This Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter is often called “Good Shepherd Sunday” because the Gospel lesson for each of the three years of the lectionary cycle is a portion of John 10 where Jesus tells his people “I am the good shepherd.”
As I’ve reflected the last couple of days on this passage, I’m struck by the presence not only of Jesus - the door, the good shepherd - but of thieves and robbers and strangers who don’t enter by the door but climb in another way. Presumably these interlopers mean the sheep harm and not good.
Similarly, as sheep in God’s flock we inevitably face a very real, spiritual battle where voices and influences other than the good shepherd would lead us astray. And Jesus’ words in John 10 are clear about that spiritual battle: it is for real, and it is for keeps. Notice what he says: “The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
These voices are much more subtle than the flashing signs of Times Square. They are probably more like the subterfuge of the devils Wormwood and Screwtape in C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. Notice what the more experienced demon Screwtape tells his novice nephew:
“It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out….Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself [God] we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves” (29).
The stealing and killing and destroying the thief comes to do is subtle, distracting us here and there until our gaze has shifted away from God leaving us confused and forgetful of our identity as sons and daughters, sheep in the flock of the Good Shepherd.
Let us be mindful of our place in God’s flock, our necessity to hear the Shepherd’s voice, and the very real presence of those spirits who would distract us wanting to steal, kill, and destroy.