“THE GOOD SHEPHERD LAYS DOWN HIS LIFE FOR THE SHEEP (John 10:11)
📕Acts 4:8-12; Ps 118:1 and 8-9, 21-23, 26 and 28-29 (R.v.22); 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18
Take a short trip back to the Old Testament. Most of the people that God appointed as leaders of Israel were professional shepherds: Jacob, Moses, David, etc. Apart from the fact that sometimes, sheep are stubborn and so need a man of patience, they are equally fragile and so need devoted protection. A good shepherd is always ready to lay down his life for the sake of his sheep (see 1 Sam 17:34-36). See how this attitude reflects the action of the shepherd in the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:4-6).
Today, known as the Good Shepherd Sunday, both the First Reading and the Gospel present Jesus as the one who is destined to save his people. In the Gospel reading, Jesus gives us a reason why that sacrificial form of relationship exists between the sheep and the shepherd, and why he, the good Shepherd would think of laying down his life for the sheep. It is because the shepherd KNOWS the sheep (cf. John 10:14).
Knowledge here is not what one gets from mere intellectual endeavour or observation. It is something that is borne out of a personal touch and practical experience. That explains the tradition among the Jews to have their children begin early to tend the sheep so as to establish a relationship of trust between the child and the sheep. This trust may not exist between the sheep and the hired man (see John 10:12).
Note that the same Greek word, ginōskō (I know) that Jesus used in John 10:14 is the same word that the Septuagint used to translate yada’ (I know) in Gen 4:1 – “Adam knew his wife.” From the sense of that usage in Gen 4:1, which gave room for the birth of a child to Adam and Eve, we could say that this knowledge that Jesus talks about is one which generates life. That is why a good shepherd lays down his life in order to give life to the sheep.
At the time that the Gospel of John was written, there was great persecution against the Christians. That is how we understand the world in the Second Reading which neither knows the children of God nor God himself. The world stands in opposition to God and to the children of God. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, gives life to these suffering children of God. And we, being like God (1 John 3:2), are called to also lay down our lives for the salvation of others.
It is important to also note an important comparison that Jesus made between the shepherd and a hireling (cf. John 10:12). Apart from the external problems that the world posed the Church at the time that the Gospel of John was written and even today, there was (is) an internal problem of the influx of bad leaders, who see their care of the sheep as a career and not a vocation. These bad leaders expose the flock to the danger of being misled into error by the deceiver.
As a pastor, I ask myself today, Am I doing well to lead the flock entrusted to me to a good pasture or am I just here for the benefit of being called a priest? What of you? In your home, are you a good parent? In that small group that you lead, are you a good leader?
May Christ the Good Shepherd continue to watch over us in order to give us the grace and strength of remaining faithful children of God who would equally be ready to watch over others for their own safety. Amen.
Have a blessed Sunday under the protective hands of Jesus the Good Shepherd. Peace be with you.