Today’s reading is John 10:1-21 (NIV):
The Good Shepherd and His Sheep.
10 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
19 The Jews who heard these words were again divided. 20 Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?”
21 But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?
Last summer, my family took a trip to Scotland. We rented a car with a right-sided steering wheel and drove from Edinburgh to Inverness, hiking through the highlands and practicing terrible Scottish accents. The hills looked like sleeping dragons, and we were winding our way through Middle Earth.
At the doorstep of the highlands, we stopped at a sheep farm to watch a herding demonstration. After I jumped out onto the gravel road, a cloudy-eyed Border collie trotted over to sniff my shoes, and twelve more sheepdogs with wet noses and wagging tails soon followed. The collies sprinted away as soon as they heard a rough whistle, running to the wide field where the shepherd and a flock of sheep waited. We watched with delight as the dogs set to work. They circled the sheep like sharks, nipping heels and snipping legs, to move the herd according to the shepherd’s whistles. They responded with electric speed to every command, and from the thirteen-year-old blind collie to the five-month old puppy, the dogs rounded the sheep by listening to their shepherd’s voice.
How attuned the dogs’ ears must have been to their master’s call! Ignoring the sheep’s bleats, the onlookers’ applause, and the grumble of the distant highway, the collies listened to their shepherd’s commands with penetrating focus. They followed their master’s voice without hesitation and with complete trust. In today’s passage from John, Jesus calls us to do the same.
“I am the good shepherd,” Christ claims, Israel’s savior who “goes on ahead” of his flock to guide, protect, and lay down his life for his people. Jesus identifies this flock as the sheep who know his voice. “The sheep listen to his voice” (10:3); the good shepherd’s sheep “follow him because they know his voice” (10:4), he repeats. In describing the redeemed Gentiles, those outside of Israel who would come to believe in Christ, Jesus claims “they too will listen to my voice” (10:16). Later, in John 18:37, as he stands before Pilate, Jesus again asserts that “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Like the Border collies in Scotland, Christians are called to follow Jesus’ whistles with uncompromised focus, clearing away all distracting noises to listen only to Him.
But, unfortunately, we’re not the incredible sheepdogs on Scotland’s highland farm. In John 10, Jesus compares us to the dumb, helpless, stumbling sheep who can barely hear their shepherd’s whistles above their own panicked bleats. Too often, we forget our good shepherd and wander after our own fancies and ambitions. Christ must constantly herd us back into his faithful fold. When midterms, March snow days, academic disappointments, and performance pressures shout our names, how can we learn to listen only to our shepherd’s voice?
In this passage, Jesus offers us an answer. “When he has brought out all his own,” Christ claims that the good shepherd “goes on ahead” of his flock (10:4), leading his people not from behind, but from before. Christ doesn’t prod his people with a staff, but guides them by his own example. To listen to our savior, we must imitate the life of Jesus; Christ must be our masthead, our purpose, what we put first before everything else. Only by seeking Christ before all things can we abide in Him. Only by tracing his steps, not making our own, can we sheep follow Christ to pasture.
Of course, following the shepherd would be much easier if we could see him. Maybe if we could touch his robe, or watch his footsteps, we would be better at keeping him always before us. But Christ doesn’t give us that option. His sheep listen to his voice; they don’t feel his staff or stare at his feet. Jesus leads us by our ears, forcing us to know his voice, trust in his goodness, and attune our hearing to his grace.
Christ demands that, to follow his voice, his sheep must not simply hear his voice, but know his voice. Only by recognizing the shepherd’s call can they dismiss distracting noises and heed his whistles. In this context, John uses the Greek word ginosko for “know,” which, according to New Testament professor Merrill Tenney, implies more than the cognizance of facts, but a relationship of trust and intimacy. To listen to our shepherd’s voice, we must therefore follow the example of Christ in close relationship with him. God speaks through personal closeness, in whispered winds and not roaring hurricanes (1 Kings 19:12). The Scottish collies listened to their shepherd because they knew him; they depended on him from birth for food, shelter, love, work, purpose. They trusted his goodness and relied on their relationship to him for instruction. They didn’t have to see or touch him to know his voice.
As sheep in Christ’s pasture, can we do the same? Through studying Christ’s Word, praying without reservation, and following Jesus’ selfless love in our relationships, we can know Him. We can know His voice, put Him before all things, and follow Him to heavenly pasture. The good shepherd has already laid down his life that his sheep might have life, and have it abundantly. In return, can we not sharpen our ears, draw close to Him, and live by following our savior’s voice?
Lauren Spohn ’20 is a Freshman living in Holworthy.