From Jeremy Hunns
I hope that this finds you all well and safe. As we enter another week of lockdown, we can give
thanks that as countries like Italy and Spain have started to ease their lockdowns, here in the UK we
appear to be over the initial peak of infections and that although still very high, the daily Covid-19
related death toll appears to be falling despite the large increase in the overall death toll this week
now that we have added in the number of Covid-19 related deaths in care homes. It is easy to forget
that behind each of the statistics quoted in the daily news conference lies a personal and family
tragedy and as Christians we need to continue to pray for all here and around the world who have
lost loved ones in this pandemic.
As we get more information on the pattern of deaths, it is becoming increasingly clear that the virus
is impacting our society very unequally with the death rate being much higher amongst those who
are most economically deprived as well as amongst those from black and minority backgrounds and
we need to pray that one of the lasting impacts of this pandemic will be a commitment to tackling
these health inequalities within our society.
We are told that this coming week will see the government reveal its plans for our exit from
lockdown and a phased return to some sort of (new) normal. We shall have to wait patiently to see
when we will be able to meet again in church for worship but hopefully that time will not be too far
off. In the meantime, we need to continue to pray for wisdom for all who are responsible for
formulating, communicating and applying these plans that they would do so considering the needs
of all in society.
Jesus, through his earthly ministry, and supremely through his death and resurrection, came to bring
life and life in all its fullness, a point that is emphasised in our gospel reading for this week (John
10:1-10). Let’s make no bones about it, in this passage, Jesus here is attacking the religion of the
Pharisees, contrasting the life that He brings with the slavery and ultimately death that they offer.
This was an uncomfortable message then and it is an uncomfortable passage for many today for it
speaks of the uniqueness of Jesus, something that many in our post-modern world with its view that
all religions lead to God, find very difficult to accept.
It is sheep that provide the common theme through this passage as Jesus draws on a number of
different images ranging from gatekeeper to the (good) shepherd and we shouldn’t get too hung up
trying to interpret the changes between the imagery that Jesus uses here. It is the big picture that
At the heart of the passage, Jesus uses the image of the sheepfold. It is a very appropriate image.
Not only were sheep common then as now, there are, at the most basic of levels the obvious
similarities (in terms of behaviour) between us humans and sheep, a theme that draws on many
times in the gospels.
In this passage, it is the sheepfold that is the focus. Pretty much every village would have had a
sheepfold, a high-walled communal enclosure where the local flocks of sheep would be secured
overnight (the countryside at that time was still home to predatory bears and even lions so
vulnerable (and highly valuable) animals like sheep needed to be protected. The sheep would be
penned in as dusk fell and the gatekeeper would keep guard over the only entrance to the
In the morning, the shepherd would come and call his own sheep by name (although probably not
Woolly and Jumper as some clergy friends of mine called the sheep that used to keep the vicarage
grass trimmed). Having called his own sheep, the shepherd would lead them on and they would
follow him rather than another shepherd because they recognised his voice and we know that at
that time, shepherds had this sort of personal relationship with their sheep.
The sheepfold provided security for the sheep (which were the most valuable possession for most
families). There was one gate to get in through and that was guarded by the gatekeeper and anyone
who got into the sheepfold by any other means was, by default, a robber or a thief.
So far, so good, seemingly a nice agricultural analogy that all of Jesus’ listeners would have been
familiar with (although John tells us that the Pharisees who were there didn’t understand). But now,
in v7, changing the imagery from the shepherd, Jesus comes to the crunch as he tells his listeners
(including the assembled Pharisees) that he is the gate for the sheep and that all who have come
before (i.e. the Pharisees and their like) are thieves and robbers. The thief Jesus tells them comes
only to steal and kill but he comes that they may have life and have it to the full. Jesus promises that
whoever enters the sheepfold through Jesus will come in and go out and find pasture (thus offering
shelter, security and the pasture that sheep need and which is so precious in a semi-arid country like
Israel and a clear reference back to Psalm 23).
For generations, the Pharisees had seen themselves as the gateway to God but they had
progressively abused that position, embroidering the law, which was God’s original plan for life and
holiness with so many rules and regulations that perfect observance and therefore righteousness in
God’s sight had become impossible. Jesus now comes as the gate for the sheep, not a gateway
controlling access to the sheepfold but to eternal life. I am the gate, whoever enters through me will
Jesus here proclaims his uniqueness as the way to heaven (indeed Jesus would go on to claim that “I
am the way, the truth and the life” in John chapter 14) and he remains uniquely the way to heaven
for all who believe in him because of what he accomplished for us on the cross. No other leader of a
world religion has died sacrificially to pay the price for our sin or been raised again to life. That is
why Jesus is and remains uniquely the way to God. This is a difficult message for many today as it
was then but it is a great comfort for us as it gives us the assurance of how much God loves us. In
verse 15 of John chapter 10 Jesus says I lay down my life for the sheep, an event we commemorate
on Good Friday as we reflect on why that had to happen but we celebrate with great joy joy Jesus’
resurrection on Easter Sunday.
As we come to another Sunday when we are unable to meet together, can I encourage you to
remember that despite all that is going on around us, we worship the God who is the same,
yesterday, today and forever and that we will come out of this period of lockdown just as the
disciples discovered with great joy the empty tomb on that first Easter Sunday.
Please continue to pray for one another, for Veronica and the family, for the church here in this
country and around the world, for all who have lost loved ones in the past weeks, whether to the
Covid-19 virus or other causes and especially for all who work in the health service, for care workers
and for all key workers who are ensuring that we remain fed and watered and that the essential
services that we are so reliant on remain operational throughout.
Please also take time to pray for yourselves that you would know the peace and love of Christ that
passes all understanding, that you would know for yourselves and your loved ones the true Shalom
with which the risen Lord Jesus greeted the disciples on that first Easter Sunday.
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