Skip to main content

Keeping safe, inside and outside of the sheepfold

John 10.1-10
John has a rather fancy notion of what a sheepfold is like. He imagines a gatekeeper who opens the gate for the shepherd to go in and collect the flock, a bit like a bridegroom being welcomed to his wedding by the ushers, or a commissionaire letting a guest into a classy hotel. The sheep recognise his voice and trust him to lead them out from the safety of the fold. 
And it’s certainly a dangerous world out there. Never mind the wolves, lions and bears lurking outside, there are thieves and robbers who are only too willing to sneak in. And there are strangers whose aim is to rustle the sheep and take them away from the good shepherd.
When Jesus explains the parable it suddenly takes on a different meaning. Jesus is no longer just the shepherd, he’s also the gate. Those who come into the fold through him will be saved from harm. But it isn’t a prison; they will also be able to come and go freely so that they can find good pasture and enjoy a rich and satisfying life.
I don’t think this is the original meaning of the story. I think this is John’s elaboration of it. He finds new levels of meaning. And we can do the same. The story is still giving up new meanings.
In a time of lockdown our homes become our own personal sheepfold. Everyone on the outside, friend and stranger, is a potential source of danger. The only people trying to get in will be thieves and robbers. It’s a frightening world out there, but Jesus is with us.
In the end, though, he isn’t just symbolised by a gate, offering protection. He is also a shepherd and guide, who - when the right time comes - will be there to lead us out into good pastures. We cannot stay hidden forever. He wants us to come and go freely and to be working and flourishing for him in the world.


Popular posts from this blog

I don't believe in an interventionist God

Matthew 28.1-10, 1 Corinthians 15.1-11 I like Nick Cave’s song because of its audacious first line: ‘I don’t believe in an interventionist God’. What an unlikely way to begin a love song! He once explained that he wrote the song while sitting at the back of an Anglican church where he had gone with his wife Susie, who presumably does believe in an interventionist God - at least that’s what the song says. Actually Cave has always been very interested in religion. Sometimes he calls himself a Christian, sometimes he doesn’t, depending on how the mood takes him. He once said, ‘I believe in God in spite of religion, not because of it.’ But his lyrics often include religious themes and he has also said that any true love song is a song for God. So maybe it’s no coincidence that he began this song in such an unlikely way, although he says the inspiration came to him during the sermon. The vicar was droning on about something when the first line of the song just popped into his head. I suspect …

Giotto’s Nativity and Adoration of the Shepherds

John 1.10-18
In the week before Christmas the BBC broadcast a modern version of The Nativity which attempted to retell the story with as much psychological realism as possible. So, for instance, viewers saw how Mary, and Joseph especially, struggled with their feelings.

But telling the story of Jesus with psychological realism is not a new idea. It has a long tradition going back seven hundred years to the time of the Italian artist Giotto di Bondone. This nativity scene was painted in a church in Padua in about 1305. Much imitated it is one of the first attempts at psychological realism in Christian art. And what a wonderful first attempt it is - a work of genius, in fact!

Whereas previously Mary and the Baby Jesus had been depicted facing outwards, or looking at their visitors, with beatific expressions fixed on their faces, Giotto dares to show them staring intently into one another’s eyes, bonding like any mother and newborn baby. Joseph, in contrast, is not looking on with quiet app…

Why are good people tempted to do wrong?

Deuteronomy 30.15-20, Psalm 119.1-8, 1 Corinthians 3.1-4, Matthew 5.21-37 Why are good people tempted to do wrong? Sometimes we just fall from the straight and narrow and do mean, selfish or spiteful things. But sometimes we convince ourselves that we’re still good people even though we’re doing something wrong. We tell ourselves that there are some people whose motives are totally wicked or self-regarding: criminals, liars, cheats, two-timers, fraudsters, and so on, but we are not that kind of person. We’re basically good people who just indulge in an occasional misdemeanour. So, for example, there’s Noble Cause Corruption, a phrase first coined apparently in 1992 to explain why police officers, judges, politicians, managers, teachers, social workers and so on sometimes get sucked into justifying actions which are really totally wrong, but on the grounds that they are doing them for a very good reason. A famous instance of noble cause corruption is the statement, by the late Lord Denni…