Before home security cameras and systems were widely used to discourage intruders, a sturdy door with a strong lock provided protection in most cases. Some people today seek an even greater measure of safety, choosing to live in gated communities that control who can come in.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus speaks about a safe place for sheep and about the shepherd who provides that safety. The passage we hear today continues a dialogue with religious leaders following the healing of a man born blind (Jn 9:1-41). Jesus had accused these teachers of spiritual blindness, and now goes on to cast them as “thieves and bandits” (Jn 10:7) who come “only to steal and kill and destroy” (Jn 10:10). His words are a stinging rebuke of those who abuse their leadership and a reassurance to the beloved community that he will look after their safety and direction.

Jesus describes himself both as the gate of the sheep enclosure and as the shepherd of the sheep. He is the way, providing a safe passage for the sheep to “come in and go out and find pasture” (Jn 10:9). He is also the leader whose voice they recognize, the one that they will follow in trust.

Jesus speaks of the sheep—of us—not simply as individual followers but as a flock. Yes, we each recognize the Shepherd’s voice, but we are joined together into a people whom the Good Shepherd protects and leads. Jesus tells his hearers, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10). That life is unthinkable without the leader or the flock. Through baptism, we have been formed into a community whose life depends on a healthy relationship with Christ and with other members.

In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that the Apostles’ preaching led to a large number of people being baptized and “added” to the community of believers (Acts 2:41). These new followers of Jesus embarked upon a rich life in which they “had all things in common” (Acts 2:44). Their life together was nurtured as “[t]hey devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers” (Acts 2:42). They understood themselves not as isolated individuals, but as people intimately joined to the risen Christ and to one another.

Today’s Scriptures offer us an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be part of Christ’s flock. What difference does it make for us to belong, not simply to an institutional church structure, but to a community where believers have deep and ongoing relationships, where people learn together, grow together, and break bread together?

The Gospel reading today likewise challenges those who lead communities to act with the heart of the Shepherd. Pastors and other leaders are to care not for position or power but for the well-being of God’s flock, fostering their deep and intimate relationships with the one who died and rose.