After spending a week with chapter six of St. John’s Gospel, we leapfrogged right over chapters seven, eight, and nine, and find ourselves at chapter ten as we begin the fourth week of Easter. Chapters seven, eight and nine were used during Lent.
Chapter ten begins with the “I AM” declaration with which many people are familiar: “I AM the good shepherd.” It is important to connect this to what went on immediately before in chapter nine. The also familiar story of the man born blind takes up all of chapter nine. The story ends with a strong condemnation of the Pharisees who have conducted the investigation of the man who was healed by Jesus. “Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not also blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, “We see,” so your sin remains.’” (John 9:40-41)
Jesus then launches into the discourse about the Good Shepherd. He compares his shepherding to that of the Pharisees and elders of Israel, calling them hirelings who exploit the sheep rather than leading them to good pasture. When we read the proclamation in this light, it takes on a very dark tone. While Jesus calls himself the “sheep gate,” giving the sheep access to the Father, and the good or noble shepherd who sacrifices his very life for the sheep, the hirelings are in it for themselves and not at all concerned for the needs of the sheep.
Between the Gospel read at yesterday’s liturgy and the passage read at today’s liturgy, we have a fairly comprehensive notion of the “servant leader” which Jesus exemplifies for us.
Each of us is a shepherd for someone. Parents shepherd their children. Teachers shepherd their students. Caregivers shepherd their patients. Employers shepherd their employees. Law makers and executive officers shepherd their fellow citizens. First responders shepherd their neighbors. Each of us has a responsibility to be a good shepherd, a servant leader, someone who puts the needs of the sheep before their own. We cannot afford to sit back and read this passage of the Gospel as if it were meant only for those who are religious and clergy in the flock. Though bishops, priests, and deacons are shepherds within the hierarchy of the Church, we are all shepherds of some members of the flock. We are all called to servant leadership.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator