Scripture: John 10:11-18
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away–and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I 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. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
I’ve blogged before about my experience as a practicing Buddhist and how that experience deepens and continues to inform my Christian life, so I’m not going to spend any time in this blog rehashing that. I’m also not going to talk about the preachy, didactic tone of this particular section of Scripture, and how different it is from the short, pithy parables in the earlier gospels. What I am going to talk about is how focusing exclusively on John 10:16 misses the point of what it means to be a Christian.
Verse 16 functions in this context a little like finding Waldo in a sea of red-and-white-striped shirts; once you see Waldo, it’s kind of hard to not see him anymore. We’re conditioned to read verse 16 as a proof text, proving that Jesus is indeed the only way to salvation, or heaven. Once we see it, everything else fades into the background, which is a real shame, because in this case, the “everything else” is just the heart of the Christian message.
17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
Our egos respond to verse 16. The ego wants to be stroked and reinforced. It wants to win, and be the best, to wear Jesus like a sports team jersey. But that’s not what Jesus wanted, or did. Jesus wanted to honor and serve God, and he did that by laying down his life, giving it entirely over to God’s purpose, then taking it up again with renewed spirit and intention. Ego responds to verse 16, but Spirit responds to the rest of the section, and Spirit leads us along the Way. Never ego.
The crucifixion, or laying down our lives, and the resurrection, or taking it up again, is the journey that Jesus asks us to undertake. When we replace acting like Jesus, modeling our lives on his, with believing that what happened to Jesus somehow exempts us from having to walk the same Way, we’re in real trouble. It brings to mind another, more pithy saying of Jesus, from Matthew 7:5 which is to take the log out of your own eye before you focus on the speck in another’s.