Every time I read those words from the Gospel of John, I am transported back to our first tour in Jordan, sitting outside our little villa near fourth circle, watching the shepherd and the sheep go by. Dusk is falling, you can hear multiple calls to prayer issuing from nearby mosques, and the shepherd is crossing back to their night time pastures.
But there is a ditch, a deep ditch, for new sewer and water lines, and there is only a thin board by which to cross.
One by one, he carries the sheep across. It takes a long time. The sheep are restless, but with a few words, he calms them. They don’t stray, they wait for him to lift and carry them across. Once across, they wait for the rest to follow before they all head on their way. The shepherd is grimy and dusty, covered with mud from ferrying the sheep across the ditch.
The sheep know the shepherd’s voice, and when faced with a new threat, they trust that he will deliver them safely. Sheep are pretty stupid. On their own, they can get into all kinds of trouble. If they have a good shepherd, they are safe.
10‘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. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ 6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7 So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The 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. 12The 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. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I 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. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No 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.’