Connections 04.30.2023: Seeking Understanding

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John 10:1-10

Jesus regularly teaches his listeners—whether his devoted followers or his frustrated (and frustrating) detractors—using metaphors. He teaches in stories, describing God and faith and life in both unexpected and everyday images. Sometimes these images help his listeners to understand the bigger messages he is trying to communicate, but sometimes his indirect instruction leads them (and us) to more questions.

In Mark 4 and Luke 8, where he tells the parable of the seeds and the sower, Jesus explains the teaching to his listeners. But here in John 10, he is not so forthcoming. In fact, when those who are listening to him “did not understand what he was saying to them” (v. 6), he doubles down and repeats, expands upon, and even mixes the metaphor he has been teaching.

He describes what would have been a common sight: sheep gathered into a sheepfold surrounded by a gate. There is a gatekeeper who lets in the shepherd, and thieves who jump the fence and strangers whose unfamiliar voices do not fool the sheep. When his listeners don’t get it, he clarifies—sort of. This isn’t just any old gate, he says. I am the gate. This isn’t just any ordinary shepherd. I am the good shepherd. If his listeners want to understand, he is not going to make it too easy for them, but he gives them a jumpstart not by explaining the metaphor, but by personalizing it. If he is the gate and the shepherd, they will have to fill in the blanks on the rest: Who are the sheep? Who is the stranger who tries to lure the sheep? Who is the thief who sneaks over the fence with plans to steal, kill, and destroy the flock?

Jesus’s listeners (and we) might wish for a guide to codebreaking Jesus’s surprising teachings, but perhaps parables are not codes to be broken but prompts for wondering. Perhaps even God and faith and life are not codes to be broken, but prompts for wondering, for asking questions—and then asking better questions—and then asking the questions that arise when we don’t get the answers we want, or any answers at all.


  • What does it mean to you that Jesus is the gate? What does it mean to you that Jesus is the shepherd?
  • How would you fill in the blanks of the rest of this description? Do you see yourself as a sheep? What gatekeepers have you known? How do you recognize whether you are hearing the shepherd’s voice or a stranger’s voice?
  • What “thieves and bandits” have you witnessed trying to destroy God’s flock? How do you know?
  • When there is something about God, faith, life, or Jesus’s teachings you do not understand, how do you seek understanding? How do you feel when you don’t understand? How do you respond when you receive difficult answers or no answers at all?

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and as a military spouse has had nine (at last count) different hometowns in the past 20 years. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in the Washington D.C. area. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at


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