On more than one occasion, like the end of summer employment or when moving house, someone has said to me, while staring me straight in the eye, “now, don’t be a stranger.” It is an invitation to stay in touch, despite the inevitable, “changes and chances of this fleeting world.”
Our Gospel lesson today (John 10:1-10) can easily be understood to mean that God’s realm, to which Jesus invites us is exclusive. As if, only a select number of sheep hear and respond to the shepherd’s voice, and the others are strangers and unwelcome. Nothing could be further from the truth. This teaching of the Good Shepherd could simply be an invitation to not be a stranger. Familiarity with the shepherd’s voice brings safety, or in this case salvation.
But Jesus doesn’t imagine a happy little valley filled with daisies and butterflies. This valley has thieves and bandits, only too happy to snatch-up the sheep who are unfamiliar with the shepherd’s voice and wander too far from safety. In this case, the Good Shepherd is willing to lay down his life to protect the sheep from any and all dangers. It is the Good Shepherd that brings salvation.
And why, you might ask, does the Good Shepherd bring salvation? So, “that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Abundant life is not abundance in life, it is not about having more stuff. In fact, in a way it might be about having less stuff. Abundant life is about having an abundance of what really matters, first and foremost, salvation. And salvation is about being in right relationship with our creator and with one another. Abundance, in this sense might even mean that we are hungrier for justice and starving to be bearers of love in this world. Don’t be a stranger, is a good invitation to salvation.