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Easter 4



I’m sure if I asked you to think of someone whose voice had made an impact on you – you could instantly recall that voice speaking. The sound of a voice and how it’s used can have a real impact on our emotions and ultimately on our health and wellbeing.

I’ve been thinking about the many references to voice and hearing that appear in the first half of our Gospel reading today. Jesus the shepherd and gatekeeper calls his own sheep by name. Think back to the intimacy of that first Easter morning when the risen Jesus calls Mary by her name as she stands beside his empty tomb. She instantly recognises it is Jesus who is speaking with her. The gatekeeper calls his sheep by name and they hear his voice. The sheep follow the shepherd because they know his voice.

We’re told by John that those listening to Jesus ironically did not understand what he was saying to them so rather than change tactics he develops this figure of speech saying to them, ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep’.

In the open countryside sheepfolds were usually walled areas and the walls were often topped with briars to prevent anything undesirable getting in. The entrance was a single opening without a gate or a door so in the evening when the shepherd brought his flock back into the safety of the sheepfold, he would put some briers across its entrance and then lie down there himself. The only way into the sheepfold was through the shepherd: he was the gate or the door. In this way each night the shepherd literally lay down his life for the sheep.

It's important though that the metaphor of the gate is not one of exclusion, it’s not a license to think of ourselves as Jesus’ true sheep and others as outsiders. If we use it in that way, we become just like the Pharisees who were forever using the law to exclude outsiders from their community. The purpose of the gate is not to keep out other sheep. In fact, a little bit later on in John’s Gospel Jesus says, ‘I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.’ The purpose of the gate is to guard against all that threatens the well-being of the sheep — thieves, bandits, and wolves or even wolves in sheep’s clothing.

According to Eastern hospitality, a person was safe overnight once he was received into a tent or house. The door might have been flimsy but it represented safety and care. Until the morning, the guest would have been looked after and defended by his host.  In the same way, Jesus puts himself between that which would harm or destroy us. He comes to us so that we ‘may not perish but have eternal life’. Jesus seeks to defend us from all that harms us whilst at the same time encircling us with his love – just like the walls of the sheepfold. In Jesus we find ourselves enfolded in love.

However, the walls are not there to keep us enclosed but to offer shelter and protection whilst giving us greater freedom – which sounds like a bit of a paradox, but its true. Our faith does doesn’t restrict us – rather it gives us the opportunity of living life to the full. Because we have a secure base, a safe base, a firm foundation – we’re able to go out in confidence. To have a safe place is not to avoid life or hide away from major issues or decisions; a safe place (as in the sheepfold) gives us the strength to cope and the courage to step out in faith.

If we think of Church as the sheepfold – a place we come together for shelter to be encircled in God’s love together; we need to remember that he also encourages us out in to the world. In her book Revelations of Divine Love, the Christian mystic Julian of Norwich wrote that ‘God is our clothing. In his love he wraps and holds us. He enfolds us for love, and he will never let us go.’ Just like the image of the shepherd and his sheep in the sheepfold and out in the pastures we are all wrapped in God’s love.  He has not only created us; but calls us by name, lavishes his love upon us and protects us. Listen out and hear his voice, that voice that speaks to you intimately, both in the sheepfold and out in green pastures.


  • I wonder what the shepherd’s voice sounds like to you
  • I wonder what images the word ‘gate’ conjures up for you
  • Are there pasture you long to graze in but haven’t dared to enter yet?
Page last updated: Monday 24th April 2023 9:11 AM
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