“Although Jesus used this figure of speech, they did not realize what he was trying to say to them.” (John 10:6) What is this figure of speech? Jesus is talking about entering the sheepfold through the gate. That is what the true shepherd does. The sheep recognize the voice of the true shepherd who knows their names. The true shepherd walks ahead of them and they follow. Those who enter the sheepfold by any way other than the gate, do so with intent to harm the sheep. There is nothing too difficult about this concept, until we realize that it is an image, a parable, a figure of speech. Then comes the question, “What is he trying to say?”
This passage follows the episode of the man born blind, and the dispute with the Pharisees. We can assume that the Pharisees are the intended audience for John. If Jesus is claiming to be the good shepherd, then there is a problem. God alone is the Shepherd of Israel, so this would be yet another preposterous and blasphemous claim on the part of Jesus. Whatever they are thinking, Jesus knows that they really haven’t understood.
His explanation, through another figure of speech, touches on something deeper. Jesus describes himself as the gate through which the shepherd must go in and out of the sheepfold. The shepherd that does not go in and out through Jesus is a thief, and enters the sheepfold with intent to hurt, to steal and to slaughter. The claim that those who came before Jesus were not true shepherds may in the Gospel context allude to the leaders of the day, the scribes, Pharisees and Temple authorities.
However, Jesus’ words were not confined to his time. This message of Jesus is a wake-up call to all who minister in any way to people, all of us who have any involvement in the shepherding of God’s people. If we are not grounded in Jesus, if we are not seeing those with whom and to whom we minister through the eyes and mind of Jesus, then we may be doing more harm than good. If we do not do our ministering through Jesus, then we are the brigand and the thief.
The sheepfold was nothing fancy, a simple enclosure that offered security and rest for the sheep. Many times the fold had no gate that opened and closed, and so the shepherd became the gate of the enclosure. These two images of Jesus are offered to us in the Gospel today, that of the shepherd and that of the gate. Only through passing in and out through him as gate, are we offered real pasture and abundance of life.
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP