Lectio Divina: 4th Sunday of Easter (C)
Jesus the Good Shepherd:
His sheep know Him
a) Opening prayer:
Come, Holy Spirit, to our hearts and kindle in them the fire of Your love, give us the grace to read and re-read this page of the Gospel, to actively, lovingly and operatively remember it in our life. We wish to get close to the mystery of the person of Jesus contained in this image of the shepherd.
For this, we humbly ask You to open the eyes of our mind and heart in order to be able to know the power of Your Resurrection. Enlighten our mind, oh Spirit of light, so that we may understand the words of Jesus, the Good Shepherd; warm our heart so as to be aware that these words are not far from us, that they are the key of our present experience. Come, oh Holy Spirit, because without You the Gospel will be dead words; with You the Gospel is the spirit of life. Give us, oh Father, the Holy Spirit; we ask this together with Mary, the mother of Jesus and our mother and with Elias, Your prophet in the name of Your son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!
b) Reading of the text:
Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”
c) Moments of prayerful silence:
Silence protects the fire of the word which has entered into us through the listening of the Word. It helps to preserve the interior fire of God. Stop for a few moments in the silence, listening to be able to participate in the creative and re-creative power of the divine Word.
a) Key to the reading:
The passage of the Liturgy of this Sunday is taken from chapter 10 of St. John, a discourse of Jesus during the Jewish Feast of the dedication of the Temple of Jerusalem which was celebrated at the end of December (during which the re-consecration of the Temple, which had been violated by the Syrian-Hellenists, was commemorated, the work of Judas Maccabee in 164 B.C.). The word of Jesus concerning the relation between the shepherd (Christ) and the sheep (the Church) belongs to a true and proper debate between Jesus and the Jews. They ask Jesus a clear question and demand a response, just as concrete and public: “If You are the Christ, tell us the plain truth” (10:24). John, at other times in the Gospel, presents the Jews who intend to get a clear affirmation from Jesus concerning His identity (2:18; 5:16; 8:25). In the Synoptics, a similar question is presented during the process before the Chief Priests (Mt 26:63; Mk 14:61; Lk 22:67). Jesus’ answer is presented in two stages (vv. 25-31 and 32-39). Let us consider briefly the context of the first stage where our liturgical text is inserted. The Jews have not understood the parable of the shepherd (Jn 10:1-21) and now they ask Jesus for a clearer revelation of His identity. In itself, the reason for their unbelief is not from a lack of clarity, but in their refusal to belong to His flock, to His sheep. An analogous expression of Jesus may throw light on this as we read in Mk 4:11: “To you I have made known the mystery of the Kingdom of God, but the others who are on the outside, hear all things by means of parables”. The words of Jesus are light only for those who live within the community, for those who decide to remain outside these words are an enigma which disconcerts. To the unbelief of the Jews, Jesus opposes the behavior of those who belong to Him and whom the Father has given to Him.
Jesus’ language is not immediately evident for us. Comparing the believers to a flock leaves us perplexed. We are mostly strangers to the life of farmers and shepherds and it is not easy to understand what the flock would represent for a people who are shepherds. The people to whom Jesus addresses the parable, on the other hand, were precisely shepherds. It is evident that the parable is understood from the point of view of the man who shares almost everything with his flock. He knows his sheep: he sees the quality of each one and every defect; the sheep also experience his guidance: they respond to his voice and to his indications.
i) The sheep of Jesus listen to His voice: it is a question not only of an external listening (3:5; 5:37) but also of an attentive listening (5:28; 10:3) up to an obedient listening (10:16, 27; 18:37; 5:25). In the discourse of the shepherd this listening expresses the trust and the union that the sheep have with the shepherd (10:4). The adjectives “my, mine” does not only indicate the simple possession of the sheep, but makes evident that the sheep belong to Him, and they belong in so far as He is the owner (10:12).
ii) Here, then, an intimate communication is established between Jesus and the sheep: “and I know them” (10:27). It is not a question of intellectual knowledge. In the biblical sense “to know someone” means, above all, to have a personal relationship with a person, to live in some way in communion with that person. A knowledge which does not exclude the human features of sympathy, love, communion of nature.
iii) In virtue of this knowledge of love the Shepherd invites His own to follow Him. Listening to the Shepherd involves also a discernment, because among the many different possible voices, the sheep choose that which corresponds to a concrete person (Jesus). Following this discernment, the response is active, personal and becomes obedience. This results from the listening. Therefore, between the listening and following the Shepherd is the knowledge of Jesus.
The knowledge which the sheep have of Jesus opens up an itinerary which leads to love: “I give them eternal life”. For the Evangelist, life is the gift of communion with God. While in the Synoptics “life” or “eternal life” is related to the future, in John’s Gospel it indicates an actual possession. This aspect is frequently repeated in John’s narration: “He who believes in the Son possesses eternal life” (3:36); “I am telling you the truth: whoever hears My words and believes in Him who sent Me has eternal life” (5:24; 6:47).
The relation of love of Jesus becomes concrete also by the experience of protection which man experiences: it is said that the sheep “will never be lost”. Perhaps this is a reference to eternal damnation, to which is added that “no one will snatch them”. These expressions suggest the role of the hand of God and of Christ who prevent the hearts of persons to be snatched by other negative forces. In the bible, the hand, in some contexts, is a metaphor which indicates the force of God who protects (Deut 33:3: Ps 31:6). In others, the verb “to snatch” (harpázö) suggests the idea that the community of disciples will not be exempt from the attacks of evil and of temptations. But the expression “no one will snatch them” indicates that the presence of Christ assures the community of the certainty of an unflinching stability which allows them to overcome every temptation of fear.
b) Some questions:
To orientate our meditative reflection and thoughts:
i) The first attitude which the Word of Jesus makes evident is that one has “to listen”. This verb in Biblical language is rich and relevant: it implies joyous adherence to the content of what is listened to, obedience to the person who speaks, the choice of life of the one who addresses us. Are you a person immersed in listening to God? Are there spaces and moments in your daily life which you dedicate, in a particular way, to listening to the Word of God?
ii) The dialogue or intimate and profound communication between Christ and you has been defined by the Gospel in today’s liturgy by a great biblical verb, “to know”. This involves the whole being of a person: the mind, the heart, the will. Is your consciousness of Christ firm at a theoretical-abstract level or do you allow yourself to be transformed and guided by His voice on the journey of your life?
iii) The one who has listened and known God “follows” Christ as the only guide of his/her life. Is your following daily, is it continuous, even when on the horizon one foresees the threat or nightmare of other voices or ideologies which try to snatch us from communion with God?
iv) In the meditation of today’s Gospel two other verbs emerged: we will never be “lost, damned” and nobody will be able to “snatch” us from the presence of Christ who protects our life. This is the foundation and motivation of our daily assurance. This idea is expressed in such a luminous way by Paul: “For I am certain that nothing can separate us from the love of God: neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers or powers, neither the present nor the future, neither the world above nor the world below – there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus, our Lord” (Rm 8:38-39). When, between the believer and the person of Jesus is established, a relation made by calls and listening, then life proceeds assured of attaining spiritual maturity and success. The true foundation of this assurance lies in discovering, every day, the divine identity of this Shepherd who is the assurance of our life. Do you experience this security and this serenity when you feel threatened by evil?
v) The words of Jesus “I give them eternal life” assure you that the end of your journey as believer, is not dark and uncertain. For you, does eternal life refer to the number of years that you can live or instead does it recall your communion of life with God Himself? Is the experience of the company of God in your life a reason for joy?
a) Psalm 100, 2; 3; 5
Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into His presence with singing!
Know that the Lord is God!
It is He that made us, and we are His;
we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.
For the Lord is good; His steadfast love endures for ever,
and His faithfulness to all generations.
b) Final Prayer:
Lord, we ask You to manifest Yourself to each one of us as the Good Shepherd, who by the force of the Paschal Mystery reconstitutes, animates Your own, with Your delicate presence, with all the force of Your Spirit. We ask You to open our eyes, so as to be able to know how You guide us, support our will to follow You any place where You want to lead us. Grant us the grace of not being snatched from Your hands and of not being in the power of evil which threatens us, from the divisions which hide or lurk within our heart. You, oh Christ, be the Shepherd, our guide, our example, our comfort, our brother. Amen!
Contemplate the Word of the Good Shepherd in your life. The preceding stages of the Lectio Divina, important in themselves, become practical, if connected to lived experience. The path of the “Lectio” cannot be considered ended if it does not succeed in making of the Word a school of life for you. Such a goal is attained when you experience the fruits of the Spirit. These are: interior peace which flourishes in joy and in the relish for the Word; the capacity to discern between what is essential and work of God and what is futile and work of the evil; the courage of choice and of concrete action, according to the values of the Biblical page that you have read and meditated on.