Lent Sixth Sunday

Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11-18)

INTRODUCTION

The listeners of Jesus were familiar with the sheep rearing of the time. They knew the difference in the relationship of a shepherd to his sheep in contrast to a hired person to the sheep he pastured. Jesus compared himself to a good shepherd who dedicated himself for his sheep and even risked his life to save them from the wolf attack. Jesus voluntarily 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.

Bible Text

(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.

 Interpretation

(11) I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

I am
“I am” is the name of God revealed to Moses. (Exodus 3:14). When Jesus used “I am” for himself the Jews tried to stone him (John 8:56–59) because they understood that Jesus was making himself equal to God. He 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 as follows: I AM the Bread of Life (John 6:35, 41, 48, 51); I AM the Light of the World (John 8:12); I AM the Gate for the Sheep (John 10:7, 9); I AM the Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14); I AM the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25); I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6); and I AM the True Vine (John 15:1, 5).

Good shepherd
The “good” here stands for commitment for the sheep distinct from regular shepherds. The goodness of a shepherd is exemplified by stating that he “lays down his life for the sheep.” A typical example is that of David who told King Saul when he was questioned on his ability to attack the giant Goliath: “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 Samuel 17:34-36).

Shepherd
In the Old Testament, we see several instances of God presented as the shepherd of his flock, Israel. Psalm of King David chapter 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.
The quality of Jesus as a good shepherd was proved by laying his life for us. (1 John 3:16, John 15:13). Jesus said that the Son of man came “to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mathew 20:28). Unlike an accidental death of a shepherd while fighting with the enemy of the sheep, Jesus came to rescue us with his death. It was a willful 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 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
The hireling is contrasted with a shepherd. Unlike the owner of the sheep, a hired person to pasture the sheep would be interested only in his wage and won’t risk his life to rescue the sheep from the attack of wild animals or thieves. The disinterest of the hired man is emphasized in the double phrase that follows: “not a shepherd” “sheep are not his own.” Jesus is not a hired person. He owns us along with his Father. He knew that he would have to suffer and die to save us. Still he did not give up and rescued us.

Leaves the sheep and runs away
The distinction between a shepherd and the hired person became clear when the danger happened. The shepherd who loved his sheep risked his life when the hireling would flee leaving the sheep as pray for the wolf. The Pharisees and other religious leaders during the public ministry of Jesus were like hirelings who were interested only in their own material benefits than the salvation of the people entrusted to them. They were not protecting their people from spiritual dangers. Jesus out of his love could not leave us to be lost in sin but rescued us by the painful sacrifice of his life for us.

Wolf catches and scatters them
Who did Jesus imply as wolf? He presented false prophets as ravenous wolves who comes in sheep’s clothing. (Mathew 7:15).  Here, Satan is the wolf who comes in the clothing of a prophet. Those who persecute Jesus’ disciples when preaching the gospel were also depicted as wolves. “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.” (Matthew 10:16, Luke 10:3). Satan challenge the Christians and preachers of Jesus through the persecutors of the Church. St. 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 catching and scattering by the wolf shows how the hostile powers crush Christians and the Church. The shepherd should not be indifferent or seek his own welfare at the risk of losing his sheep for Satan. This is exemplified in the missionaries of the modern world. Even when their life is threatened by the persecutors of the church, they stay with their new converts and potential sheep for their pastoral welfare.

(14) I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me,

For this good shepherd, the sheep are his pet. He names each of them and leads them calling their names. (John 10:3). The sheep know the shepherd, trust him, and go with him. The shepherd and his sheep know and love each other. The good shepherd rescues his sheep out of his love for them rather than his concern of losing sheep as his asset or 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 to his similar relationship with his Father. The Father knows and loves his son, Jesus. He sent the son to rescue humanity. Jesus also knows and loves the humanity. Jesus expressed his great love towards us by even laying down his life for us. That proves that 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 during the public ministry of Jesus were only a portion of Jews who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon to reconstruct the Temple. However, there were many other Israelites spread all over the world especially “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 Rehoboam because this successor of Solomon was unwilling to reduce the heavy taxes imposed by Solomon. The separated 10 tribes in the north were known as Israelites. Israel was taken into captivity by Assyrians who dispersed them among other nations.

There has 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. This was prophesied in Ezekiel chapter 37 where the unification of the northern Israel and southern Judah were presented as the joining of two sticks. (Ezekiel 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.” (Ezekiel 37: 21-22). “David my servant shall be king over them; they shall all have one shepherd.” (Ezekiel 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 was not limited to Israelites. He came to shepherd all humanity because all are children of God. God selected Abraham and his descendants so that they become a model nation for other nations and that “All the families of the earth will find blessing” in them. (Genesis 12:3). 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 his Father. Jesus, the good shepherd and spiritual king was gathering one flock from all nations. 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.” (Isaiah 49:6). Since all are children of God and all have sinned, no one deserve 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 Jews and Gentiles during his public ministry. Ordinary people of both groups wholeheartedly received his service and his message. The early Christian community began serving both. While Peter was focusing on Jews, Paul was concentrating on the conversion of gentiles to Christianity. Thus, church is fulfilling this statement of Jesus that all folds of people would be brought together in his name. As Jesus prophesied, the non-Jews also hears 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.” (Mathew 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 on the apostles, the people speaking different languages who were gathered in Jerusalem understood what the apostles spoke through the gift of tongue. The common language of Christ’s love is understood by people of all nations and languages. Those who join the fold of Christ all over the world are united under one shepherd, Christ and 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.” (John 3:16). The son’s willingness to lay down his life for the salvation of mankind pleased God and caused a special bond of love of the Father 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 always gives 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 and that pleased the Father causing a special love of the Father towards the son.

Message:

1. The sheep in this parable represent the people of God and shepherds signify parents, teachers, pastors, and missionaries who are entrusted to the care of their people. The wolves are those who misguide the people from their spiritual journey. God wants all Christians to be good shepherds who dedicate themselves for the spiritual and physical wellbeing of God’s people.

2. Jesus compared the good shepherd to the hired persons. Both have different approaches to the sheep. Christians are answerable to God and should be willing to risk themselves to protect those entrusted to their care from spiritual wolves. Ownership feeling and commitment from the heart are what makes the good shepherd different from the hirelings.

3. Jesus wanted to include all folds of people in his salvific activity. Jesus entrusted to continue that mission to his disciples. We are the disciples of Jesus to continue that mission of 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 spreading of the gospel and enlarging the one sheepfold of Jesus. Let us spiritually and materially support them.

5. The Father loves the son in a special way for his self-sacrifice in fulfilling the will of the Father. Those who continue the mission of Jesus will also be the favorite children of God.