- Acts of the Apostles 9:36-43
- Psalm 23
- Revelation to John 7:9-17
- John 10:22-30
Scripture frequently uses the metaphor of shepherd and sheep to describe the relationship between the faithful and God. Easter 4 is often referred to as “Good Shepherd Sunday,” as we turn to John, Chapter 10 and several of our readings today correspond to this.
The setting of this passage from John is the Feast of Dedication, a winter festival known as Hanukkah today. During the period between the Old and New Testaments, a Syrian king by the name for Antiochus IV, captured Jerusalem and desecrated the temple by establishing idol worship there. Later, the Jews under Judas Maccabeus recaptured the city and cleansed the temple of idolatry. The temple was then rededicated to the exclusive worship of God. Hanukkah commemorates this rededication and the events surrounding it.
The group who challenges Jesus in this passage ask how long he will keep them in suspense. Although Jesus has given many hints about his identity he has only explicitly revealed himself as the Messiah to the Samaritan woman (4:26) and to the man born blind (9:37). To the rest, he provides evidence and waits for them to draw their own faith conclusions.
Jesus tells his listeners that they are not able to believe because they are not his “sheep” (v. 26). His sheep listen to his voice and give heed to his words and teachings. Jesus recognizes them for his own, and they follow him. Each shepherd has a distinctive call that his own sheep recognize, and that makes possible the separation of herds after a night of sharing a common sheepfold.
However, Jesus as a shepherd caring for his own flock provides more than green pasture and still waters. Jesus offers eternal life. The familiar words of Psalm 23 illustrate our understanding of the relationship between the Good Shepherd and his sheep. The Revelation to John gives us another image of the shepherd. As the seer looks around him, he sees a great multitude that no one can count. They come from all tribes, nations, and languages as they stand before the throne of the Lamb, wearing white robes and waving palm branches. The wrote robes signify their deliverance from tribulation, and the palms their victory over trials. Freed from hunger and thirst, those who were persecuted are now forever in the presence of God, able to worship God day and night in the temple.
- While speaking of Jesus as the Good Shepherd may be a well known metaphor to many people, our first-hand experience of sheep and shepherds are the stuff of storybooks. Tim Ladwig has illustrated in contemporary images what Psalm 23 might mean in today’s world. If you are talking about “The Lord is my Shepherd” with children on this Sunday, you may want to refer to this wonderful book.
- In today’s Gospel, Jesus describes his sheep. As you read verses 27-29, consider the following questions: How would you characterize sheep? How does one become a member of Jesus’ flock? What is it like to be one of Jesus’ sheep? What sets Jesus’ sheep apart from those that are not of his flock?
- What is the relationship between Jesus and his sheep? How would you describe Jesus as our Shepherd?
- What are some ways you listen to Jesus’ voice?