1“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. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. 11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
“I know my own and my own know me,” says Jesus. For anyone who has never raised a sheep, this parable contains alien images that we don’t relate to very well. A shepherd of ancient Israel and even of not so long ago spent nearly all his time with the flock. He knew each sheep by name and mannerism. He could spot his own sheep among the mixed flocks at sheering time and in the fields. I’m sure there are still shepherds who still work closely enough with their animals that they can recognize them, even if some of that has been lost to the larger sheep raising farms.
Those of us with children know the feeling of recognizing your own son or daughter by walk or by voice or by shape even on a crowded playground or across a busy mall. All parents know the terrifying panic that strikes when you look up to find your child has wandered away. You start scanning the area in ever widening circles until you see, with thrilled relief, his head across the park or hear her giggle on the other side of the tree.
I find it rather amazing that God feels the same way about me. He knows me intimately and recognizes me no matter what I am doing or how far I may have wandered away from His side. Not only that, He is willing to lay down His life to keep me safe.
Elizabeth Cheney has a short poem (Overheard in an Orchard) that for me illustrates the way we forget about the love of God.
Said the robin to the sparrow,
“I should really like to know,
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so.”
Said the sparrow to the robin,
“Friend I think that it must be,
That they have no Heavenly Father,
Such as cares for you and me.”
Have you ever known a shepherd who cared for his flock in the ‘old fashioned way’? Can you relate to the fear and then relief of a child gone missing? How do you feel when you think that God cares even more deeply for you and your welfare?
For your journal: Read this passage in another translation or two. Imagine yourself as part of a flock of sheep with Jesus as the shepherd.
Put your name into verse 14. Can you hear Jesus say, “I am the good shepherd. I know XX and XX knows me”? How does that make you feel?