Scripture: John 10:1-10
Sheep are mentioned more than 200 times in the Bible, more than any other animal. Sheep were important as sources of wool, milk, and meat, and throughout the Bible, sheep served as symbols for God’s people. Jesus is portrayed as the shepherd of his chosen flock in the prophetic words of Isaiah and Ezekiel, and most famously in the 23rd Psalm, all in which belongs to the Good Shepherd.
Sheep are followers. Following isn’t something sheep have to think about—it’s an instinct. Sheep remember faces. They recognize faces of other sheep and even of humans who work with them regularly. They are almost human, because sheep remember who treats them well— and even more, they remember who handles them harshly. Sheep find safety in numbers, and when grazing, sheep will keep at least 4-5 other sheep in view. They are very social and extroverted animals, for they do not do well alone, and they value supporting each other by sticking together at all costs. A lost sheep is critical because they do not do well alone.
When Jesus begins a statement with "Amen, amen I say to you” it means serious business in the Gospel of John. Twice Jesus says this to make a strong point, and he also says he is the gate twice—for he is the true gate. The Pharisees who deny Jesus as the way are no better than thieves trying to climb over the wall of a sheepfold, instead of entering through the gate.
The message of this parable is that Jesus is the true shepherd. He is the Good Shepherd who was willing to die for those who put their faith in Him. Any other person who claims to be the true shepherd is a robber or thief, for they are a false shepherd. Imagine a world where people do not expect to be served but are all eager to serve and care for one another! Jesus is the Good Shepherd who cares, watches, and protects those who believe in Him. This is a wonderful message for anyone who seeks peace with God.
In the Rule, Benedict mentions sheep three times—in Chapter 1: The Kinds of Monastics; in Chapter 2: The Qualities of an Abbot or Prioress; and in Chapter 27: How Concerned the Abbot or Prioress Should Be about the Excommunicated (using the lost sheep as a metaphor). Benedict invites us to listen to the ear of the heart, and we are also invited to listen to Jesus, our Good Shepherd, with the ear of our heart.
To be in the Lord’s flock is to be in a life-changing, transformative relationship with the Lord. To know the Lord is to see our life changed by that very relationship. It is to know the voice of Jesus and be able to distinguish it from others, so that in all things God may be glorified.