Jesus said: I tell you for certain that I am the gate for the sheep. Everyone who came before me was a thief or a robber, and the sheep did not listen to any of them. I am the gate. All who come in through me will be saved. Through me they will come and go and find pasture. A thief comes only to rob, kill, and destroy. I came so that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest. I am the good shepherd, and the good shepherd gives up his life for his sheep
— John 10:7-11 (Contemporary English Version)
Near the little town of Bethlehem lie the shepherds’ fields. Just across the way from Boaz’s field where Ruth gleaned for food and a husband, shepherds still use this area for keeping their sheep. In the distance, bedoin shepherds watch over their flocks by day and by night, moving them from field to field to graze in controlled areas. From a distance, we can see the field areas divided into flock yards, small enclosed areas where shepherds graze their sheep during the day and where they keep them at night when the weather is nice. In these fields, sheep can safely graze in an enclosed area, which keeps the sheep from wandering off.
Here, the shepherd can keep the flock safe from wild animals which prey on sheep in this area. Wolves and other carnivorous animals are always looking for a quick and easy meal, and a stray sheep becomes easy fast food for a hungry wolf.
The enclosed area has one gateway, one entrance in which the shepherd sits or lies. Nothing gets into or out of the gateway without the shepherd’s okay.
In another part of the field, caves make great storing places for herds when the weather turns treacherous. Here the sheep are kept safe from harsh weather and storms. Climbing down into the caves can present a challenge as there is room for one or two animals to travel at a time. Each sheep is counted, and if one is missing, the shepherd can safely leave the flock here with a stone over the gate. The shepherd can then go searching for the lost sheep.
Jesus used many illustrations of shepherding in his teachings, equating himself with the Good Shepherd, the one who counts every sheep, knows each by name, and would give his life for his sheep. Jesus is our Good Shepherd who leads us and guards us and makes sure that we have what we need to grow spiritually in this life. When we follow our Shepherd, listening to his voice, we will be safe even through the storms of life. Jesus walks with us and guides us if we will be good sheep and listen to his voice.
How are you following the voice of the Good Shepherd? If you have wandered away, know that his voice is calling to you to follow him. Will you listen to his voice speak quietly to your soul today?
Rev. Jan McCoy is the Associate Pastor of Covington First United Methodist Church in downtown Covington. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at covingtonfirst.org.