I am the Good Shepherd
I am the Gate
For the Way is Narrow
Apart from the metaphor of Father, the image of God as Shepherd is probably the most common and enduring throughout the library of scripture. This is unsurprising from a founding family who made their wealth this way and where both the Great Liberator Moses and the Esteemed King David served much of their apprenticeship around sheep.
It’s Jesus who calls to mind this imagery in the Gospel narratives. And it’s Jesus as Shepherd that the image of the Hogget hole brings to mind for me.
So, what it a Hogget hole, why is it important and why might it cast some light on our question about inclusivity?
A Hogget hole is an intentionally small passageway built into the stone walls surrounding the fields that serve as pasture for the sheep. They are used by the shepherd when moving the sheep from one pasture to another (or moving them through pastures to bring them home) and are made so narrow that only one sheep at a time can pass through. Why is it important for only one sheep at a time to pass through?
So that the Shepherd can count them.
And counting the sheep is essential to ensure they all come through.
Any of you who are teachers, youth workers, outdoor ed leaders or anyone who manages large groups of (young) people “in the wild” know the value of counting people while on trips. You count them onto the bus and off the bus; you count them into the toilets, through gates, onto bikes, over stiles and in the queue for lunch. Because, if you don’t count them, you can’t know for sure that they’re all still there.
It’s the same principle with the Shepherd. They count the sheep to make sure all are included and none get left behind. How do you think Jesus’ parabolic shepherd knew that he had 99 sheep and had to go looking for the other one? He had counted them! And he had counted them because he wanted every sheep included.
So in this scenario, and what this picture means to me, narrow paths and entrances are important in ensuring everyone makes it home safely. Jesus as the gate isn’t about shutting people out – if that were the case it would be best not to have a gate at all – but about getting everyone in.
Why talk about inclusion? Because although the way is narrow, it is such so that all the sheep get included and none get left behind.
And those sheepdogs “Goodness” and “Mercy” are at our heels to ensure we do indeed go through.