Listen to the Voice
I think humor is necessary for life. There are times when the only real response is to laugh. My father is a man of many jokes; some of them really good, some of them OK, some of them not so much. Of course, that’s true of anyone who tells jokes. They don’t always land. There is one my father told me as a kid that stuck, and I’ve probably told it dozens of times myself.
A man walked into a bar and sat down. He ordered a drink and while the bartender was getting it someone in the crowd yelled out, “Sixteen”. A few moments later another person, this one at the end of the bar, said, “Forty-eight”. Curiosity got the better of the man and he finally asked the bartender, “Why does everyone laugh when somebody calls out a number?” The bartender looks at a man and tells him, “Well, people have told a lot of the same jokes through the years and after a while we all got tired of listening to them all the way through. Somebody got the bright idea to number them. Now we just shout out the jokes number and since everyone knows the jokes, they laugh.” the man at the bar thought about this for a moment and shouted, “Eleven.” the bar was dead silent. Nobody laughed. Puzzled he asked the bartender why no one responded. The man behind the bar shook his head, “Well, some people can tell a joke, some people can’t.”
The joke illustrates a great point, one I think can be applied to the whole of scripture, but specifically to what we read today. John 10 is an oft quoted, oft used passage in Christian circles. We love the metaphors around the shepherd, especially since they point to toward Psalm 23. We dig into the sacrificial and exclusive language for conversion on salvation and what that means. And in the process, I think we miss some things. In a similar way to the man in the joke, we misunderstand parts of the passage. One of these parts is found in verse 16, “I have other sheep that don’t belong to this sheep pen. I must lead them too. They will listen to my voice and there will be one flock, with one shepherd.”
The ancient church fathers saw this as a reference to Gentiles being accepted as Jesus followers. This idea is found predominantly in Acts where we find both Peter and Paul sent to those outside of the Jewish faith, sharing the message of Jesus life, death, ministry, and resurrection with Gentiles. “Theodore of Mopsuestia points out, “many among the Gentiles as well as many among the Jews are destined to gather together into a single church and to acknowledge one shepherd and one lord, who is Christ”
Modern interpreters have had some disagreement on this idea (surprise). In a chapel address to students at Duke Divinity School, Rev. Dr. Sam Wells talks about two ways of looking at the issue for most Christians.
In option one, everything gets very dogmatic, and the lines are absolutely clear who’s saved and who isn’t, and the Jesus who died for our sins turns into a monster who seems content to send a great many people to hell. That Jesus seems so unattractive it’s not at all clear why anyone would ever want to consider spending eternity with him. In option two, everything becomes terribly vague, and the only thing we seem to know for certain about heaven is that everyone gets there, and eternity becomes all terribly democratic and inclusive and starts to sound more and more like a mirror image of contemporary America, and the mystery is why Jesus went to all the trouble of becoming incarnate and dying an agonizing death just to tell us a bunch of things we already know and to save us from a hell that apparently never existed in the first place.
I think Dr. Wells summary gets a lot of people and their thinking and he goes on to offer his own opinion about why both sides are missing the point. So, what do we do with this enigmatic little verse? How do we hear these words from the shepherd?
As always, I first would say your journey, the journey God has you on toward spiritual wholeness, has a lot to say about the matter. Experience colors perspective and perception. That said, each of us will be coming at this from a slightly or greatly different place. I feel like at times, I have been looking at this passage from both perspectives offered by Dr. Wells. I have been on the hardline side of things and the soft-line side of things, willing to be the harsh, judgmental type and the uber inclusive type.
At this point in my journey, I have found myself looking at things differently than before. I have begun to ask the questions, “How does this idea, this scripture, this passage bring me into the presence of God? How do these things lead me to a place of divine connection?” I think the answer to this lies in being sheep, sort of. We have to be willing to be led by the Holy Spirit, to follow the teachings and examples of Jesus who as shepherd is showing us the way. I think this passage specifically calls us recognize the need to look for other sheep in other places. Sheep wander. Sheep find themselves in hard places. Sheep aren’t particularly observant to the dangers around them. Sheep require connection to the shepherd. As hire hands, so to speak, we are called to help the shepherd find these lost sheep and point them in the direction of the shepherd. Not only that but walk with them until they reach the rest of the flock.
Now that we’ve beaten the metaphor to death, what I’m telling you is to be willing to go to whatever place the Spirit of God leads you, find the people who are most in need when you get there, and walk with them on the Way of Jesus. I’m saying this has to be a lifestyle of connection with God and people, holding your hand out one way to reach those in need and the other to hold the hand of God. We hang on to God and those in need at the same time, moving into and out of the places people find themselves, helping them walk back to wholeness in God.
The question is where are you today? Are you in need of tasting this wholeness for the first time? Are you wandering aimlessly through life? Are you a hired hand sitting around and enjoying the pasture but not really working? Are you in the thick of things and in need of encouragement and continued guidance? Only you and God know the answer, only you and God know your journey. What will you do about it?
 Margaret Aymer. The Gospels and Acts (Fortress Commentary on the Bible) (p. 287). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.