“Word for Today” – John 10 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com
Using metaphors is an art. Some metaphors are so well crafted that they work their way into the collective consciousness of our culture and even change our patterns of speech and thought. Others don’t fare quite so well. Forrest Gump says, “Life is like a box of chocolates,” and people cling to his words like a pearl that has unexpectedly, yet welcomely, been released from an oyster’s clutches. Did I just use a metaphor there? Other metaphors, however, don’t have quite the profundity of a Forrest Gump proverb. Enter the world of high school English courses.
I came across a list of metaphors the other day used by high schoolers in their English papers. Their assignment was relatively simple: In order to enhance its imagery, write a paper using appropriate metaphors. The metaphor part these high schoolers have down. The appropriate part? I’ll let you decide:
- “She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli, and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.”
- “She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.”
- “Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.”
- “Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.”
- “The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.” (I’m kind of curious. How did this student know how maggots leap when you fry them in grease?)
- “He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.”
Just for the record, I would like to venture a guess that the student using this last metaphor does not have a girlfriend.
All metaphors? Yes. An elegant use of this figure of speech? No comment.
In our reading for today from John 10, the crowds must have felt, to use a metaphor, like Jesus was a high school student awkwardly trying to craft metaphors for an assignment, no matter how quirky and coarse they might have been. Jesus begins, “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep…I am the good shepherd” (verses 1-2, 11). The metaphor here seems to be clear enough. Jesus is comparing himself to a good and kind shepherd who, rather than trying to sneak into a sheep pen to steel sheep, enters by the appointed means of a gate so that he can lovingly attend to them. But then Jesus begins to mix his metaphors: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep” (verse 7). At first, Jesus was the shepherd who entered the gate. Now, he is the gate itself. But if you read John’s whole gospel, things get even more confusing. For John calls Jesus the very “Lamb of God” (1:36). So here are the metaphors given us for Jesus: Jesus enters a gate to tend to his sheep, but he also is the gate itself. Jesus is a shepherd who keeps his lambs in safe pasture, but Jesus himself is also a lamb, being led to the slaughter. Is anyone getting confused yet?
What is Jesus trying to accomplish with all of these mixed metaphors? The apostle Paul answers thusly: “Christ is all, and is in all” (Colossians 3:11). Christ is all. That’s a lot. And that means that Christ’s work is so monumental, so consequential, and so comprehensive that no one metaphor can cover everything. So get ready for a lot of mixed metaphors to try to describe all the Christ has done. Christ enters the sheep pen by the gate. This means that we can trust Christ in our lives and in our hearts. For he does not come to rob or hurt us, but to help us. That is why he comes the way a welcome guest would come, through the front door. Christ is the gate for us sheep. This means that there is only way to salvation. And it is through the gate that is Christ. Christ is our good shepherd. This means that Christ leads us daily. He is never far from us. Christ is the Lamb of God. This means that, like the lambs used in the sacrifices of the Old Testament, Christ is a sacrifice for our sin. Indeed, he even takes away our sin.
These are only a smattering of Scripture’s metaphors concerning Christ. There are many more. Many more metaphors that describe Jesus’ love, grace, and compassion for you and for me. So today, take some time to consider your favorite metaphors for Jesus. Take them to heart and allow them to speak to you. For the metaphors describing Jesus are indeed beautiful, comforting, and even joy-inducing. So joy-inducing, in fact, that when you take the time to ponder them, you’ll be as happy as a kid in a candy store. And that’s a metaphor that, although it may not be terrific for your teeth, is guaranteed to be super for your soul.
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