The Good Shepherd: context

Christ the Good Shepherd1 “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.

[ Only verses 11-18 are part of the Sunday gospel ]

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.”

19 Again there was a division among the Jews because of these words. 20 Many of them said, “He is possessed and out of his mind; why listen to him?” 21 Others said, “These are not the words of one possessed; surely a demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?”

Context. The section of the Gospel according to John known as the Good Shepherd discourse runs from John 10:1-30. Interestingly, the Fourth Sunday of Easter always contains a portion of the discourse: Year A contains 10:1-10, Year B has 10:11-18, and Year C offers 10:22-30. You’ll notice that vv.19-21 are not proclaimed in any of the readings, yet it is those verses that reminds us to connect the entire discourse with the preceding chapter.

The passage seems to being with a harsh, accusatory tone. It is almost as if we have pick up an on-going conversation. And we have. There are many commentators who set the boundaries of this gospel pericope as John 9:39-10:21 in order that the reader understand the scene that is unfolding. In John 9:40-41 it is evident that Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees and it is not an unwarranted assumption that it is this same group who has just heard Jesus’ words about the true meaning of being a good shepherd to the people of God.

Chapter 9 is essentially the narrative of the “man born blind” whom Jesus heals on the Sabbath – much to the exasperation of the religious authorities who cannot see the glory of God revealed in this sign. Instead the authorities are more concerned with the “who, what, when and where” of the miracle and why it was done on the Sabbath. One of their agenda was to discredit the notion that Jesus was the promised Messiah (cf. 9:22). At the end of the narrative, the now-sighted man has been thrown out of the Temple and Jesus comes to him. While the man comes to believe in Jesus as Messiah, the religious authorities are, at best, divided – and in fact are plotting to do away with Jesus.

39 Then Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains. (John 9:39-41)

The accusation hangs in the air and colors the verse that follows: 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.


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