“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
I was looking for a catalyst for this week’s reflection and decided to use my trusty old research assistant (Google) to go out there are get me some ideas. The concept of having life abundantly that Jesus speaks of in the gospel had piqued my interest. I knew though, that if I asked Google to get me references on “abundant life” I would only get a bunch of churchy sites like this one, so I first went looking for synonyms for “abundant”. The synonym that seemed closest to the Greek “perissos” used in John 10:10, was “plentiful”.
So, plentiful, was the word I entrusted to Google on it’s errand. The first page that Googs (we are on nickname terms) came back with, was a mixed bag. Half the links were to financial advisory services, and given that I don’t have any finances to be advised on, I gave them a miss. It was, however a link to the ezine, “Irish Abroad” that drew me in where I read a delightful article, entitled, “A Plentiful Life Lived” Read the full article here.
Written by Cormac MacConnell, the article is a kind of obituary to a dear friend whose full names were “Patrick Anthony Pacelli Murphy ”. Pacelli was the name of a Pope whom his mother thought would add blessing to his life.
For most of his life though, Patrick Anthony Pacelli Murphy was known as “Paddy Plenty”. It began at school when the class was asked by a visiting Bishop as to how many loaves and fishes it would have taken to feed the five thousand that Jesus fed in the miracle. Paddy’s hand, flew up and his answer to the Bishop was, “Plenty!”. Paddy Plenty, his name became, and it stuck like a gumboot in a bog.
MacConnell goes on in the article to describe how “Paddy Plenty” lived out the accuracy of his nickname. Never wealthy, he was always able to see abundance in the everyday blessings of life. He writes, “ In real times of hardship, if neighbors passing along the road were complaining, he would point to his vegetable garden and say, “Plant plenty of spuds and turnips and cabbage and carrots and kill a fat pig and we’ll always have plenty anyway.”
What a gift! To be able to see abundance when scarcity is screaming for attention. Surely that is the abundant life that Jesus is describing as his shepherd’s gift to his flock.
I was recently in conversation with a friend who began his Christ following in mid-life. As a successful businessman, he chose to attend the flashiest and seemingly, most successful church in town. All was well whilst he parked the Mercedes with the other upscale cars in the lot on Sunday. This seemed to be just the right community of affirming and encouraging folk that would help him to follow Jesus. Some months into this adventure, my friend went through an economic crisis which saw him lose everything, including the Merc.
Now walking to church, and wearing the same clothes week after week, he began to stand out from the congregating crowd. It wasn’t long before he was approached by two of the church elders, who asked to come and see him at home. During that visit in his home, (now emptied by the Sherriff and the debt collectors), he was asked please to find another church community, as his circumstances “no longer witnessed to the abundant life” that members of that church were called to live!
What a curse! To be unable to see abundance other than in material terms. Surely that is what Jesus meant when he said “All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them.”
It would seem to me that the “gate” that is Jesus, channels my thinking, my values and my directions in life.
When I allow Jesus to shepherd my life, I feast in Paddy Plenty’s fields. Seemingly sparse and simple, they are abundantly plenteous with all I need.
When I don’t, I don’t; and find myself gated from gratitude by greed and acquisitiveness.