April 30, 2023
John 10: 1-10
Today’s Gospel about Jesus being a true shepherd is from John’s Gospel (Ch 10) and comes between the healing of the man born blind (Ch 9) and the raising of Lazarus (Ch 11). These two chapters provide a context for Jesus’ teaching.
Both the healing of the man born blind and the raising of Lazarus caused controversy. Some accepted Jesus’ actions as divine, since, in their view, only God can do such things. Others doubted Jesus’ divine identity, since he broke the Law by healing on the Sabbath and so couldn’t be chosen by God. Others sat on the fence: they affirmed the miracle, but were afraid to attribute it to God working through Jesus, since they feared being excommunicated from the synagogue by acknowledging Jesus as God’s instrument. The most sceptical were the religious leaders and teachers of the people.
Jesus responds to the controversy with the familiar scriptural imagery of God as shepherd. He seems to me to have three motives. He is defending the divine origin of his healing action, on the grounds that he behaves as the shepherd-God of their Scriptures; he is concerned for the people who are being led astray by religious leaders, and seem to follow them blindly; and he is concerned for the religious leaders who prioritise political stability above their religious identity (Jn 11:47-48) and, in the process of replacing a faith approach to life with a political approach, become closed and eventually blind to the signs of God’s presence among them.
Shepherding was part of the life-experience of Jesus’ contemporaries, and so Jesus can offer it for meaningful reflection. The people knew the value of each sheep for the village community. They knew the importance of healthy sheep, and so they accepted the risks involved in finding and leading the sheep to the best pastures of the season. They protected them enroute, taking whatever risks were necessary to find those who strayed. Shepherds secured the sheep at night from rogue shepherds and wild animals by taking it in turn to ‘be’ the gate of the pen where they were held: no one who was honest could gain access to the sheep without being admitted by the shepherd on duty. In today’s Gospel, Jesus identifies himself as that gate.
Rogue shepherds were those who were in the business for personal gain. Jesus, therefore, makes it his business to be explicit about the qualities of good and rogue shepherds. He wants the people to be able to distinguish between them, so that they can freely choose which to follow. In contrast to rogue shepherds, true shepherds are transparent: they come and go through the front door, not the back door. They care for and protect each sheep – helping them become the best they can be, even at the risk of their own lives. Good shepherds image the shepherd-God of Psalm 23.
The imagery that Jesus offers might lead to questions like: Do the leaders lead their sheep to life and take risks on their behalf? Do they know them and their situations? Do they search for the lost until they find them and then bring them home to a healing environment? Do they guard them with their own life? What motivates their behaviour toward their people and the guidance that they offer? Do the people, on the other hand, blindly follow their leaders, or do they first of all listen to God’s voice deep within themselves? Do they know how to recognise God’s voice? Does the path that they follow lead to the fullness of life? Does it make them more or less like the shepherd-God in whose image and likeness they are made?
These questions may seem to be directed at distinct groups, leaders on the one hand, and ordinary people on the other hand. But both sets are addressed to each of us, because each of us is both a leader and a follower in some capacity. It feels important, therefore, to honestly reflect on the nature of my leadership, however insignificant it may seem, and ask myself: What motives it? What shapes or has shaped it? What is its outcome for me as a leader and for those I lead. In addressing these questions I will become aware of the path that I follow and its resonance or otherwise with the path of Jesus, the true shepherd. I am then in a position to freely choose how I move forward.
Using the words of Marty Haughen, we pray:
Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life
John 10: 1-10
Jesus said: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.” Although Jesus used this figure of speech, the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them.
So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
Meet Sister Eileen Cassidy, SNDdeN