bible blog 1279

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary along with a headline from world news:


John 10:1-18

J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)

Jesus declares himself the true shepherd

10 1-5 Then Jesus said, “Believe me when I tell you that anyone who does not enter the sheepfold though the door, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a rogue. It is the shepherd of the flock who goes in by the door. It is to him the door-keeper opens the door and it is his voice that the sheep recognise. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out of the fold, and when he has driven all his own flock outside, he goes in front of them himself, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will never follow a stranger—indeed, they will run away from him, for they do not recognise strange voices.”

6-15 Jesus gave them this illustration but they did not grasp the point of what he was saying to them. So Jesus said to them once more, “I do assure you that I myself am the door for the sheep. All who have gone before me are like thieves and rogues, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If a man goes in through me, he will be safe and sound; he can come in and out and find his food. The thief comes with the sole intention of stealing and killing and destroying, but I came to bring them life, and far more life than before. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd will give his life for the sake of his sheep. But the hired man, who is not the shepherd, and does not own the sheep, will see the wolf coming, desert the sheep and run away. And the wolf will attack the flock and send them flying. The hired man runs away because he is only a hired man and has no interest in the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know those that are mine and my sheep know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I am giving my life for the sake of the sheep.

16-18 “And I have other sheep who do not belong to this fold. I must lead these also, and they will hear my voice. So there will be one flock and one shepherd. This is the reason why the Father loves me—that I lay down my life, and I lay it down to take it up again! No one is taking it from me, but I lay it down of my own free will. I have the power to lay it down and I have the power to take it up again. This is an order that I have received from my Father.”

foldJohn is engaged in a strange task: he’s is trying to make Jesus speak his life. I don’t think Jesus ever spoke in this way; but John is not concerned with that. He wants his Jesus to say what his life means. The words he gives to Jesus interpret the action and suffering of his life. This strategy is evident also in the other three gospels, but only in John does it become the characteristic speech of Jesus. The real counterpart to John is Paul, who years before John interpreted the life of Jesus in his letters. But Paul makes a clear distinction between the earthly Jesus (who might be known”according to the flesh”) and the risen Lord who is Spirit. John combines the earthly and heavenly Son of God in one narrative.

The metaphors in this passage are tricky. First of all, Jesus is the true shepherd of the sheep, both of those who are in the flock of Israel and those who are Gentiles. This metaphor goes back to many biblical passages including Psalm 23, but especially to Ezekiel 34 in which God declares that he himself will be a shepherd to his scattered sheep. The Kings of Israel were called “shepherd” indicating their task of guiding their people. The great King David had been a shepherd. The second Isaiah prophesied that God will “lead his flock like a shepherd”; and Ezekiel distinguished between the shepherd-kings who had led the people astray and God the shepherd who would gather the flock and make sure that the fat sheep didn’t get all the pasture.

This whole vast tradition lies behind John’s portrayal of Jesus as the “good shepherd” who loves the sheep and is ready to give his life for them. Sacrificial love is the mark of the good shepherd. The verb “to know” in the Bible tradition is used of sexual intimacy. Here Jesus’ knowledge of his sheep and their knowledge of him is not of course sexual but it does carry overtones of mutual love; it is not merely a theological identification. John emphasises, just as Ezekiel does,  that there are false shepherds, pretenders, who are simply looking for their own advantage. Jesus’ words state that the sheep do not recognise or follow them, although experience might suggest they often do. Perhaps Jesus’ words refer to the true flock, that is, those who are genuinely seeking God rather than gain. So we can say that the good shepherd seeks his sheep and the sheep who are seeking a shepherd hear his voice. It is a process of mutual discovery.

The metaphor of the gate is mixed up with that of the shepherd, but it is clearly different. Here Jesus pictures himself as the gate to God’s sheepfold. This is similar to his picture of himself as the way, the truth and the life without whom no one can come to the Father.In this case, those who try to become part of God’s sheepfold while by-passing Jesus will fail. 

Jesus’ words about”all who have come before” him are troublesome. How can he say this of the law-givers and prophets of his people? There is a tendency in John to denigrate the Jewish tradition and these words may illustrate it.shepherd-with-flock

John describes Jesus as having life in himself, an abundant and inextinguishable life which he offers to his flock by “laying it down”; that by sacrificial living and dying. Because he lives sacrificially his opponents should not think that they can triumph by bringing him to his death. He is ready for it. This inextinguishable life is made the purpose of Jesus’ shepherding. The idea of “religious shepherding” is common enough in the world, but only here is there an explanation of why anyone should agree to be shepherded: this shepherd offers life.


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