“He walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice.” – John 10:4
This week I’ve been in conversation with a friend who asked me to suggest an appropriate reading for a family graveside service. Her brother is dying, she said; he’s a believer, but hasn’t been much involved in church. She asked for a scripture, and also a passage from one of my books.
Authors love it when people ask for book quotes! But this time I’m more inclined to grab the immediacy of this moment, and to let the scripture that’s on my mind (from John Chapter Ten) guide me.
“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”– John 10:1-5
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.” – John 10:11
DEATH: I’ve always loved this idea of Jesus as The Good Shepherd. I think it’s an especially poignant image when thinking about our passage from this world to the next. The Good Shepherd opens the gate; the sheep recognize the Shepherd’s voice; Jesus calls his own sheep by name; Jesus leads the sheep through the gate; the Good Shepherd walks ahead of the sheep, and they – we – follow because they – we – know his voice.
Personally, I found this passage to be a big help three years ago, when my own brother passed into eternity. Many people in the “religious” world seem obsessively addicted to judgment, and to rule-keeping; to finger-pointing, to condemning, and to the wholesale dismissal of people who make them uncomfortable. But my brother knew the Shepherd’s voice, and the Shepherd knew him by name.
This is the deep truth held in the words of Jesus: That the Shepherd keeps the gate, not the condemners; That the Shepherd calls the sheep, not the strident voices of the Pharisees; That the Shepherd knows us by name, not the denouncers; That love trumps all.
LIFE: This scripture has a lot to say to those of us who are focused on life, too; those standing at the graveside, and also those reading these words as an on-line blog post. The power of the story of the Good Shepherd is the implicit invitation to live like we mean it right now – because God certainly meant something wonderful when each one of us was first imagined, and created, and loved.
My friend’s brother knows the Good Shepherd’s voice, and the Shepherd knows him by name. Jesus is leading him through the gate – it’s a beautiful image.
But it’s more than a beautiful image; it stands as a powerful invitation.
“… and they follow him because they know his voice…”