The Father and Son

This coming Sunday is the 4th Sunday of Easter in Lectionary Cycle A.  14 I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. 

Jesus’ self-revelation in vv.14-16 weaves back and forth seamlessly between figurative and non-figurative speech. Jesus begins by once again identifying himself with the image of the good shepherd (v.14), but explains that image primarily by making reference to his ministry and relationship to God, rather than by staying within the images of sheep and shepherd as he did in vv.11-13. This move between figurative and non-figurative speech results in some ambiguity in interpreting Jesus’ words. This ambiguity is immediately evident in v.14b. When Jesus speaks of his relationship with his own, he may be speaking within the shepherding figure (cf. vv.3-4), but the expressions “my own” (to ema) and “his own” (hoi idioi) also describe Jesus’ relationship to his followers in John (e.g., 1:11; 13:1; 17:9-10). Verse 14 suggests that the line between metaphorical and direct speech is very thin in this section of the discourse.

This is especially evident in the use of the verb for “know” (ginōskō) in vv.14b-15a. Jesus’ words in v.14 may be read as an elaboration of the shepherd imagery of vv.4-5, but v.15 explicitly moves outside of the shepherd imagery by pointing to Jesus’ relationship to the Father. Verse 15 provides a working definition of knowledge in John: knowledge is not a cognitive category, but is a category of relationship. The true measure and model of knowledge is God’s and Jesus’ mutual knowledge. Jesus is thus the good shepherd not simply because of his relationship to the sheep, but also because of his relationship to God.

Verse 15 makes the connection of Jesus’ death and the shepherd’s death (cf. v.11) explicit. The juxtaposition of first and last parts of v.15 suggests again that Jesus lays down his life not simply because of his relationship to the sheep (as in the image of the shepherd in v.11) but because of his relationship with God. The reference in v.16 to other sheep has particular relevance in the setting of Jesus’ conversation with the Pharisees. Jesus is suggesting here that his flock is not limited to the sheep of Israel and that the community created by his death will include people from outside of Israel (cf. 12:32). The mark of this expanded flock will be that “they will listen to my voice,” a trait that distinguishes the flock from the Jewish leaders who neither listen to nor know Jesus’ voice (cf. 8:43; 10:6). To hear Jesus’ voice is the mark of faithfulness to Jesus and his word (cf. 5:24; 10:27; 12:47).

The final image of v.16 returns fully to the sheep metaphor. The vision of a united flock recalls the final promise of Ezek 34:31: “You, my sheep, you are the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God.” Jesus once again positions himself as the fulfillment of promises traditionally associated with God. Jesus the good shepherd will bring about unity in the flock through his relationship with God and his death (v.15).

Image credit: Frank Merino, Pexels, image 7360551

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