One Flock and One Shepherd
The fourth Sunday of Easter is also known as Good Shepherd Sunday. This chapter of John’s Gospel follows Jesus’ healing of the man born blind and the rejection of this miracle by the Jewish leaders who question Jesus’ authority to heal. Jesus responds to this challenge by calling himself the Good Shepherd. He is criticizing the leadership of the Pharisees and the other Jewish leaders. The Pharisees and other Jewish leaders are so angry that they attempt to stone and arrest Jesus. This controversy with the religious leaders continues until Jesus’ death.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus describes his relationship with his followers as similar to the relationship between a good shepherd and his sheep. As a good shepherd will risk and lay down his life in order to protect his sheep, Jesus willingly sacrifices himself for the sake of his sheep. Jesus contrasts the actions of the good shepherd with the actions of the hired shepherd who abandons the sheep in the face of danger.
The concern of a good shepherd for his sheep is part of the shepherd’s job. Jesus says, however, that the actions of the good shepherd are based upon the relationship that develops between the shepherd and the sheep. This is at the heart of the difference between the good shepherd and the hired shepherd. The good shepherd knows the sheep and therefore acts out of love. For the Good Shepherd, this is never simply part of a job; this love-in-action is integral to his identity. As with so much of John’s Gospel, one hears in this passage John’s particular focus on Christology. As the sheep are known by the Good Shepherd, the Father knows Jesus and Jesus knows the Father. There is an essential unity between the Father and the Son. The freedom with which Jesus acts when he lays down his life is rooted in the unity that he shares with his Father. In this context, Jesus also refers to others with whom he shares a relationship. By this reference, John probably understands the eventual inclusion of the Gentiles in the Christian community. Our modern ears hear this as a reference to Christian unity. The work of ecumenism is to restore unity among all Christians so that we form one flock under one shepherd, as God desires.