Sunday, April 29, 2012
Jesus the Good Shepherd
“So that all may have life and have it to the full!”
John 10, 11-18
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, you helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your Spirit. Amen.
a) A key to the reading:
The Gospel of the fourth Sunday after Easter presents to us the parable of the Good Shepherd. This is why, sometimes, it is called the Sunday of the Good Shepherd. In some parishes the feast of the Parish priest is celebrated on this day, the shepherd of the flock. In today’s Gospel, Jesus presented himself as the Good Shepherd, who has come “so that they may have life and have it to the full” (Jn 10,10). At that time, the shepherd was the image of the leader. Jesus says that many presented themselves as shepherds but in fact they were “thieves and brigands”. The same thing happens today. There are persons who present themselves as leaders, but in reality, instead of rendering service, they only seek their own interests. Some of them have such a meek way of speaking, and make such an intelligent type of propaganda that they succeed in deceiving people. Have you ever had the experience of being deceived? Which are the criteria to evaluate a leadership whether at community level or at the level of the country? How is and how should a good shepherd be? Keeping these questions in mind, let us try to meditate on the text of today’s Gospel. During the reading let us try to be attentive to the images which Jesus uses to present himself to the people as a true and good Shepherd.
b) A division of the text to help me in reading it:
Jn 10, 11: Jesus presents himself as the Good Shepherd who gives his life for his sheep
Jn 10, 12-13: Jesus defines the attitude of the mercenary
Jn 10, 14-15: Jesus presents himself as the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep
Jn 10, 16: Jesus defines the goal to be attained: only one flock and one shepherd
Jn 10, 17-18: Jesus and the Father.
11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. 12 The hired man, since he is not the shepherd and the sheep do not belong to him, abandons the sheep as soon as he sees a wolf coming, and runs away, and then the wolf attacks and scatters the sheep; 13 he runs away because he is only a hired man and has no concern for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep. 16 And there are other sheep I have that are not of this fold, and I must lead these too. They too will listen to my voice, and there will be only one flock, one shepherd. 17 The Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me; I lay it down of my own free will, and as I have power to lay it down, so I have power to take it up again; and this is the command I have received from my Father.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) What has struck you most in the text of the Good Shepherd? Why?
b) Which are the images which Jesus applies to himself, how does he apply them and what do they signify?
c) How many times does Jesus use the term life in this text and what does he affirm about life?
d) What does the text say about the sheep that we are? Which are the qualities and the tasks of the sheep?
e) Shepherd (Pastor) - Pastoral. Do our pastoral works continue the mission of Jesus-Shepherd?
5. For those who desire to deepen more into the text
i) The discourse of Jesus on the Good Shepherd (Jn 10, 1-18) is like a brick inserted into a wall which already exits. With this brick the wall is stronger and more beautiful. Immediately before, in Jn 9, 40-41, the Gospel spoke about the healing of the man born blind (Jn 9, 1-38) and of the discussion of Jesus with the Pharisees on blindness (Jn 9, 39-41). Immediately after in Jn 10, 19-21, John gives the conclusion of Jesus’ discussion with the Pharisees on blindness. The Pharisees presented themselves before the people as leaders and believed that they could discern and teach the things of God. In reality, they were blind (Jn 9, 40-41) and they despised the opinion of the people represented by the man born blind who had been cured by Jesus (Jn 9, 34). The discourse on the Good Shepherd has been inserted here for the purpose of offering some criteria to know how to discern who is the leader, the shepherd who deserves to be trusted. The parable fulfils a word which Jesus had just said to the Pharisees: “It is for judgment that I have come into this world, so that those without sight may see and those with sight may become blind.” (Jn 9, 39).
ii) The discourse of Jesus on the “Good Shepherd” presents three comparisons, linked among themselves by the image of the sheep, which offer criteria to discern who is the true shepherd:
First comparison (Jn 10, 1-5): “Enter through the gate”. Jesus distinguishes between the shepherd of the sheep and the one who climbs some other way to rob them. That which reveals who is the shepherd is the fact that he enters through the gate. The thief climbs some other way.
Second comparison: (Jn 10, 6-10): “I am the gate”. To enter through the gate means to act like Jesus, whose greatest concern is the life in abundance of the sheep. What the shepherd reveals is the defence of the life of the sheep.
Third comparison: (Jn 10, 11-18)): “I am the Good Shepherd”. Jesus is not simply a shepherd. He is the Good Shepherd. That which reveals who is the Good Shepherd is (1) the reciprocal knowledge between the sheep and the shepherd and (2) to give his life for the sheep.
iii) In what way can the parable of the Good Shepherd take away the blindness and open the eyes of persons? At that time, the image of the shepherd was the symbol of the leader. But not because of the simple fact that someone who took care of the sheep can be defined as shepherd. The mercenaries also count and the Pharisees were also leaders. But were they also shepherds? As we shall see, according to the parable, in order to discern who is shepherd and who is a mercenary, it is necessary to pay attention to two things: (a) To the attitude of the sheep before the shepherd guiding them, to see if they recognize his voice. (b) To the attitude of the shepherd before the sheep to see if his interest is the life of the sheep and if he is capable to give his life for them (Jn 10, 11-18).
iv) The text of the Gospel of the Fourth Sunday after Easter (Jn 10, 11-18) is the last part of the discourse on the Good Shepherd (Jn 10, 1-18). This is why we wish to comment on the whole text. We observe closely the diverse images which Jesus uses to present himself to us as the true and Good Shepherd.
b) Commentary on the text:
i) Jn 10, 1-5: First image: the shepherd “enters through the gate”
Jesus begins the discourse with the comparison of the gate: “He who does not enter through the gate, but climbs somewhere else, is a thief, a bandit! Instead, the one who enters through the gate, is the shepherd of the sheep!” To understand this comparison, it is well to remember what follows. At that time, the shepherds took care of the flocks during the day. When night arrived, they took the sheep into a large communitarian place, which was well protected against thieves and wolves. All the shepherds from the same region took their flocks there. There was a guardian who took care of them during the night. On the following day, early in the morning, the shepherd would go, knocked on the gate and the guardian would open. The sheep recognized the voice of their shepherd, got up and got out following him to the pastures. The sheep of the other shepherds heard the voice, but did not move because for them it was an unknown voice. The sheep recognizes the voice of its shepherd. From time to time, there was the danger of bandits. To rob the sheep, the thieves presented themselves to the guardian by the other door, but entered by another side or destroyed the wall, made of stones one on top of the other.
ii) Jn 10, 6-10: Second image: He explains what it means “to enter through the gate”: Jesus is the gate.
The Pharisees who were listening to Jesus, (cf. Jn 9, 40-41), did not understand the comparison. Then, Jesus explained: “I am the gate of the sheepfold. All those who have come before me, are thieves and bandits”. About whom is Jesus speaking using these hard words? Probably, he is referring to the religious leaders who drew people behind them, but who did not respond to the hopes of the people. They deceived the people, leaving them worse than before. They were not interested in the good of the people, but rather in their own interests and in their own portfolio. Jesus explains that the fundamental criterion to discern who is the shepherd and who is the bandit is the concern for the life of the sheep. He asks the people not to follow the one who presents himself as a shepherd, but does not desire the life of the people. It is here that Jesus pronounced that phrase which we sing even now: “I have come so that they may have life, and life to the full!” This is the first criterion.
iii) Jn 10, 11-16: Third image: he explains what it means “I have come so that they have life, and life to the full” (The text for this fourth Sunday after Easter begins here).
* Jn 10, 11: Jesus presents himself as the Good Shepherd who gives his life for the sheep.
Jesus changes the comparison. First, he was the gate of the sheep. Now he says that he is the shepherd of the sheep. And not just any shepherd, but rather: “I am the Good Shepherd!” The image of the good shepherd comes from the Old Testament. Everybody knew what a shepherd was and how he lived and worked. In saying that he is a Good Shepherd, Jesus presents himself as the one who comes to fulfil the promises of the prophets and the hopes of the people. He insists on two points: (a) the defence of the life of the sheep; the good shepherd gives his life (Jn 10, 18.104.22.168): (b) in the reciprocal understanding between the shepherd and the sheep; the shepherd knows his sheep and they know the shepherd (Jn 10, 4.14.16).
* Jn 10, 12-13: Jesus defines the attitude of the mercenary who is not a shepherd.
“The mercenary who is not a shepherd”. Looking from outside, the differences between the mercenary and the shepherd are not perceived. Both of them are busy with the sheep. Today there are many persons who take care of other persons in hospitals, in the communities, in the old peoples’ homes, in schools, in public services, in the parishes. Some do this out of love, others, hardly for a salary, in order to survive. These persons are not interested in the other persons. Their attitude is that of a functionary, of a worker earning a salary, of a mercenary. In a moment of danger, they are not interested, because “the sheep are not theirs”, the children are not theirs, the pupils are not theirs, their neighbours are not theirs, the faithful are not theirs, the sick are not theirs, the members of the community are not theirs.
Now, instead of judging the behaviour of others, let us place ourselves before our own conscience and let us ask ourselves: “In my relationship with others, am I a mercenary or a shepherd?” Look, Jesus does not condemn you because the worker has a right to his salary (Lk 10, 7), but he asks you to take another step forward and to become a shepherd.
* Jn 10, 14-15: Jesus presents himself as the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep.
Two things characterize the Good Shepherd: a) he knows the sheep and is known by them. in the language of Jesus, "to know" is not a question of knowing the name or the face of the person, but to be in relationship with a person as a friend, and with affection. b) to give the life for the sheep. That means to be ready to sacrifice oneself out of love. The sheep feel and perceive when a person defends and protects them. This is valid for all of us: for the Parish priests and for those who have some responsibility towards other persons. In order to know if a Parish Priest is a good shepherd it is not sufficient to be named Parish Priest and to obey the norms of Canon Law. It is necessary to be recognized as a good shepherd by the sheep. Sometimes this is forgotten in the present day politics of the Church. Jesus says that not only does the shepherd know the sheep, but also the sheep know the shepherd. They have criteria for this. Because if they do not recognize him, even if he is named according to Canon Law, he is not a shepherd according to the Heart of Jesus. Not only the sheep have to obey the one who guides them. Also the one who guides has to be very attentive to the reaction of the sheep to know if he is acting like a shepherd or like a mercenary.
* Jn 10, 16: Jesus defines the goal to be attained; only one flock, only one shepherd.
Jesus opens the horizon and says that he has other sheep that are not of this fold. They have not as yet heard the voice of Jesus, but when they will hear it, they will become aware that he is the shepherd and they will follow him. Who will do this, and when will this happen? We are the ones, imitating in everything the behaviour of Jesus, the Good Shepherd!
* Jn 10, 17-18: Jesus and the Father.
In these two last verses Jesus opens himself and makes us understand something which is in the deepest part of his heart: his relationship with the Father. Here the truth of everything he says in another moment is perceived: “I shall no longer call you servants, but I have called you friends because all that I have heard from the Father I have made it known to you” (Jn 15, 15). Jesus is for us an open book.
c) Extending the information:
The image of the Shepherd in the Old Testament which is realized in Jesus
i) In Palestine, the survival of the people depended on the cattle breeding: goats and sheep. The image of the shepherd who guides his sheep to the pasture was known by everyone, just like today we know the image of the bus driver. It was normal to use the image of the shepherd to indicate the function of the one who governed and guided the people. The prophets criticized the kings because they were shepherds who were not concerned about their flocks and did not guide them to the pastures (Jr 2,8; 10,21; 23, 1-2). This criticism of the bad shepherds increased and reached its summit when the people were deported into exile because of the fault of the king (Ezk 34, 1-10; Zc 11, 4-17).
ii) In the face of the frustration which they had to suffer because of the way the bad shepherds acted, the desire arose to have God as the shepherd. a desire which is very well expressed in the Psalm: “The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want (Ps 23, 1-6; Gn 48, 15). The prophets hope that in the future, God himself will come to guide his fold, like a shepherd (Is 40, 11; Ezk 34, 11-16). And they hope that this time the people will know how to recognize the voice of their shepherd: “Today listen to his voice!” (Ps 95, 7). They hope that God will come as a Judge who will pronounce judgment among the sheep of the fold (Ezk 34,17). The desire and the hope arise that one day, God will arouse good shepherds and that the Messiah will be a Good Shepherd for the People of God (Jr 3, 15; 23, 4).
iii) Jesus fulfils this hope and presents himself as the Good Shepherd, different from the bandits who, before him, had robed the people. He also presents himself as the Judge of the people who, at the end, will issue the sentence as the shepherd who separates the sheep from the goats (Mt 25, 31-46). In Jesus the prophecy of Zechariah is fulfilled, which says that the good shepherd will be persecuted by the evil shepherds, annoyed by his denunciation: “Strike the shepherd, scatter the sheep!” (Zc 13, 7).
iv) At the end of the Gospel of John, the image is extended and Jesus at the end is everything at the same time: gate (Jn 10, 7, shepherd (Jn 10, 11) lamb and sheep (Jn 1, 36)!
A key for the Gospel of John
Everyone perceives the difference that exists between the Gospel of John and the other three Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Someone defines it as follows: The other three make a photo, John makes and X-Ray. That is, John helps his readers to discover the most profound dimension which exits in what Jesus says and does. He reveals the hidden things that only the X-Rays of faith succeed to discover and reveal. John teaches to read the other Gospels with the gaze of faith and to discover the most profound significance. Jesus himself had already said that he would have sent the gift of his Spirit in order that we could understand all the fullness of his own word (Jn 14, 24-25; 16, 12-13). The ancient Fathers of the Church said: the Gospel of John is “spiritual” and “symbolical”.
Some examples: (a) Jesus cures the man born blind (Jn 9, 6-7). For John this miracle has a more profound significance. It reveals that Jesus is the light of the World who makes us understand and contemplate better the things of God in life (Jn 9, 39). (b) Jesus rises Lazarus from the dead (Jn 11, 43-44) not only to help Lazarus and to console his two sisters, Martha and Mary, but also to reveal that he is the Resurrection and the Life (Jn 11, 25-26). (c) Jesus changes 600 liters of water into wine at the wedding at Cana (Jn 2, 1-13). And he does this not only to safeguard the joy of the feast, but also and above all, to reveal that the new Law of the Gospel is like wine compared to the water of the former Law. And he does it with such great abundance (600 liters), precisely to signify that it will not be lacking for anyone, up until today! (d) Jesus multiplies the bread and feeds the hungry (Jn 6, 11) not only to satisfy the hunger of those poor people who were with him in the desert, but also to reveal that he himself is the bread of life which nourishes all throughout life (Jn 6, 34-58). (e) Jesus speaks with the Samaritan woman about water (Jn 4, 7.10), but he wanted that she would succeed to discover the water of the gift of God which she already had within her (Jn 4, 14-14). In one word, it is the Spirit of Jesus that gives life (Jn 6, 63). The flesh or only the letter are not enough and can even kill the sense and the life (2 Co 3, 6).
6. Prayer: Psalm 23 (22)
Yahweh is my shepherd!
Yahweh is my shepherd,
I lack nothing.
In grassy meadows he lets me lie.
By tranquil streams he leads me
to restore my spirit.
He guides me in paths of saving justice
as befits his name.
Even were I to walk in a ravine
as dark as death
I should fear no danger,
for you are at my side.
Your staff and your crook
are there to soothe me.
You prepare a table
for me under the eyes of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup brims over.
Kindness and faithful love pursue me
every day of my life.
I make my home in the house
of Yahweh for all time to come.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practice the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.