I had a conversation over the weekend with someone who is preaching at St. John’s this coming Sunday. She’s preaching on the gospel lesson (John 10:1-10), and she had some good insights that I’m also mulling over in my mind.
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.”
What does the gate look like? One assumes that it would be more difficult to climb over the fence or dig a tunnel into the back of the sheepfold, but, as my to-be-preacher friend pointed out, sometimes the gate—the “right way”—isn’t as easy as jumping out the back.
The good shepherd leads us down the right path, but the right path isn’t always the easiest one. Sometimes following Jesus is difficult. Sometimes it causes us pain. (Jesus is clear elsewhere about renouncing familial obligations and relationships in favor of the gospel.) But how do we know the right path is the right path when it sometimes feels easier to turn around and walk another way? Because the voice of the good shepherd leads us there.
When the path is difficult, who is really with us? Not the thief or the bandit. Not the stranger whose voice the sheep do not recognize. But the good shepherd walks down the difficult path with us. He journeys all the way to the cross, and he invites us on that journey. If he were not the good shepherd, he would send us on ahead by ourselves, but he is always with us—even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
I’m looking for the gate—the door through which the good shepherd enters. It might not be what I expect it to be. It might even be painful and difficult. But I’ll know it when the good shepherd leads me down it.