We all know Jesus as the “Good Shepherd”. One of the more memorable parables about the lost sheep teaches us how relentless Jesus is with each of us – how He’ll never give up seeking us.
In the parable from today’s Gospel (John 10: 1-10), Jesus throws us a curveball when He is neither the sheep nor the shepherd. Instead he’s the gate of the sheepfold – and we are the sheep and shepherds.
I am the gate of the sheepfold
‘I tell you most solemnly, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold through the gate, but gets in some other way is a thief and a brigand. The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the flock; the gatekeeper lets him in, the sheep hear his voice, one by one he calls his own sheep and leads them out. When he has brought out his flock, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow because they know his voice. They never follow a stranger but run away from him: they do not recognise the voice of strangers.’
Jesus told them this parable but they failed to understand what he meant by telling it to them.
So Jesus spoke to them again: ‘I tell you most solemnly, I am the gate of the sheepfold. All others who have come are thieves and brigands; but the sheep took no notice of them. I am the gate. Anyone who enters through me will be safe: he will go freely in and out and be sure of finding pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full.’
He is the way, the gate, through which we’re lead
The scene that Jesus paints for us provides an incredible illustration of His instructions for how we’re to live. The sheep represent those of us who are dependant on others to lead them. These sheep are protected by a wall, enclosed on all sides with a single entry-point – the gate. Those who seek to lead either get to the sheep by the gate or by hopping over the wall.
Through this gate, Jesus is showing us the means through which people are to be lead. We are either lead by those that come to us through Jesus or we are lead by robbers and thieves that come to us without Him.
When we’re the sheep
The most obvious characters in this parable for us to relate to are the sheep. Jesus is opening our eyes to the importance of discerning who we follow by looking at how they came to us – did they come through the gate (Jesus) or did they hop over the wall?
In our modern times we have so many influences that enter our minds and hearts on a daily basis. Television shows, the news, magazines (print or online), advertisements, films, books, video games, Youtube, social media, and so on. Many different voices in here – some we’ve invited in, others are able to barge in because the channel is open.
It should come as no surprise that many (arguably most) of those “voices” coming to us through these channels have not come through the gate. They’ve hopped the walls – they’re the thieves & brigands as Jesus calls them. If we’re not careful or vigilant, we can easily be led astray. Certainly not all are out there to steal or mislead, but if Jesus and His way is not being used, the enemy is able to create the confusion and deception required to make our lives more difficult, our peace stolen away.
Repairing our walls
As we start to think about all of these different sources and channels through which thieves and brigands are able to enter our minds & hearts, it’s important to recognise what steps we can take to reduce that. We need to repair those openings in our walls so that it’s harder for the thieves to steal our peace and mislead us (regardless of whether that’s their intention or not).
As an example, if we realise that social media presents a wide opening in the wall for our peace to be stolen and our direction confused, close that opening! It could be a simple case of limiting the time spent there, and perhaps even inviting Jesus to join you during these times so that your guard can be raised. Or you may find you need the extreme of removing it from your life altogether. Social media isn’t inherently bad, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be used by thieves and brigands. We must be awake and alert.
The starting point for us, as sheep, is to discern who we’re letting in and only following those who have come through the gate, through Jesus. The more of us that become impervious to those who aren’t using the gate, the more readily His kingdom will be present in our lives.
When we’re the shepherds
Sometimes Jesus asks us to be His shepherds. We are called to lead our children, our family members, our neighbours, our colleagues, our friends.
We have a responsibility to lead them with and through Jesus, which means we must be careful to always use the gate. This point is critical because whether we use the gate or unwittingly jump over the wall, “our” sheep trust us, know us and will follow. We run a high risk of misleading them if we aren’t in the right place to lead from.
Keep to the path
The enemy wants to use this to his advantage. He knows we’re trusted and will be listened to. If he can veer us off course, he can use us to mislead our loved ones.
How does he do this? He uses our vulnerabilities and weaknesses against us. We are prone to temptation and sin. As we approach the gate, he’s there waiting and preparing to divert our path so that in confusion we climb over the wall and attempt to lead on our own, absent of Jesus’ involvement.
The harm that can be caused by this is great. Listen to Jesus’ in Luke 17:2
“It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.”
We must be so vigilant in this. We must be aware that we’ll be up against this tactic, where the enemy is able to hurt us (through the sin that will weigh on our hearts) and mislead our loved ones in one stroke. No one ever accused the serpent of not being cunning.
Our priests face this difficulty on a daily basis – this is why it’s so critical that we pray for them. They’re human just as we are, with their own weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Just as we may be prone to falling to an attack at times and misleading others, so might they with very serious consequences.
Being aware that this can happen let’s remember that we’re all imperfect – we and others will fall into this trap. These are the occasions where forgiveness and mercy are critical.
Using the gate for His purposes
At times we may be called to be shepherds (little “s”), but Jesus is the only “Good Shepherd” (big “S”).
We must remain attuned to His will, particularly when it comes to leading & guiding others. We can’t do this alone, we must do it hand in hand with our Good Shepherd. Living a lifestyle where we remain close to Him provides many opportunities every day to give Him our “yes”.
So often we look for the big things to do for Him, and in the process we miss out on all of the small ways He needs our “yes”. Our holiness lies in the small unseen tasks and duties, those that we complete with humble acts of love and patience. Jesus saves the world through each of us, and our job is to continue making progress spiritually – being transformed by Him into His mirrors, people lovingly serving in perfect union with His will. Each of us is responsible for our own souls and we have work to do, with His help.
Moving closer to Him
Here are five things that you can do, informed by what Jesus teaches in today’s Gospel, to make that spiritual progress. These will help fortify your walls so that you can be the sheep that only follows His voice and can confidently shepherd your loved ones united with Him, the Good Shepherd.
1) Noise Reduction: Become aware of the sources of all the noise in your life, in your head and in your heart. Start to discern their agenda and whether they used the gate or if they jumped the wall. Keep those thieves and brigands out of your inner life – patch up those walls and cut out the noise that doesn’t serve you or your spiritual growth. It may be hard but we know this is the hard road. It wasn’t meant to be easy, but it is worth it.
2) Daily Examen: Become aware of your vulnerabilities. While asleep to these, this is where you can be exploited by thieves & brigands and when you’re the shepherd, these will be used against you to divert you from the gate, causing harm to those you love. Taking time on a daily basis for your Examen (more information on this method in the “God’s School of Holiness” post) will invite Jesus to heal and strengthen you in these specific areas. It will also help you become more aware of the enemies tactics to use you in leading others astray. Bring these lessons learned to confession on a regular basis (ideally monthly) so that your light can shine bright for those who need it.
3) Learn from Jesus & those who use the gate: Learn through Scripture and from those who you have strong reason to believe have entered through the gate (start with the Saints you feel drawn to). The more you learn here, combined with the insights from your daily examen, form the curriculum for Him to teach you personally on your climb to holiness.
4) Spend time with Him: Give Him time each day in meditative prayer. Create more “coming back to Him” moments throughout the day. In this way you can continue to listen to Him in the details of your day, giving Him your “Yes” frequently. This creates a union that allows you to better serve & follow when you’re a sheep, and to lead in alignment with Him when called to be a shepherd.
5) Fortify your walls: The sacraments act as fortifications for your walls. As soon as you can (and as often as you can), go to the Eucharist. Receive Him. Adore Him. Make frequent use of confession so that you can be cleansed and strengthened. Lean on and learn from Mary – she’ll keep us pointed in the right direction. Pray the Rosary, it’s such a beautiful meditation on Jesus’ life, and brings such strong protection.
All of these things help us strengthen our walls, leaving only the gate to be approached through. This lifestyle calibrates our alignment to the gate, whether we’re entering it or following someone who has.
In this way, we “may have life and have it to the full”.