Pastoral Background

This coming Sunday is the 4th Sunday of Easter and our gospel text is taken from John 10 which includes the memorable Johannine imagery of the Good Shepherd. As we have already noted, this chapter is preceded by the account of Jesus’ healing of the man born blind. There, Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees (among whom there is a division) and he condemns them for their blind ignorance

Moloney [301] outlines what follows:

  • 10:1-6: Jesus tells a parable about entering the sheepfold and the Pharisees cannot understand. This section is marked with the unique, “Amen, Amen…
  • 10:7-13: Jesus contrasts himself, the door and the Good Shepherd, with others who are thieves, robbers and hirelings. This section is also introduced with “Amen, Amen…
  • 10:14-18: Jesus the Good Shepherd, out of union with the Father, lays down his life for the sheep
  • 10:19-21: Conclusion: A division among “the Jews.”

To more fully appreciate this parable it is important to understand its setting in a small first century Palestinian village. It would be quite the norm for a family to own but a few sheep. The sheep were sources of income (wool) and clothing, and so the animals were protected usually within small walled courtyards next to or connected to the house. If each family had only a few sheep, a shepherd for each household was not justified, so several households would have one shepherd to look after their sheep. Often the shepherding was done by a child from one of these families. If no child was available a hired hand was employed. Early each morning the sheep would be taken out to graze in the open country. The shepherd moved from house to house, and because he was known to the doorkeepers they opened their courtyard doors to allow him to call out the sheep. The sheep knew his voice and eagerly followed him into the open country to feed. The walls of the courtyards would be substantially high, thus anyone who was not the shepherd, who had ulterior motives, would have to climb over the walls because the doorkeeper would not admit him and, of course, the sheep would not recognize his call and would flee from him.  While this practice was not uniform, it was typical according to scripture scholars. Interestingly, a similar system of community “shepherding” was used by the Maasai, Samburu and Kuria people of Kenya in their cattle herding.

Image credit: Frank Merino, Pexels, image 7360551

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