SET-1: Season of Lent
The listeners of Jesus were familiar with the sheep rearing. They knew the difference in the relationship of a shepherd – in contrast to a hired hand – to the sheep he pastured. Jesus compared himself to a good shepherd who dedicated himself to his sheep and even to the point of risking his life to save them from any wolf attack. Jesus sacrificed his life for us to save us from the evil one, respecting the wish of his heavenly Father. The people Jesus saves would not be just Jews, but all humanity who would be open to his message.
(John 10:11) 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.
(11) I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep
God revealed His name as “I am” to Moses (Ex 3:14). When Jesus used “I am” for himself the Jews tried to stone him (Jn 8:56-59) because they understood that Jesus was making himself equal to God. Jesus used “I am” in seven pronouncements about himself combining it with metaphors which express his saving relationship with humanity. All of them appear in the gospel of John: I AM the
Bread of Life (Jn 6:35, 41, 48, 51); I AM the Light of the World (Jn 8:12); I AM the Gate for the Sheep (Jn 10:7, 9); I AM the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:11, 14); I AM the Resurrection and the Life (Jn 11:25); I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life (Jn 14:6); and I AM the True Vine (Jn 15:1, 5).
The “good,” here stands for the shepherd’s commitment for the sheep distinct from normal shepherds. Jesus exemplifies the goodness of a shepherd by stating that he “lays down his life for the sheep.” A typical example is David. When King Saul asked David on his ability to attack the giant Goliath, he said: “Your servant used to tend his father’s sheep, and whenever a lion or bear came to carry off a sheep from the flock, I would chase after it, attack it, and snatch the prey from its mouth. If it attacked me, I would seize it by the throat, strike it, and kill it. Your servant has killed both a lion and a bear” (1 Sam 17:34-36).
The Old Testament presents God as the shepherd of his flock, Israel. Psalm 23:1-4 is a typical example: “The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack. In green pastures he makes me lie down; to still waters he leads me; he restores my soul. He guides me along right paths for the sake of his name. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me.”
Lays down his life for the sheep
Jesus proved his credentials as a ‘good shepherd’ by sacrificing his life for us (1 Jn 3:16; Jn 15:13). Jesus said that the Son of Man came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28). Unlike the accidental death of a shepherd while fighting with the wolf, Jesus came to rescue us with his death. It was a wilful and voluntary decision of Jesus and his Father for the sake of God’s sheep. His death was the substitute sacrifice of Isaac, the son of Abraham, and a replacement of the imperfect animal sacrifices in the Temple of Jerusalem.
(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
A hired man
Jesus distinguishes a true shepherd from a hireling. Unlike the true shepherd who is personally invested in the sheep, a person who works for pay will not risk his life to rescue the sheep from the attack of wild animals or thieves. Jesus explains the lack of motivation of the hired man in the double phrase that follows: “not a shepherd” and “sheep are not his own.” Jesus is not like a hireling. He has a personal stake in us, entrusted to him by his Father. He knew that he would have to suffer and die to save us. Still, he volunteered to take up the task and rescued us.
Leaves the sheep and runs away
The distinction between the true shepherd and the hired person starkly comes out when the threat looms. The shepherd who loves his sheep risks his life; whereas the hireling flees for his own safety, leaving the sheep to their fate. The Pharisees and other religious leaders during the public ministry of Jesus were typical hirelings, who were invested in their own skins rather than the people’s salvation. They were not at all concerned about people’s spiritual welfare. Jesus, out of his love for us, could not leave us in the cesspit of sin. So, he rescued us by the sheer sacrifice of his life.
Wolf catches and scatters them
Jesus presented the false prophets like ravenous wolves who come in sheep’s clothing (Mt 7:15). Here, Satan is the wolf who comes in the attire of a prophet. Jesus depicts those who persecute his disciples as wolves. “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves” (Mt 10:16; Lk 10:3). Satan challenges Christians and preachers of Jesus through the church’s persecutors. Saint Paul used the same metaphor of wolves for false teachers. “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock” (Acts 20:29).
The evil spirit is at work against the Christians and the Church, through teachers who misguide their listeners. The wolf’s catching and scattering show how the hostile powers crush Christ’s followers. The shepherd should be vigilant and risk himself to save the sheep from Satan. The missionaries continue this advice of Jesus. Even when the persecutors threaten their lives, they stay with the Christians to protect them and to continue their mission.
(14) I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me
This shepherd has a personal relationship with his flock. He names each of his sheep and leads them, calling them by their names (Jn 10:3). The sheep know the shepherd, trust him, and go with him. The shepherd and his sheep know and love each other. Hence, the good shepherd protects his sheep out of his love for them rather than as his property or source of income.
(15) Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep
Jesus compared his knowledge and love for his sheep similar to his relationship with the Father. The Father knows and loves his son, Jesus. He did send his son to rescue humanity. Jesus also knows and loves us. He expressed his great love towards us by even laying down his life for us. That proves he is a good shepherd.
(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
“This fold” implied the Jews. The Jews in the Holy Land were only a portion of Jews who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon to reconstruct the Temple and settle in the Holy Land. Besides the Jews in Babylon, there were many other Israelites spread all over the world, including “the lost 10 tribes.” They were the ten tribes separated from the United Kingdom of Solomon under the leadership of Jeroboam, who protested King Solomon’s son and successor Rehoboam because he was unwilling to reduce the heavy taxes Solomon imposed. The separated 10 tribes in the north were known as Israelites. Assyrians took them into captivity and dispersed them among other nations so they would not unite against the Assyrians.
There had been a Messianic expectation that the Messiah would unite all the 12 tribes of Israel and restore their glorious kingdom under one king as it was during the reign of King David and his son King Solomon. Ezekiel had prophesied the unification of the kingdoms of northern Israel and Judah as the joining of two sticks (Ezek 37:15-17). “Thus says the Lord GOD: I will soon take the Israelites from among the nations to which they have gone and gather them from all around to bring them back to their land. I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel, and there shall be one king for them all. They shall never again be two nations, never again be divided into two kingdoms” (Ezek 37:21-22). “David my servant shall be king over them; they shall all have one shepherd” (Ezek 37:24). Jesus came as this new king, as a descendant of David. So, when Jesus said, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold” he could mean the dispersed Israelites all over the world.
Jesus’ mission extended beyond the Israelites. He came to shepherd all humanity because all are children of God. God selected Abraham and his descendants so they become a model nation for other peoples and that “All the families of the earth will find blessing” in them (Gen 12:3). The Messiah’s goal was to unite all dispersed nations after the fall of the Tower of Babel and save them from their sinful nature and present them before the Father. Jesus, the good shepherd and spiritual king, was gathering all nations as one flock. Isaiah prophesied about the Servant of the Lord: “I will make you a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isa 49:6). Since all are children of God and all have sinned, no one deserves God’s mercy. However, Jesus came to offer us the mercy and redemption of God through his redemptive sacrifice and victory over sin and death.
Jesus served the Jews and Gentiles during his public ministry. Ordinary people of both groups received his service and his message. The early Christian community served both. While Peter focused on the conversion of the Jews, Paul concentrated on Gentiles’ conversion. Thus, the Church is fulfilling the statement of Jesus that he will bring people of all races into his fold. As Jesus prophesied, the non-Jews also hear the voice of Jesus and join the one flock of Jesus, the good shepherd.
Jesus continues his mission as he stated to his apostles: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:19-20). Jesus reunites all the 70 nations dispersed with separate languages and spread all over the world at the destruction of the Tower of Babel. On the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down on the apostles, the people gathered in Jerusalem, though they were of different nationalities, understood what the apostles spoke through the gift of tongue.
The language of Christ’s love transcends linguistic and geographic borders. Church and Christians implement this love in action through social service and charitable activities for people all over the world, regardless of their religion and language. Christ, the good shepherd unites his fold internationally under his vicar, the pope.
(17) This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again
“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). The son’s willingness to lay down his life for the salvation of mankind pleased God and caused a special bond of the Father’s love towards the son.
(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
Jesus received the command to lay down his life for humanity with the freedom to accept or reject it. The Father has always given such freedom to humanity, even from the time of Adam and Eve. Acceptance of God’s will is rewarding. Jesus laid down his life for humanity from his free choice. That pleased the Father, causing a special love of the Father towards the son.
1. The sheep in this parable represent the people of God and shepherds signify parents, teachers, pastors, and missionaries who care for their people. The wolves are those who misguide and divert the people from their spiritual goals. God wants all Christians to be good shepherds who dedicate themselves for the spiritual and physical wellbeing of God’s people.
2. Jesus contrasted the good shepherd to the hired persons. Both have different approaches to the sheep. Christians are answerable to God and should risk themselves to protect those entrusted to their care from spiritual wolves. Ownership feeling and commitment from the heart makes the good shepherd different from the hirelings.
3. Jesus wanted to include all types of people in his redemptive activity. Jesus entrusted his disciples to continue that mission. We are the disciples of Jesus to carry on that mission, bringing all in the one-fold of Jesus in our time. Let us be witnesses of the gospel.
4. The Christian missionaries all over the world give up their comfort and risk their lives for the spread of the gospel and the enlargement of the one sheepfold of Jesus. Let us spiritually and materially support them.
5. The Father loves the son especially for his self-sacrifice in fulfilling the will of the Father. Those who continue the mission of Jesus will also be the favourite children of God.