The image of Jesus as The Good Shepherd is well known and much loved. In John’s gospel, it’s part of a passage in which Jesus talks about the sheep knowing the shepherd’s voice and the shepherd caring for the sheep. Jesus also describes himself as the gate for the sheepfold that protects the sheep and saves the sheep from the thief, because “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” But I, says Jesus, I came that you may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).
As popular as the shepherd image may be, I think it’s that promise of life that’s most important. In fact, I think it ought to be the motto, mission and vision of every church, every faith community, every community, period.
Don’t you think so? There’s lots of other things that could be included, of course, to be more specific, but isn’t that a true description of the kind of community that we want to create? A place where we have life. Abundantly.
There’s the catch, though: the a-word. What do we mean by abundantly? That’s a word we use to quantify something, something we can measure by volume, a large volume. And in a materialistic world, it’s more often associated with want than need.
In a church context, you’ve probably heard it as part of a stewardship or financial campaign. As in, please remember to give - of your time or talents or finances - from a sense of abundance, not scarcity. That is truly important, it is. Scarcity confines our thinking and limits our perception of the possibilities that a generous sense of abundance offers.
It’s a bit like life, don’t you think? We say that the only certainties of life are death and taxes, both things that take from us. If you live your life through the lens of death, what kind of life is that? Shouldn’t the true certainty of life be that it’s full of opportunities for living?
So please, do remember to give from abundance, not just in church, but generally. It’s important and necessary. But it’s not what Jesus is talking about here. There’s something that has to come first.
Jesus isn’t asking you to give abundantly, but to receive abundantly. Jesus wants you to receive this life he offers, to receive it abundantly in all the richness and fullness in which it is offered.
And what is this life that Jesus offers? Maybe the images of sheep, a sheepfold and a shepherd are dated or flawed (being a sheep has a certain connotation, after all), but look, the sheep are provided care, safety and comfort in the community of the sheepfold. And when it’s time to go out into the world, the same shepherd leads them. This is the life that is offered by following the way that Jesus teaches, the life that the earliest Christians will mean when they call themselves The People of The Way.
Maybe our churches are a little dated and flawed, too. But surely the idea of a community that provides a safe place to be who you are, a community that cares for each other, a community that’s life giving, even giving life abundantly - isn’t that a way to go?