Have you taken time to watch a herd of sheep moving along a path? I remember doing that a very long time ago and I have the following findings. They are not only harmless, they are also very teachable and ready to follow. When one jumps an obstacle, the ones following behind will also jump the obstacle; even when the obstacle ceases to exist. Furthermore, the herd of sheep has a consistent adherence to the shepherd wherever he leads. This Sunday which is the fourth after Easter Sunday is traditionally known as the Good Shepherd Sunday and we are drawn from the tune of the readings to reflect on the SHEPHERD and the DOOR; in connection with our Lord Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd!
A shepherd is one who takes care of a herd of sheep by guarding, feeding and protecting them. In the Jewish society of the time of Jesus, shepherding is known to be a very painstaking and serious occupation. Usually at that time, sheep are kept for their wool and milk more than for their meat; it is only on special occasions that they are feasted upon (Luke 15:23). On account of this, most sheep stay for a very long time with the shepherd to the extent that a strong bond is established between them; some are even given personal names. A door on the other hand is a structure that caters for entrances and exits. Hence, a door leads into or outside of a given house, place, or location. It is thus unimaginable to have a house without at least a single door.
There is every reason for us to wonder why our Lord Jesus Christ made use of the images of shepherd and door to describe himself and the nature of his mission. This is on account of the functionality of these elements. As we saw earlier, the work of a shepherd is a very demanding one. It is more of a preoccupation in the sense that it takes up the shepherd’s time and energy and in some instances the shepherd’s life (John 10:11). Evidently, in his line of duty, the shepherd puts everything on the line. The following are the most fundamental duties of a shepherd:
1. Individual Knowledge of the Sheep: The Shepherd knows the sheep individually and even calls each by its personal names. He knows when they are hungry and feed them, he knows when each is sick and attends to it. Simply put everything about the sheep it comprehensively known to the Shepherd. When we relate this to the claim of our Lord Jesus Christ, we see that he is indeed the GOOD SHEPHERD PER EXCELLENCE. He knows us personally; Isaiah (49:16) says our names are written on the palms of his hand. He feeds us when we are hungry not only with physical food (Matt.14:13-21), he also feeds us with spiritual food; his body and blood (John 6:54). He is further attentive to us when we are sick physically and spiritually (Matt.9:5-10).
2. Leading the Sheep to Right Spots: It is one thing to lead others and another thing to lead them to the rightful places. Most people are lost today because they were led to the wrong places by those they depended on. A good Shepherd is one who knows the best spots for the sheep and leads them there (Psalm 23:1-2).This is one of the greatest attributes of our Lord Jesus Christ who came to lead us into eternal life (John 12:50).
3. Defending the Sheep: Without a shepherd the herd of sheep is defenceless and susceptible to destruction by enemies. It is thus the work of the shepherd to see to it that the sheep is protected. This is a superlative work of God as we learnt from David (Psalm 23:4) where he says: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil, for there you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me”.
In appropriating this role of the Good Shepherd which he shares with God the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ in the gospel today maintained that no one can snatch the sheep from him (John 10:28). This simply means that he is apt as the Good Shepherd in defending and protecting the sheep. One peculiar thing about our Lord in this role is the fact of laying down his life for the sheep; dying so that the sheep could live (John 15:13).
4. Maintaining Unity among the Sheep: A discordant Shepherd cannot have a coordinated and united herd. Real unity is not a mechanical act of fixing and re-fixing. It comes from genuine disposition of fellow feeling. The Shepherd sees to it that he is one with the herd and that the herd is also united as a community. On this account, our Lord Jesus Christ prayed for unity and oneness among the sheep as he is one with the father (John 17:21). He further anticipated the convergence of all under one herd and one Shepherd (John 10:16).
With regards to the door, it is very clear to us that it is impossible to enter or leave a house without a door; doing so will be highly unorthodox. The door becomes an indispensable navigation to all entrances and exits. The following duties are related to the door.
1. Protection: A door serves the purpose of protecting those inside the house against physical elements. Without doors in our houses, we will be facing challenges from the wind, rain, wild animals, reptiles and other unwholesome visitors. This protective role is what our Lord Jesus Christ also offers us (2Thess.3:3). He does it even more for us in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist as he says in the gospel of John (6:54).
2. Security: In our day and age we not only have doors, we also have security doors. This is actually one of the fundamental duties a door, to provide security for the household. Our Lord Jesus Christ plays this security role for us in his capacity as the door of the sheepfold. The book of Psalms (91:1ff) gave us this assurance. Our Lord Jesus Christ confirms this in the gospel of John (10:27-28) where he says: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me .I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
Today we see our Lord Jesus Christ not only as the shepherd but also the door of the sheep. A bit more reflection on this door shows us that it is just ONE and the ONLY. That is why he said he is THE DOOR! Now this door is a facility we cannot dispense with. Without this door nothing will actually make meaning for us in life. To enter the sheepfold through any other route is criminal, unholy, and damnable.
In our day and age we see many people who are professing to be shepherds without any connection with our Lord Jesus Christ the DOOR and the GATEKEEPER. Many have gone ahead to raise themselves to some “sacred” ranks. It is not difficult to find such people running ministries not in the name of the Good Shepherd but in their own names. In this way they gather and lead many people astray.
May we always be attentive to the Shepherd and also focus on the DOOR in other to be qualified for entrance into eternal life. Have a blissful Sunday and a blessed week ahead.