Good Shepherd: context

This coming Sunday is the 4th Sunday of Easter in Lectionary Cycle A. The gospel reading only includes verses 1-10, but this commentary will also include verses 11-21 which is the passage in its entirety. Again, there will be a lot of smaller posts to facilitate an ease of reading. That being said, the gospel text has sheep, shepherds but rather than describing a bucolic scene, the passage seems to begin with a harsh, accusatory tone.  It is almost as if we have picked up an on-going conversation. And we have. There are many commentators who set the boundaries of this gospel pericope as John 9:39-10:21 in order that the reader understand the scene that is unfolding.

Chapter 9 is essentially the narrative of the “man born blind” whom Jesus heals on the Sabbath – much to the exasperation of the religious authorities who cannot see the glory of God revealed in this sign. Instead the authorities are more concerned with a violation of Sabbath rules and want to get to the bottom of  the “who, what, when and where” of the miracle. They never seem to pursue “why” it was done and on the Sabbath. One of their agenda was to discredit the notion that Jesus was the promised Messiah (cf. 9:22). At the end of the narrative, the now-sighted man has been thrown out of the Temple and Jesus comes to him. While the man comes to believe in Jesus as Messiah, the religious authorities are, at best, divided – and in fact are plotting to do away with Jesus.

39 Then Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains. (John 9:39-41)

The accusation hangs in the air and colors the verse that follows: 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.

Jesus is rebuking the religious authorities because they had become irresponsible and thieving shepherds, feeding themselves rather than their flock.  The condemnation of the shepherds would have been a theme well understood from the OT narrative. Crucial to the identification of the author’s purpose at this point is the necessary realization that he is writing about Jesus with the text of Ezekiel 34 in clear view. (Note: it would be good to pause at this point and read Ezekiel 34) In that passage, Ezekiel, speaking God’s word, rebukes and condemns the kings and authorities of his own time. They too had fed themselves rather than their flock. Thus God would take away their position and authority and become the shepherd himself. Finally he would appoint another shepherd after the figure of David. John sees all of this coming true and fulfilled in Jesus: the Good Shepherd.  Thus John makes clear that the glory of God is being revealed in the pastoral metaphor of shepherd in that Jesus’ fidelity to his sheep, his sacrifice for them, will stand in contrast to the failure of the blinded, bullying authorities of John 9.

Image credit: Frank Merino, Pexels, image 7360551

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