After having graduated from the US Naval Academy – the first cauldron of forming leaders for the Navy and Marine Corp – and after finishing nuclear power training and submarine school, I reported as a bright shiny Ensign to my first submarine! I was ready to be a deep-diving, backing down full at crush depth, denizen of the deep – “Run Silent, Run Deep” and “Hunt for Red October” all rolled into one.
Turns out the submarine’s supply office had just been medically disqualified from serving on submarines, I was the next officer to walk aboard, and so the Captain assigned me as Supply Officer (and Food Service Office) for a submarine that was in a 30-day intensive dry dock refit in which they removed and replaced the galley. Yikes. How did I do? Well… that’s another story.
This coming Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Easter, is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday,” because of the gospel that is proclaimed:
11 I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. 13 This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. 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. 17 This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.”
Next Sunday is the 4th Easter of Sunday. You can read a complete commentary on the Gospel here.
1 “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. 2 But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. 5 But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.” 6 Although Jesus used this figure of speech, they did not realize what he was trying to tell them. 7 So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came (before me) are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. (John 10:1-10) Continue reading
“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)
In many ways the stories of the Bible highlight people hearing God call their names and they respond by following. Noah heard his name called, built an ark, and saved lives. Abraham and Sarah heard their names called, traveled to a land not their own, and became our parents in faith. Moses heard his name and set his people free. The prophet Samuel heard his name called and responded, “Here I am Lord. Your servant is listening.” Hosea, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah and all the prophets heard their names called and followed. Continue reading
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
Rest. A break from all the bustle and activity. A chance to renew, to stop, to slow. An end, a pause from work, if only for a little while. An opportunity to stop doing that you may simply be. A space in time to process, reflect upon, think, pray, to listen. We have lives filled with so much activity, so much work, so many obligations that the very idea of rest is as though the Holy Grail itself. Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a complaint. I love my life, I love being in this parish. It’s more an observation that somewhere in all the things that make up a blessedly frenetic life, I think I’ve forgotten how to rest. It came to me last week as I stood in the very place where Jesus uttered those words to his disciples, realizing the deep need – and then someone on the tour asked, “Father, what do you think Jesus…” And the moment of my own musing and prayer passed. Continue reading
Verses 17-18 form the conclusion to the discourse. In these verses, the shepherd metaphor is abandoned completely and Jesus speaks directly about his death and relationship with God. These verses focus on three theological themes that are essential to understanding the death of Jesus in John.
First, these verses place Jesus’ death fully in the context of his relationship with God. Verse 17 contains the first linkage of “love” (agapaō) with Jesus’ death in the Fourth Gospel. God’s love for the world (3:16) and for Jesus (3:35) are already known to the reader, and this verse adds a new dimension to that love. God loves Jesus because Jesus lives out God’s commandment fully (v.18). In the Fourth Gospel, the core commandment that Jesus gives his disciples is that they love one another just as he has loved them (13:34). The sign of Jesus’ love for them is that he is willing to lay down his life for them (cf. 13:1; 15:13). Jesus thus obeys the same commandment from God that he passes on to his disciples, to live fully in love. It is wrong to read the these verses as saying that Jesus wins the Father’s love through his death; rather, his death is the ultimate expression of the love relationship that already exists and defines who he is and how he enacts God’s will for the world. Continue reading
The Good Shepherd. At v.11, the focus shifts to Jesus’ self-revelation as the good shepherd. The identification of Jesus as the shepherd was implicit in the figure of speech in vv.1-5, but it is made explicit for the first time here. As before, the positive image of the good shepherd (vv.11, 14-16) is contrasted with a negative image, that of the hired hand (vv.12-13).
The “I am” saying of v.11a is explained exclusively in metaphorical language in vv.11b-13. That is, after the initial use of a first-person singular pronoun, Jesus never refers to himself directly again. Instead, he draws on images derived from the OT to explain what he means by “good shepherd.” The adjective “good” (kalos) also has the meaning “model” or “true,” and the reference point for what constitutes a model shepherd is set by the image of God as the good shepherd in Ezekiel 34. According to Ezek 34:11-16, God the good shepherd cares for the sheep, rescuing them from the places to which they have been scattered, feeding them, and tending to the weak, the injured, and the lost. By identifying himself as the good shepherd of Ezekiel 34, Jesus thus identifies himself as fulfilling God’s promises and doing God’s work (cf. 4:34; 17:4). Continue reading
The Sheep. The latter part of v.3 (the sheep hear his voice) literally translates as “the sheep the sounds (phōnēs) his hear.” While voice might be part of the range of calls the shepherd might use, perhaps when one considers the use of whistles, “sounds” is the better translation. In any case, the key is the link between recognition of the proper phōnēs and the resulting movement: lead-follow. The movement is also twinned: call-answer, lead-follow, stranger-run away. In one, the movement it towards intimacy (v.4); in the other, the movement is towards separation (v.5). Continue reading
Commentary. Moloney outlines this narrative by the following schema:
- 9:39-41: Introduction. Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees (among whom there is a division) and he condemns them for their blind ignorance
- 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.”
Some thoughts about shepherds. Fr. James Martin, SJ, in his book Jesus: A Pilgrimage notes that most of Jesus’ parables are agricultural in nature, with some nod toward those who harvest the seas for their living; very few are rooted in his own livelihood, carpentry (or more specifically, tecton, a general term for one who works in the building/craft trades). Yet Jesus grew up in Nazareth amongst his neighbors who labored in those areas. Thus, Jesus, while himself not a farmer or fisherman would be familiar through his extended relationships. We are left to speculate the “common knowledge” about shepherds and the care of sheep and what ideas Jesus might have held. Continue reading