John 10:11-21


John 10:11-16     Jesus as the Shepherd

11 “I am the good shepherd. 
The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 
12-13 The employed hand is not the shepherd
and the sheep are not his own.  
Because he is hired and does not care about the sheep,
when he sees the wolf coming,
he abandons the sheep and flees;
and the wolf carries off the sheep and scatters them.
14 I am the good shepherd.  
I know mine and mine know me – 
15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father –
and I lay down my life for the sheep.

In contrast to the image of Jesus as gate, that of shepherd has been deeply etched on the Christian psyche and has become, perhaps, one of the best known and loved images of Jesus.

The word good carried the meanings of “authentic” and “model”. Jesus saw this authentic shepherding consisting especially 

  • in his laying down his life for the sheep, 
  • and in the deep intimacy that he would establish between himself and his disciples – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. 

It was from his Father that Jesus drew the motivation and power to love as he did. By this totally selfless and unconditioned love, Jesus was re-defining the commonly accepted sense of God.

It is worth noting that Jesus lays down his life for the sheep, not only for those already “his” sheep. This universal outreach of his saving death is to be seen as reinforcing Jesus’ earlier claim to being bread for the life of the world [6.51].

The mutual knowing of which Jesus spoke was not a superficial knowledge, but one based on intimate experience, like the mutual knowing of Father and Son. It was relationship. Later in the narrative, Jesus would elaborate further the nature and depth of this relationship between himself and his disciples.

As it stands in the text, the image of Jesus as shepherd spoke primarily of Jesus’ own role; a role which embraced everyone in the flock without distinction. Though the word translated as good also included the idea of “model”, the passage did not refer to ministries in the Church. (This dimension would be addressed in the final chapter of the Gospel [21:15-17].) 

The contrast to the employed hand, as well as to the thieves and rustlers, served to highlight the attitudes and actions of Jesus, but provided, also, a critique of the Pharisees (and of the high-priestly leadership), recently illustrated by their violent exclusion of the man born blind.

16 I have other sheep that are not from this sheepfold.  
I need to gather them in as well.  
They shall listen to my voice;
and there will be one flock, and one shepherd.

Many scholars understand the sheepfold to refer to Israel. In that case, Jesus was referring to non-Israelites who would listen to his voice and be numbered among the sheep of the one flock. To the sheep from the sheepfold of Israel will be added the sheep from the fold of the wider world; and they will both constitute one new flock under the care of the one shepherd, Jesus. The narrative would soon recount an instance of this promise being fulfilled [12:20].

Other scholars think that the text may reflect the period when the Gospel was being written. In that case, the other sheep may have been Christian communities that, unlike the community of the Beloved Disciple, have not yet come to accept the deepest truth about Jesus.

John 10:17-21     Jesus Reveals the Father’s Love

17 The Father loves me,
and for this reason I lay down my life
so that I may take it up again.

Jesus’ openness to death was not the condition of the Father’s love but its source (reason); nor was his resurrection the purpose of his dying but its certain consequence (so that). The initiating and empowering love of the Father would be expressed in Jesus’ readiness to die for love of the world. The Father loved the world; and, because of that love for the world, sent Jesus so that the world might be saved. Jesus shared the same love for the sin-scarred world that motivated his Father’s heart, even to the extent of allowing himself to be murdered by those he was sent to save. Yet Jesus knew that death was not the end. The Father of life, from whom he drew his being, would empower him to take up his life again. 

18 No one else takes it from me;
rather I lay it down of myself.  
I have power to lay it down;
and I have power to take it up again.  
This is the commission I received from my Father.”

The narrative was determined to show that Jesus’ death, as much as his resurrection, would be his own free choice. Jesus would not be the helpless victim of greater powers. Sharing the intensity of the Father’s commitment to the world, he took that intensity upon himself as commission. His death, like his resurrection, would be the expression of his love for his sheep, drawn not only from the fold of Israel, but from the whole world beyond it. (The Gospel of John preferred to speak of Jesus himself being the source of his own resurrection, rather than being passively raised by the Father.)

Giving his Life for the Life of the World

The Gospel of John made it eminently clear that Jesus’ acceptance of death was an expression of his commitment to love the world, whatever the cost. Though his choice to love the world would inevitably lead to death, Jesus was not prepared to be silenced.  In this project of saving love, the Father and Jesus were of one mind. As they loved each other, so, too, they loved the world. Jesus sourced his life, and his love, from the Father. His death expressed not only his own love for the world but the Father’s love for the world – Jesus, the one sent by God, was, indeed, the revelation of the mind and heart of God. 

The world for which Jesus was prepared to die was the world that crucified him. People are often prepared to love, but never totally, consistently and unconditionally. Self-interest is endemic; and leads to rivalry, competition, conflict and violence. It affects individuals, and particularly social groupings. Family interests, tribal interests, religious interests, national interests are the spontaneous and unquestioned energies that drive politics and economics, and so much other social interaction. In order to save this world, Jesus brought the message of consistent and unconditional love, and the world judged him to be naive, unrealistic and subversive. The religious powers condemned him; the secular powers executed him.

But his message endured beyond his death. His disciples sensed its truth and beauty, and continued to live it and to share it, convinced, like him, that his way was the only way to life to the full.

19 Dissention again broke out among the Jews because of what he said.
20 Many of them were saying, “He has a demon, and is raving mad.  
Why do you listen to him?”
21 But others were saying, “His words are not those
of someone possessed by a demon.  
Can a demon open the eyes of a blind man?”

Jesus could not be ignored. His integrity and truth insistently called for decision. Some claimed that he was irrational and raving; but not all. His hearers were divided.

The issue that divided Jesus’ contemporaries challenged also the members of the Beloved Disciple’s community – as it confronts disciples in the world today: how to convince people of something that cannot ultimately be proved empirically yet can be intuited by those free enough and prepared to seek?

Next >> John 10:22-29