While sticking to the same pastoral imagery of sheep and shepherds, today’s gospel gives us an image for Jesus which is quite different. I would say that the key theme in today’s gospel is the “enclosure”. It’s been translated in many different ways, such as sheepfold or sheep-pen. Jesus’ intention in John’s gospel is to convey the feeling of an enclosed space, where the sheep should not naturally be. They are there purely out of necessity, perhaps to be sheltered from the dangers outside. But surely the ideal and natural place for the sheep is to be in the outside, enjoying the freedom of roaming around in green pastures. Unfortunately sometimes bad people enter this enclosure to steal or kill the sheep. Jesus tells us that He is the only true shepherd - the one who enters into the enclosure to “lead them out”. He knows what’s good for them. This is very reminiscent of the famous psalm 23 which says, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul”.
Jesus says that there had been other people before him who came to where the sheep were, but they were only “thieves and bandits”. Unlike Jesus the Good Shepherd, they had no intention to lead the sheep into freedom and life. On the contrary, they came “to steal and kill and destroy”. He tells us that, if we really want true life, we have to go through him, by listening to his Voice and walking in his footsteps. “I came that they may have life,” he tells us, “and have it abundantly”. What a wonderful image during this Easter time, when we celebrate the passage from death to life, from slavery to freedom!
If we look at our lives we might find that we, too, are like those sheep who are enclosed in an enclosure, thinking that we are safe but in actual fact longing for some freedom and real food. It is, indeed, a false sense of security. This enclosure which enslaves us and robs us from our freedom could be, for example, our bad image of God. “Bad shepherds” might have instilled this in us, keeping us enslaved by the idea of an unjust, revengeful God. The Good Shepherd, on the other hand, came to show us a God who is love and rich in mercy. Other forms of enclosures which rob us from our freedom could be our bad habits or idols we create and to which we give too much importance such as money, success, and the idea other people might have of us. The Good Shepherd comes to free us from all of this. Then again, we could still be enslaved by anger or a sense of revenge (sometimes under the guise of justice) or our own past mistakes. By listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd we will realize that it is possible to be freed from all this and find the freedom to love - both our neighbor and ourselves.
As we continue our Easter journey this year, let us take the opportunity of having more time on our hands to create some space in our lives where we can listen to the voice of our Good Shepherd. Perhaps today we could ask ourselves, “what voice do I listen to, when I take certain decisions in my life?” Let us make him our one and only Shepherd, the only one who can lead us to where there is life.