The readings from the Gospels continue to reflect on Jesus’ fulfilling the mission given to him by the Father. He reflects on the difference between himself as “the model shepherd” and the one who simply does the job for money and is not committed to the members of the flock for any other reason.
The essential factor is that the paid employee has no meaningful relationship with those entrusted to his care: elsewhere, Jesus likens himself to the shepherd who knows all the sheep by name, illustrated by his addressing Mary Magdalene by name at the tomb on Easter Day. We might note that, although the Hebrew scriptures talk about the messianic shepherd who will gather the scattered people together, there is no notion of one who will give his life for the flock.
Jesus’ commitment to the Father is shown by his being willing freely to lay down his life and take it up again, as he will demonstrate later in the washing of the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. Thus, what happens to Jesus is not some tragic accident, but rather “the command I have been given by my Father”. It is in this mystery that the love of the Father will be revealed, difficult though it may be for us to understand.
One reason why farmers apparently are reluctant to give names to their animals is that it makes them in a sense into pets and so would cause all sorts of problems when the time comes to send them to be slaughtered for their meat. On the other hand, there are stories of tough and seasoned shepherds being reduced to tears when their dog, which has been their companion perhaps for many years, has to be put down to spare it further suffering. The difference in reaction reveals the contrast in relationship. In our Gospel reading today, we are invited to reflect on what the Easter mystery tells us about Jesus, ourselves and what being a disciple means.
In the Gospel reading today, Jesus is not saying that he has power to lay down and take up his life again, so much as that he has authority to do so. He stresses that this is his own decision, freely taken. We might consider that what matters in the end is our own personal relationship with Jesus. It is easy to imagine the Church as a sea of anonymous faces, for example as pictures of St Peter’s Square suggest: there is truth in this, that the Church is the people of God, but not in the sense of an amorphous crowd: John’s thought is that of a community of committed individuals, each with a personal relationship to Jesus, a relationship marked by love. There is very little ethical teaching, such as we find in the Synoptic Gospels, in the version according to John. This means that it can be more demanding: love is often more challenging – and exhausting – than simply living by rules imposed from outside ourselves.
- There is only one commandment in the Fourth Gospel: “love one another”.
- There is no equivalent to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew) or on the Plain (Luke) in
the Gospel according to John.
The figure of the shepherd is used in the Hebrew scriptures to refer to the leaders of Israel, often in a context of criticism
Notice the people in the street as you walk along: do you imagine Jesus having a general interest in their well-being or his having a personal interest in each one? How do you feel he relates to yourself?