Jesus said:‘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.’
Again the Jews were divided because of these words. Many of them were saying,
‘He has a demon and is out of his mind. Why listen to him?’
Others were saying, ‘ These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?’
Before coming into URC ministry I was a teacher, completing my teacher training at St. John’s College, York (now York St. John University) and the motto of the college was, and I believe, still is “Ut vitam habeant et abundantius” – that they may have life and have it more abundantly; drawing upon John 10:10. It was an excellent word for our training which, in those far-off times (the sixties) was supposed to prepare us to teach people who would have shorter working hours and more leisure in which to discover for themselves a fullness of life. Ironically, of course, the reverse has turned out to be true; people either work very long hours or have no work at all, and as for abundant life . . .
But John 10:10 remains very special for me: always the words challenge me to consider just what is life in all its fullness? Does it lie in wealth or health? Both would have come into it for Jesus’ hearers, and still must, surely, for living a full life in extreme poverty or when profoundly ill – mentally or physically – is not impossible but very hard. For many a full life lies in possessions; in travel. For many fullness of life is found in relationships.
But if we look at the image of the shepherd which Jesus uses here, a competent shepherd looks to the whole life of the sheep. He or she makes sure they have good grazing and water and are physically healthy; worries about their safety and works hard for and with them and notices when they are happy or not because their contentment actually matters. This matters to all good keepers of any animals. My late father had a friend who kept free-range turkeys and chickens; one evening, on a trip around an agricultural college we were approaching the poultry sheds, which weren’t impressing him. “But,” he muttered gloomily, “I have to admit the hens sound happy.” How did he know? From the way they were clucking, which to me sounded like – well, just hens clucking. The good farmer really understands the creatures under his care, even if no-one else does!
Is there a clue there as to the meaning of ‘abundant life’?
For me, it is life in which we do care for the body and for the mind, but in which we also maintain a curiosity about life as it is and as it can be even while finding a contentment in the here and now; in which we have the security of being understood and loved by God, and it brings a deep desire that all people should know fullness of life – and a deep desire to work towards that.
But that’s just me. Where do you believe fullness of life lies for you, and for the world?
Loving, living God, our newspapers, televisions, radios, Internet show us a world in which millions live highly restricted lives and it is too easy to look away. As Jesus the Good Shepherd knows and understands his sheep, help us, by the guiding of the Holy Spirit, to ever seek the good of others, in prayer and in action that one day all may indeed find life in all its fullness; the life that Jesus brings. Amen
The Rev’d Ruth Crofton is a retired minister living near Durham.