“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.
Often in John’s Gospel, Jesus begins a speech, or what he is about to say to listeners or disciples, with this phrase, “Very truly, I tell you”, or as we may have learned it in the King James, “Verily, I say unto you.” It is a phrase used to call attention to what he is about to say, sort of as if he said, “Hey guys, listen up, this is important.” So – what is it he is telling us that we should “listen up”?
First, note that Jesus has not moved; the scene has not changed. He is still talking in the hearing of the Pharisees who are accusing him after healing the blind man on the Sabbath. But now, instead of addressing them directly, he turns to his followers and, as the Pharisees listen in, begins to describe sheep, and the sheep-fold. One who comes into the sheepfold by climbing over the fence, rather than entering through the gate, is a thief. The shepherd enters by the gate. The sheep know their shepherd, and although the sheep of a number of herders may be housed together in the sheepfold, they know the voice of their own shepherd and come to him, sorting themselves out by whom they follow.
We sort ourselves out by whom we follow – do we recognize the voice of Jesus, our shepherd? Or are we too busy listening to other voices – those of profit and wealth, idols with fine columns and fast engines?
But, as we have seen before, Jesus’ followers do not understand the analogy – and so, patiently, he explains again – now he uses “I AM” – “I am the gate for the sheep.” Others who claimed to be sent by God were thieves and wolves; Jesus is the one sent by God, the one through whom the gates of heaven are opened. The thieves come to steal and destroy, but Jesus comes that they may have life, and have it abundantly. Note – Jesus is not simply talking about streets of gold and an afterlife; he is talking about abundant life, in the now. He is the way into life; a life in relationship with God, surrounded by his love, is an abundant and beautiful life! Through his gift for us, we receive salvation – he came to save his sheep, to care for and love us, to lay down his life for us. He is the Good Shepherd; he is the divine one, who died that we might have life, and have it abundantly.