EASTER READINGS – JOHN – SESSION 7

INTRO We have seen throughout John’s Gospel a great conflict – the conflict of truth against Falsehood (remember that in the Hebrew Scriptures the Devil is termed – the ‘Father of Lies’ as well as ‘Lucifer’ – the bearer of Light – a false light that deceives). This conflict is reaching a new pitch as we move closer to the ‘Hour of Glory’, the Passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus. It seems that Jesus has been arrested once already and brought before the Sanhedrin (see John ch 7 & 8). Having accused the Jewish leaders of being wilfully ‘blind’ in the aftermath of the healing of the man born blind and having narrowly escaped being stoned to death for blasphemy (the accusation being the ‘proof’ of the leadership’s blindness to the presence of the Divine Love in Jesus), he now gives the Parable of the Good Shepherd (John 10: 1-21).

[1] Parable of the Gate of the Sheepfold (John 10: 1-10) and the Good Shepherd (John 10: 11-18). The ‘Shepherd’ is a strong theme in the Hebrew tradition – Abel the Shepherd (Gen ch 4) is good whose sacrifice is accepted (evocative of the Passover lamb), whereas his brother, Cain, an agriculturist,  whose sacrifice of drops is refused, is jealous and brings death (murder) into human relationship. Sin is always ‘death-bearing’ in some way, for sin is a refusal of love and love alone gives life. This story of conflict between brothers (a frequent motif in the Hebrew Scriptures – Joseph, Solomon etc) is perhaps rooted in the sociological reality of history’s repeated conflicts between the nomadic herders and the settled farmers – a conflict that still persists today – eg society’s antipathy to Roma people and Travellers and conflicts in parts of Africa between nomadic tribes and settled farmers. Also see David, the shepherd boy who becomes King;  the prophecies of Jeremiah (Jeremiah ch 23) and Exechiel (Ezechiel ch 34) criticising those with responsibility to shepherd/lead their people (kings, priests, and false prophets) who only look after themselves and promising the Day when God would be the Shepherd among us – Jesus being the fulfilment of those prophecies. 

[2] Jesus speaks of Himself as ‘the Gate of the sheepfold’  reminiscent of him saying ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’ (John 14: 6). He calls to us to enter into the fulness of life by following Him, believing in His Word, ‘come and see’. He is the ‘safe passage’ to freedom and New Life. There was always one of the night shepherds (evocative of Luke’s presentation of the birth of Jesus – the first witnesses being the poorest workers, the night shepherds Luke 2: 8-20) who would guard the entrance – from animal predators (wolves and lions etc) and from thieves and sheep rustlers. The night shepherd guard would lie down in the gap of the communal sheepfold – risking his life to protect the sheep –  literally ‘laying down his life for his sheep’. (John 10: 11) – Jesus lays down his life for all humanity who are His ‘Flock’ – for He comes not just for the flock of Israel, but ‘for others that are not of this flock’ – the Gentile world, indeed all nations (John 10: 16). The great heresy – ‘Charity begins at home’. NO!  Charity and love in Christ is boundless, knows no limits and reaches out to wherever and whoever needs.  God IS love, before God ‘does’ love. Also Jesus gives us a new model of flock and family – all humanity are sisters and brothers – the revolutionary love of Resurrection and Pentecost. Called to be counter-cultural. ‘America First’ – ‘Britain for the British!’ ‘Build our walls’ this is to be overthrown in the Resurrection revolution by a Church truly of Christ, truly Catholic, universal in its love.

[3] Jesus the Good Shepherd who knows His sheep (John 10: 3 & 14). Middle Eastern shepherds – smaller flocks, knows each sheep, give them a name, they follow only his voice as he calls them from the communal sheepfold. They will not follow a different shepherd. John’s Gospel begins with the Eternal Word, made Flesh dwelling among us. Jesus is the Voice that speaks and calls and loves. He knows us (through and through), and the disciple ‘knows His voice’ and answers His call and follows the sound of His Voice knowing He leads us to safe pastures and a life worth living – the life of endless loving. Jesus is the Voice, the Word that listens to the beloved first – the long history of human evolution before the moment of the birth of the Word/Voice in the poverty of Bethlehem (birthplace of the Shepherd King, David). Jesus 27 or so years – the Hidden Years – listening to the cries of the poor among whom he grew and developed. The God of Exodus who listens to our cries (Exodus  7: 3), the cries of the enslaved and oppressed, who listens to their pain AND ACTS TO LIBERATE! The Disciples of this Shepherd Christ, this Voice that listens – called to be like Him, to be a Church that listens before we speak and allows what we hear to change us and challenge us – that our word and actions will be His Word and Action that liberates and heals and gives Life in all its fulness. 

[4] Jesus the Shepherd lays down his life (John 10: 17). The Voice that listens is also the Shepherd who becomes the Lamb of Sacrifice – like Christ the High Priest of the Letter to the Hebrews who takes into the Holy of Holies (not made of human hands) – the only sacrifice – Himself! (Hebrews 9: 11-14). Loving God, knowing God’s love for us liberates us to sacrifice ourselves, as Jesus knows the Father’s Love and therefore can lay down his life for His sheep. Some are inspired and some think He is mad! (John 10: 19-21) – the conflict continues!

AFTERWORD We are all shepherds, not just some. We are all gifted by Baptism and Confirmation with ministry and charism to be used in love for the upbuilding of others in the Church and in the world. Do we embrace our ministry? We trust the call of the Shepherd to shepherd others in His name and love? Do we let our sense of inadequacy or lack of qualification stifle God’s insistent call to us to serve, to shepherd, to minister, to heal? Is our parish community, our Church a real shepherd to our wide community, our world. Are we listening to the pain around us? bringing food to every human need? Are we challenging the Church we love to be a loving Shepherd to those who have for so long need rejected and refused Bread of Life around the Shepherds table?

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