Gospel – John 10:11-18
“I am the good shepherd.
A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
A hired man, who is not a shepherd
and whose sheep are not his own,
sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away,
and the wolf catches and scatters them.
This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd,
and I know mine and mine know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;
and I will lay down my life for the sheep.
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice,
and there will be one flock, one shepherd.
This is why the Father loves me,
because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.
I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.
This command I have received from my Father.”
Reflection on the Gospel
Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.
The Good Shepherd: A commentary says the Bible mentions shepherds over two hundred times. The familiar story seems obvious, so I wonder what remains to say. The theme struck a chord in Jesus’ day. His antagonists went ballistic about this story. But I have never seen a live sheep, and the good shepherd’s job description seems demanding. My mind plays tricks. It pictures the sacrificial lamb but in today’s story the shepherd gives his life not the sheep. Is the focus on the hirelings’ cowardice, with the hirelings representing the faithless? Most people now are hirelings, including those in the ‘helping’ professions and jobs. Being worthy of one’s pay, doesn’t preclude solicitude for one’s charges. Martin Luther, an insightful preacher, went surprisingly easy on the hirelings. (His father ran a mining company.) Teachers have stood as metaphorical good shepherds. Who would have imagined they would literally lay down their lives? The trusty commentaries explain the shepherd motif carried intricate meanings for Jesus’ audiences. Hebrew kings and leaders were titled shepherds. The prophets excoriated the kings’ failure to protect the nation. Jesus’ listeners would grasp the implied contrast with him, the ‘good’ shepherd. His opponents got it, they prepared to stone him. In a longer view, amid the pastoral imagery today’s gospel contained utterances that would be momentous for the future of Christianity: “I must bring them also… so there shall be one flock.” The one flock excludes no one. But could there be pluralism if there is only one flock? Augustine noted the shepherd used his rod to keep strays in line. He didn’t mean coercion but definite boundaries of practice and creed. Later the notorious inquisition incinerated people. Contemporary sensibility, after centuries of intellectual struggle, advocates tolerance and multiplicity. The Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom marks a milestone for the institutional Church. Luther noticed something: being a shepherd is a humble job. Those who remember that could make better shepherds, not lording it over their charges. Augustine and Luther point to actors in this story who has almost slipped by: the thieves. Thieves neglect and mislead the sheep, even harm them. By stealth they take immaterial things such as reputations and peace of mind. We encounter all three actors in life. We are all three. We in education speak of young people needing good shepherds. They have been swindled by thieves often enough. Forceful as these images are, I sense this rich story somehow strikes a chord less resoundingly. Would another, complementary, metaphor help? Maybe now our brave, sophisticated, endangered young people need allies.
Brother Charles O’Connell, FSC
A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Catholic University, Br. Charles earned graduate degrees from Syracuse University and NYU, and has taught at St. John’s College High School, CBA-Syracuse, Manhattan College; and La Salle Academy-NYC. Disabled by the long term effects of polio, he now resides at De La Salle Hall.
Saint John Baptist de La Salle – Pray for us.
Live, Jesus, in our hearts – Forever.