Year B: Fourth Sunday of Easter

The Good Shepherd

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.”

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Jesus literally laid his life down for us. In what ways do you freely “lay your life down” or, set yourself aside for those you love? Give some examples
  2. When and how do you recognize the voice of the shepherd? What do you hear?
  3. When have you been caught up in a moment of self-giving you might describe as an experience of unconditional love? Describe what happened.
  4. As a follower of Jesus,  how are you becoming more like the shepherd who leads you? What attributes of Jesus are becoming  part of your personhood?
  5. In your life, who have been good shepherds leading you into a deeper connection with the father? Are you a shepherd to others? Explain

Biblical Context

John 10:11-18
Mary M. McGlone CSJ

Jesus described himself as the good or model shepherd immediately after an altercation with authorities who criticized him for healing a blind man on the Sabbath. At the end of John 9, the Pharisees protested at being called blind. In reply, Jesus asserted that if they were truly blind, they would have no sin, but since they claimed to see correctly, they were guilty of rejecting the truth. Thus, although the discourse about being a good shepherd may seem like an abrupt change of subject, it actually functioned as a commentary on the quality of the leaders or shepherds of Israel in Jesus’ day and has become one of Jesus most memorable and most beloved self-descriptions.

When Jesus talks about the shepherd and sheep, he’s obviously going far beyond the interactions between the simple souls whose job was one of the lowliest in society and some of the dumbest animals on the ranch. (Pigs, horses and even cows score far better than sheep who are known to blindly follow one another into oncoming traffic or even off a cliff.) Jesus’ imagery refers to traditions like that found in Ezekiel 34 where the prophet critiqued the leaders of Israel for being shepherds so unworthy that God had decided to come in person to replace them. From that tradition, we get the image of the good shepherd as the ideal leader.

The first part of Jesus’ contrast between shepherds and hired hands focuses on their motivations. After saying that a good shepherd is willing to give his life for his sheep, Jesus denounces the mercenaries for some very basic reasons. First, he points out that the wage earners are neither shepherds nor owners of the flock; they have neither the expertise nor the vested interest necessary to tend the creatures under their care. As a result, they value their own safety over that of the flock — they may put on a good show in public, but when danger comes, they are the first out the door or up the tree, as the case may be.

After saying that, Jesus reminds people that while the mercenaries simply don’t care, the wolf’s goal is to harm the sheep. After setting uncommitted pastors to flight, the wolf catches some of the sheep and scatters the rest. The image of being caught by the wolf was all too familiar to John’s community at the end of the first century — they knew exactly who their martyrs had been and were well aware that the wolf was not far from the door for many among them. The wolf’s work of scattering has also been obvious in every situation of persecution the church has known. Those opposed to Christ’s cause have always been adept at using threats to disperse less than wholly committed communities. Of course, the statement about scattering the sheep also calls to mind John 16:32 in which Jesus told his table companions that they would all run, leaving him without human companionship when his hour came.

The crux of Jesus’ message is twofold: As the shepherd whose sole desire is to care for the sheep, he shares the essence of his life with them and is willing to give all on their behalf. By tying his role as shepherd to his relationship with the Father, Jesus indicated that his mission as the good shepherd was not simply to care for the sheep, but to make them like himself by bringing them into his relationship with the Father.

A Laying Down Life…Kind of Love

Fr. Michael K. Marsh

She died about two weeks ago. She was young, only in her forties. Her mom, Lupe, is one of the housekeepers for the church and our school. I persuaded Lupe to take some time off and stay home. “Don’t worry about your job,” I said. “Everything will be okay.” A couple of days later I learned that one of our teachers was staying after school to sweep out the classrooms and clean the bathrooms. She didn’t want to be paid. This was for Lupe and her daughter. She was laying down her life that Lupe might have some time for tears, memories, rest, and prayers. It was a gift of love.

So often we think love is about emotions, feelings, and sweet words. There’s nothing wrong with those things and they can be a legitimate part of love. We all want to be told we are loved. We want to feel that warmth, security, and tenderness that comes with love. At some point, however, love, if it is to be real, must become tangible, revealed not only by words and feelings but by actions. In this case a broom, a bucket, and rubber gloves were the signs and means of love. “Little children,” John writes in his first letter, “let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (1 John 3:18).

So, what does this have to do with Easter, resurrection, and the Good Shepherd? Everything. It has everything to do with Easter, resurrection, and the Good Shepherd. God’s love for humanity became tangible in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. God enacted love.

“We know love by this,” John tells us, “that he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). In laying down his life Jesus chooses us. He is not the victim of another’s power or agendas. If he is a victim at all, he is the victim of his own all-consuming divine love. His life was not taken from him, it was given to us; a choice and gift he freely made. That is what makes Jesus the good shepherd.

The hired hand trades time for wages. He transacts business. He cares nothing about the sheep. The good shepherd, however, lives and dies for love. He lays down his life for his sheep. He knows them and they know him, just as the Father knows him and he knows the Father. The very same relationship that Jesus has with his Father we can have with Jesus. This relationship of knowing is one of intimacy and love; between the Father and Jesus and between Jesus and humanity. Jesus is the revealer of God’s life and love.

This intimate love is at the heart of resurrection and the resurrected life. Resurrection is about a laying down life kind of love. Four times in today’s gospel Jesus says that he lays down his life. Four times he says to us, “I love you.” Four times he describes the pattern for our lives. John’s letter is explicit about this pattern: “He laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for one another” (1 John 3:16).

For Christ, love is lived; and how we live is always a choice. It is a choice driven by our recognition of, compassion for, and willingness to do something about the life and needs of another, whether they are in our own families, this parish, or on the other side of town. We cannot claim to believe in Jesus if we are unwilling to lay down our life for another, regardless of who he or she is. If we believe, we will love. If we do not love, neither do we believe.

Our belief in Jesus cannot be separated from how and whom we love. Our belief in his name is revealed in laying down our life for another. Even if we never say the name “Jesus,” laying down our life for another reveals our belief in that name.

Whenever we lay down our life for another, we proclaim that resurrection is not just an event in the past. It is a present reality, not just a historical remembrance. Laying down our life makes Jesus’ resurrection tangible and real. The only reason we can ever lay down our life for another is because Jesus first laid down his life for us. The shepherd never takes his sheep somewhere he is unwilling to go. He never asks of his sheep something he is himself unwilling to give. Every time we lay down our life in love for another, we remember Jesus’ death and proclaim his resurrection even as we await the day of his coming.

The opportunities for a laying down life kind of love are everywhere. You don’t have to go far. They are the family and friends we see every day. They are the people of this parish and of this town. They are the strangers who pass through our lives. They are the anonymous ones talked about as issues of poverty, hunger, homelessness, education. The opportunities for laying down life love are not just circumstances. They are people, human beings created in the image and likeness of God.

We need only be present, open our eyes, listen, and pay attention to know how and where love asks us to lay down our life for another. A laying down life kind of love means we will have to change our usual routines. It is no longer business as usual. The life and well-being of “the other” now sets our agenda, guides our decisions, and determines our actions. That sounds a lot like how the good shepherd lived and died.

Laying down our life is not, however, the end of life. It wasn’t for was Jesus, nor will it be for us. It is, rather, the beginning of a new life, a more authentic life, a life that looks a lot like Jesus’ life. It is the life in and by which we hear the voice of the good shepherd call our name and we follow where he leads. Call it what you want, Easter, resurrection, the good shepherd; it’s all the same, a laying down life kind of love.


Reflection Excerpt from: Interrupting the Silence

Fr. Michael K Marsh