Over my dead body – Monday, 4th Week of Easter – Acts 11:1-18/John 10:11-18
Yesterday we celebrated ‘good shepherd Sunday,’ traditionally celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Easter. Our Gospel text today is a continuation of that Gospel reading. Yet while this may be a very assuring text of the love of the good shepherd for us, the reality of this text is that it is within the context of hate towards Jesus.
This discourse actually emerges out of a conflict with the religious authorities in John 9. This conflict and its related discourse are flanked by attempts to stone Jesus (John 8:59; 10:31). John 10 begins in the middle of a quotation that has started at John 9:41. Jesus is continuing a conflict with the religious authorities, which they have started with the man born blind after Jesus has restored the man’s sight. When the authorities cast the man out, Jesus finds him and receives him as his own; as his “sheep”
Within this context one can clearly identify Jesus as the good shepherd; he declares it with another of the seven I am statements when he says, “I am the good shepherd.” The bad shepherds, also referred to as the ‘hired hand’ are clearly the Jewish religious establishment at the time of Jesus. The best way to approach this text is through a method of compare and contrast, a method used by Jesus in this very text.
The text begins by telling us that Jesu, the good shepherd, lays down his life for his sheep; a point that is repeated five times in eight verses. In short, Jesus was saying there is no way the wolves can get to my sheep; not over my dead body. This is key to understanding the mission of Jesus and his salvific role. He has come to die for us, to rescue us from the bondage of sin. The cross was not a tragedy it was a strategy. This is not forced upon him by the Father but as he declares, “No one takes it (his life) from me but I lay it down on my own accord. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it up again.” This clearly is the primary mission of the good shepherd.
But there are other characteristics of a good shepherd that Jesus draws our attention to. Jesus says, “I know my own and they know me.” There is a mutual recognition of the sheep and the shepherd. On Easter Sunday morning, Mary of Magdala recognized the voice of Jesus. Jesus said that his sheep hear his voice. While the shepherd knows his sheep it is for us the sheep to also know Jesus the shepherd. We may think of sheep (ourselves) as being all the same, yet the shepherd knows they are individuals with their own personalities and characteristics and deals with them according to their individual needs.
Finally, we need to watch out for the bad shepherd. Their characteristics are more than evident in the lengthy description that Jesus gives. They are not the owners of the sheep, they run away in times of danger abandoning the sheep to the wolves. As a consequence, the sheep are scattered while some are snatched away. The bad shepherd does not lay his life for his sheep but protects himself. The Jewish religious authorities listening to Jesus clearly knew that he was speaking of them and in 10:31 will take up stones again to stone him.
This text draws attention to both the sheep and the shepherds of the Church. While the sheep must know the shepherd, recognize his voice and know which gate to enter, the shepherds have a clear calling to protect their flock. The title pastor, translates the same ancient Greek word used here for shepherd. It is a title that is only rightfully earned, not granted or assumed.