not be your own shepherd. So do not try to force your thoughts to go one way or the other. Rather, let them roam freely, like a flock of sheep. More feelings may arise, some comfortable, some uncomfortable. Perhaps these are the “other sheep that do not belong to this fold.” God means to include all of you.