In John, one set of images Jesus offers of himself as that of the sheep gate and the good shepherd (10:7-18). This particular passage is after Jesus healed a blind person, which (naturally) caused a huge scandal in the synagogue. Because of this person’s faith in whoever it was that did the healing, the religious leaders booted the person out of fellowship. Jesus then hunts the healed person down, and reveals himself as the healer. After Jesus says he came to “execute justice—to make the sightless see and the seeing blind” (9:39), the religious leaders who overhear take offense at the implication that they are blind. Jesus then informs them that if in fact they were blind, there’d be no sin in it, but in fact, since they say they are not, there is sin in what they do (9:41). This leads to the sheepfold analogy, and the claim that anyone who enters the fold in any other way than the gate is a robber, and the metaphor of himself as the gate.
After explaining the gate analogy, Jesus proceeds to the famous good shepherd analogy. I’ve read this passage many, many times, yet there’s a bit I’ve never caught before (and it was recently brought to my attention).
I was raised in a culture of exclusivity. The notion of ecumenicism was anathema. Any unity between those apostate Christians and ‘us’ was a surefire way to ensure our own demise. (There wasn’t any notion of our lifting others up via unity.) Any such unity was an unequal yoking of oxen (to use a scriptural metaphor that has oft been used—inappropriately—to justify this sort of exclusivity). Anyway, I think it is this culture of “us vs. them” and “the remnant set apart” thinking that kept me from ever truly seeing the power of this part of Jesus’ self-description.
I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep, and my sheep know me, in the same way Abba God knows me and I know God—and for these sheep I will lay down my life. I have other sheep that don’t belong to this fold—I must lead them, too, and they will hear my voice. And then there will be one flock, one shepherd.
Other sheep that don’t belong to this flock. There are many flocks that don’t identify with each other, yet Jesus is the one shepherd of us all. From one who feels alienated from that “one true flock” that won’t accept her or “her kind”, this is refreshing, indeed.