1 ‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7 So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
11 ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
A week ago, I talked about my desire to run away from God. I've been restless and anxious for several months now. I'm church-less, which is never good for a social introvert like me who thrives on being a part of community, on feeling connected, loved, and included. Just like yesterday, I come across a passage—and by come across, I mean I'm mostly following the "lectionary" created by a pastor friend for use on his church's website for their own Lenten devotional—where something small sticks out at me, just enough to where I have to pause and think for a moment.
"They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers."
Are you seeing the same connection I'm seeing (I really hope so... I don't want to feel any crazier than I already do)?
I went through my Facebook friends' list recently for a cleanup. I'll be honest: I like round numbers, either even numbers, or numbers divisible by 5, and I've been known to prune my social networking connections based on this fact. Hell, when it comes to writing blog posts, I will pad up or trim down for the same purpose. But I digress. As I scrolled through the page, I noticed profile pictures had changed. I clicked on profiles to see what some friends had been up to. And in several cases, the friends who got chopped were friends with whom I no longer felt any connection or shared any common ground. After years of living in different cities and states, we had become strangers. It might even be safe to say that, were they to chase after me on the street, I'd run from them. I wouldn't know them from any other stranger.
Connect this idea with how I've been feeling about God. Maybe I've been running because the voice I hear isn't the voice I've been used to. Maybe I've been running because it's been too long since I really heard God's voice to recognize it from that of a stranger. Is this making any sense?
Looking back at the beginning of this passage, I feel like Jesus is saying something important about God's character. Whereas a thief or a bandit would get into the sheepfold any way they could, the shepherd comes in through the gate. We hear and read passages of scripture all the time that talk about God knocking at the door. And then I realized something.
God's not chasing me down. God's not trying to tackle me. God's keeping some distance between us, but still pursuing me. God is respecting my space. God is acknowledging my boundaries. God's saying, "I'm here when you're ready. I'm right behind you." It's like being out in public and a friend catches your eye, one you hadn't planned on seeing. You yell their name, but they don't hear you. Maybe you decide to catch up to them. Maybe they even turn back for a second at the sound of their name, but they don't make eye contact with you. Your hopes are up. You want to see them, to embrace them, to catch up. And when you finally tap them on the shoulder, either you scare the crap out of them, or you get a fist to your face (let's be honest... in this scenario, what are the odds of a truly amiable result?).
They they see you. They put two and two together, the sound of your voice calling their name, and the recognition of your face.
I'm trying not to run away from God right now. I'm trying to listen for the sound of my name being called amidst the cacophony around me. That's what these forty days are about: listening. They're about letting go of the tendency to run and embracing the call to follow. We're not chasing strangers here. We're chasing God. God's chasing us. Let the great love dance begin.