“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”. (John 10:1-10 – NRSV)
The ten verses of chapter 10 of John’s Gospel proclaimed today, are only part of an extended reflection on the image of Jesus as the shepherd – see 10:1-18.
“But what of the messianic question? Jesus transcends all suggested messianic expectations—the hidden Messiah (7:26–27), the miracle-working Messiah (7:31), the Messiah who gives living water (7:37–41a), and the Davidic Messiah (7:41b–42). He repeatedly affirms his relationship with God, his Father, and the mystery of his origins and destiny. The report of the celebration closes with Jesus finally accepting a traditional Jewish messianic expectation: he is the Good Shepherd (10:11, 14). The roots of this messianic figure lie solidly within Jewish tradition, but Jesus transcends and explodes the possibilities of the image. His shepherding flows from his knowledge and love of the Father, reciprocated by the knowledge and love the Father has for him. Accepting the charge the Father has given him, Jesus will lay down his life for his sheep, but he will take it again.” (Francis J Moloney, SDB, The Gospel of John, The Liturgical Press, 1998, 306-307.)
sheepfold: Jesus uses a metaphor here that is well known to the people. They would all be familiar with the sheepfold. Raymond Brown writes: “There were several types. At times, the sheepfold was a square marked off on a hillside by stone walls; here it seems to be a yard in front of a house, surrounded by a stone wall which was probably topped with briars”. (Raymond E Brown, The Gospel according to John (I–XII): Introduction, translation, and notes (Vol. 29), Yale University Press, 2008, 385.). The references to knowing the sheep by name, following the shepherd and recognizing his voice, would all be familiar to the listeners.
The metaphor is also well known because it is used frequently in the Scriptures:• In Genesis 49:24, God is referred to as a shepherd – see also Psalms 23, 95:7 and 100:3; Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 34:11–24; Micah 7:14; Zechariah 10:3 and 11:7.• In Ezekiel 34:2, 9 and 13f, the leaders are compared to shepherds who have failed to tend their sheep. See also Numbers 27:17; 1 Kings 22:17; 2 Chronicles 18:16; Zechariah 10:2.
Imagine you are in a crowded room, where there is a general hum of conversation. Somebody mentions your name. The chances are, you will hear your name above the hum. Recall that beautiful moment in John’s Gospel where a terribly distraught Mary of Magdala is trying to find out where they have placed the body of Jesus: “She turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, ‘Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away’. Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to Him, ‘Rabboni!’ (which is to say, Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to Me ….. ’” (20:14-17).
Earlier in John’s Gospel – near the ending of the cure of the man born blind (9:1-41) – we have a similar moment of connecting: “Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him, ‘Do you believe in the Son of God?’ He answered and said, ‘Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you’. Then he said, ‘Lord, I believe!’ And he worshiped Him”. Such moments remind us of Isaiah 43:1-2: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you …. ”
Today’s Gospel of the Good Shepherd – John 10:1-13 – follows immediately on the account of the cure of the blind man. A key theme to this little parable is the voice of the shepherd speaking to the sheep in an intimate way. Only the Good Shepherd can speak that way. In the Greek, the word kalos – translated as “good” – also carries the connotation of “beautiful”. “The sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”
When my name is spoken by the Good Shepherd there is connection, intimacy: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you …. ”
At the beginning of his Rule, St Benedict (480-543 CE) urges the monks: “Obsculta o fili ….” “Listen carefully my son …. ” He then goes on to describe this “listening” as “with the ear of the heart”. Our city and suburban environments – where most of us live – are noisy. It is easy to lose touch with our inner sensibilities – our ability to “listen with the ear of the heart”. We must avoid this at all cost! It is in our best interests to recognize the voice of the Good (Beautiful) Shepherd amidst the noise of our days. Our capacity to realise who and what we are depends on it.