The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.John 10:3-4 NIV
I have little experience with domesticated sheep, other than watching small flocks walk down the road in Sicily. But all that I have heard is that they are not the brightest bulbs in the animal kingdom and depend on the shepherd for leading them to food and water and protecting them from predators. In the extended passage this excerpt comes from, Jesus identifies himself as a shepherd and his followers as his sheep. And that is an apt example. We are dependent on him for our spiritual nourishment and protection. Psalm 23 paints a familiar picture of our dependence on Jesus as our shepherd.
If my understanding of sheepherding in New Testament Palestine, and this passage, is correct, the local area shepherds would sometimes bring their flocks into a communal holding pen at night for safeguarding. In the morning each one would go to the gate of the enclosure and call out his sheep, who would respond only to him. The shepherd would then lead his sheep out for the day. For each sheep pen there could be multiple shepherds calling sheep and leading them in many directions, but the sheep knew who to follow.
Which Shepherd Do You Follow?
But this account is not just about shepherds and what they do. Look at what Jesus says here about the sheep. His sheep recognize and listen to his voice, and they follow him where he leads. If I follow him, then I am his sheep. But if I follow another shepherd, then I belong to that shepherd. Whose voice do I hear and follow? There are many voices calling to us today. Do you follow Jesus’ voice? Or some other shepherd?