The Sheep

This coming Sunday is the 4th Sunday of Easter for Year C of the Lectionary Cycle. The gospel invokes one of the most often used images of God: the shepherd. The Prophet Ezekiel couches the promise that after a long succession of bad shepherds (kings) who fed themselves off the flock, God himself will come as the Good Shepherd. That pastoral imagery is a central part of John 10 and is always used as the gospel for the 4th Sunday of Easter:

Year A – John 10:1-10 (sheepfold, gatekeeper, sheep recognizing the voice)
Year B – John 10:11-18 (“I am the good shepherd”)
Year C – John 10:27-30

The pastoral images are part of a larger section that includes John 5:1-10:42. The principal feasts of the Jews provide an outline for this long section. Fr. Raymond Brown (John, The Anchor Bible) suggests:

  • Jesus on the Sabbath (5:1-47)
  • Jesus at Passover (6:1-71)
  • Jesus at Tabernacles (7:1-8:59)
  • Aftermath of Tabernacles (9:1-10:21)
  • Jesus at Dedication (10:22-39)

It should be noted that there is the change of festivals at 10:22. The Feast of Dedication (or Hanukkah) is celebrated in the November/December time period about three months after the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths). Nonetheless, Jesus continues the shepherd/sheep image that began in John 10.

The feast of the Dedication was then taking place in Jerusalem. It was winter.  And Jesus walked about in the temple area on the Portico of Solomon. (John 10:22-23)

The Feast of Dedication celebrates the liberation of Jerusalem from the reign of the Syrian (Seleucid) king Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus had defiled the Jerusalem Temple in 167 BCE by building an altar to his own gods within the Temple sanctuary (1 Macc 1:54-61), and in 165 BCE Judas Maccabeus and his brothers regained control of the Temple and rededicated it to the God of Israel (1 Macc 4:36-58). The eight-day feast takes place in the month of Chislev (December), as did the original rededication (1 Macc 4:56; 2 Macc 10:1-8) and is marked by the lighting of lamps and rejoicing (1 Macc 4:59; 2 Macc 1:8-9, 18).

The Feast of Dedication was not a pilgrimage feast and so could be celebrated away from Jerusalem. Its mention in v.22, then, does not give a reason for Jesus’ presence in Jerusalem (cf. 7:1-10). Instead, its mention here, along with the realistic notation about winter, draws attention to the passing of time since the Feast of Tabernacles and Jesus’ continuing presence in Jerusalem. The reference to Solomon’s portico (v.23) adds a realistic detail to the picture, because the area of the Temple so known was located on the eastern side of the Temple and so would have been the most protected area of the Temple precincts in winter. [O’Day, John, New Interpreters Bible, pp. 675-676]

  • Sources
  • Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, vol. 29 in Anchor Bible series, ed. William Albright and David Noel Freeman (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1966)
  • Gail R. O’Day, John in the New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 9, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996) 675-77
  • Scripture quotes from New American Bible 

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