It is very easy for us to read through Scripture and not take notice of the day to day living across its pages. The reason for this may be that it is somewhat alien to the kind of lives we live or because it fits the perception we have of how life should be in that context. Either way, those “prejudices” rob us from fully understanding the richness of many passages. Such is the case with Jesus’ statement, “I am the door of the sheep” in John 10:7. I confess that for many years I would just fly past that statement thinking, “That’s nice” and never think beyond it. But really?! What person keeps their sheep in a house so that they must go in and out of a door? Here is where our little story of the fictional shepherd Asher sheds some light. Even to this day you can find sheepfolds in Israel. You can still see shepherds at work too. And for those shepherds who decide to keep their flock out in the field overnight, the sheepfold is the place to do it. While many translations have used the word “door” for the entrance to these enclosures, there is actually no barrier in them. The narrow gap that provides passage may not be appealing to the sheep, but they can still wander if there is not something in place to keep them there. So the caliber of the shepherd is paramount. If he is a “good” shepherd, he will place himself in the opening. If he is not, the sheep may or may not make it through the night.
Jesus claims that He is the “good shepherd” (Jn. 10:11, 14). Jesus does not use the typical word for good (agathos) here. Instead He uses the word “kalos”, which not only carries the general meaning of good, but the added nuance of something with a high moral character, that is noble or honorable. When used in connection with something that is performed, such as shepherding duties, the one who is being described as “kalos” is as we might say, “the best in the business”- both in ability and character. They are the vendors who get the 5 star ratings on Amazon! John notes that Jesus used the term “door of the sheep” as a figure of speech (Jn. 10:6) in reference to His role as the Good Shepherd. Similar to a parable, this word picture is meant to teach us something about Jesus.
While most shepherds will provide the basics for their sheep (food, water, direction and some defense), the best shepherds go well beyond the basics in two specific ways. First they know their sheep intimately. I recently saw this in action while visiting a local sheep farm to take some pictures. As the farmer and I stood in the pasture to acclimate them to the “lady with the camera”, she told me the names of each of them, who was whose lamb, and all their personality traits! Secondly “good” shepherds care for their sheep deeply. Like the shepherd who makes himself a human “door” in front of the sheepfold, Jesus says He will lay down His life for the sheep (Jn. 10:11, 15). While this blockade keeps the sheep from slipping out, more importantly it blocks predators from getting in. We are used to the bucolic pictures of a green hillside with sheep peacefully grazing at will. But in the wilderness area where shepherding takes place in Israel there are some fierce predators to be concerned about. When Jesus claims that He is the “door” He is telling us that He intimately knows us and cares for us. He will put His life on the line (and He did!) in order to keep us from being harmed. While the earthly shepherd is concerned with providing his flock with what they need, Jesus as the “kalos” Shepherd goes above and beyond the basics and brings us abundant life (Jn. 10:9). Sometimes your life may feel like it is a wilderness filled with danger and the unknown. But remember this- you have a Shepherd there to guide you. Listen for His voice and follow Him (Jn. 10:2-5). He will always be there for you and will never lead you astray (Jn. 10:14-15).
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 4/10/2016