John 10: 11-18
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father —and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life —only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
Reflection, by Fr Aldo, sx
The Gospel of today presents the theme of the Good Shepherd according to the vision and understanding of the evangelist John. Shepherd is an image often invoked by Scriptures since the Old Testament times. Abel who was a righteous man, a friend of God, persecuted by the evil ones, is a shepherd; Moses, before being called to lead the people of Israel to freedom was a shepherd; David was called by God straight from leading the sheep to leading the people as king, something he did with integrity of heart and wisdom. On the other hand, all the kings of Israel were terrible shepherds. Instead of tending the sheep, they exploited, scattered and killed them. That’s why God promises taking care of his people and send a true shepherd; this one would govern with justice and establish peace.
The gospels, therefore, use the image of the shepherd to reveal the person and mission of Jesus. However, Matthew and Luke present the good shepherd as the one who go after the lost sheep – that is, the one who searches for those who have erred in life – while the scope of the image of the good shepherd in John, which is the gospel read today, goes far beyond that of the other evangelists.
More than caressing a little, hurt and lost sheep, for John, the good shepherd is the one who fights against all those who put their lives at risk. And in order to assure the safety of the sheep he can even give his life in the process.
The image that here is evoked is not so much the one of Psalm 23 which says “He makes me lie down in green pastures,” but the image of the young David who fought with a lion and a wolf so to free the lamb from their claws. Thus, this characteristic of the strong man that fights against bandits and beasts is used by the today’s gospel to identify Jesus.
Jesus says “I am the Good Shepherd… the good shepherd is the one who gives his life for the sheep…” The word “good” here does not mean a sweet and gentle one who caresses in kisses the sheep. It actually means the true, authentic and courageous Shepherd. In order to highlight all the more the image of the real shepherd, Jesus contrasts it with the image of the hired worker, the one who works in exchange for a salary. The society of the time had established clearly what were the rights and duties of hired shepherds. The law stated that they were obliged to fight whenever the flock was attacked by a wolf, two dogs or any other small animal, but they had the right to flee when attacked by a lion, leopard, snake, bear or a thief. The contract with a hired shepherd never obliged him to risk his life for the sheep; under certain circumstances he could escape, since the highest interest was not the welfare of the flock but his salary.
The image of the shepherd should not be associated only to those who have positions in the hierarchy of the Church. All of us, when we look into our own lives, the things we do and the motivations for doing, perhaps we could understand what kind of shepherds we are becoming. Do we have hearts that are more like the one of a good shepherd or more like the one of a hired shepherd? Let us remember that a hired person tends to do the minimum necessary, that is, what is stipulated by the contract, while a good shepherd does not waste time with counting so to compute precisely what his duties are so that he can fulfill the law. Or we do things in order to accomplish what the law prescribes, not being punished and receiving compensations, or we do for having understood what love is, letting oneself being led by the love of Christ.
Finally, todays Gospel also underlines the theme of freedom. There is no real love if there is no freedom. No man can oblige a woman to love him. All he can do is to find ways to conquer her love. Imposition and use of fear are incompatible with love. Jesus shows real love because he laid down his life freely “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
Now let us read the Gospel again and count how many times we can find the expression “Lay down my life.” In what ways do you feel challenged?