In John’s Gospel today, Jesus is portrayed as the good shepherd. “I am the gate for the sheep.” This is the essence of a good shepherd.
There were no swinging doors and latches in Biblical times. There are no fences either (or very few!). Caves were primarily used as sheepsfolds. I know this having been to Israel and stood in some of them.
And where was the gate? The good shepherd was one who curled up at the entrance after all the sheep had gone in the fold, and who slept, not by the door, but slept AS the door. The shepherd became the gate with her body. What a wonderful image!
In the context of talking about thieves and bandits, Jesus says, “In order to get to my sheep, you have to go through me!” How wonderful – how powerful – how amazing.
So often we want to see Jesus as gentle and mild. But time and time again we see powerful images – military images of battles against evil, forceful stories about pigs drowning themselves or tables being overturned in the temple. Here we have the might of a shepherd, beating away the foe. Jesus is more than one who performs miracles, but one who fights for us, who overcomes the darkness, who confronts the evil one and wins.
And now we hear something striking: “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” That would be good for a soldier to do, but not necessarily good for a shepherd to do. What about the other sheep then! Hard to turn a profit if you are dead. Here we realize John has gone beyond talking about sheep and shepherds, but about the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus himself, the final conquering of the evil one – death itself.