April 12, 2008


Fourth Sunday of Easter – Good Shepherd Sunday

World Day of Prayer for Vocations

John 10:1-10

Context of the passage: This passage follows the healing of the man born blind (John 9). Not only did Jesus give the man physical sight, but also the eye of faith. In the end, the man professed his faith, “Lord, I believe”; and worshiped Jesus. The Pharisees, on the contrary, failed to see the work of God done by Jesus in healing the man. They even threw him out (9:34). The passage that we hear on the Fourth Sunday of Easter was Jesus’ response to the Pharisees and the people afterwards.

Here, I thought it is best to note some scholarly descriptions of the life of a shepherd provided by William Barclay in The Gospel of John, Vol. 2, of the Daily Study Bible Series, Westminster Press, 1975, pages 52-60.

On the image of a shepherd:

The main part of Judea was a central plateau, for a distance of about 35 miles and varying from 14 to 17 miles across. The ground, for the most part, was rough and stony.

The shepherd’s life was very hard. No flock ever grazed without a shepherd, and he was never off duty. There being little grass, the sheep were bound to wander, and since three were no protecting walls, the sheep had constantly to be watched. On either side of the plateau the ground dipped sharply down the craggy deserts and sheep were always liable to stray away and get lost. The shepherd’s task was not only constant but dangerous, for, in addition, he had to guard the flock against wild animals, especially against wolves, and there were always thieves and robbers ready to steal the sheep.

Sir George Adam Smith, who traveled in Palestine, writes, “When you meet him, sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, leaning on his staff, and looking out over his scattered sheep, every one of them on his heart, you understand why the shepherd of Judea sprang to the front in his people’s history; why they gave his name to their king, and made him the symbol of providence; why Christ took him as the type of self-sacrifice.” Constant vigilance, fearless courage, patient love for his flock, were the necessary characteristics of the shepherd.

In Palestine the sheep are largely kept for their wool. It thus happens that the sheep are often with the shepherd for years and often they have names by which the shepherd calls them. Usually these names are descriptive. The shepherd went first to see that the path was safe, and sometimes the sheep had to be encouraged to follow.

It is strictly true that the sheep know and understand the eastern shepherd’s voice; and that they will never answer to the voice of a stranger. H.V. Morton describes, “The shepherd calls sharply from time to time, to remind the sheep of his presence. They know his voice and follow on; but if a stranger call, they stop short, lift up their heads in alarm, and if it is repeated, they turn and flee, because they know not the voice of a stranger.”

H. V. Morton once saw a scene in a cave near Bethlehem. Two shepherds had sheltered their flocks in a cave during the night. How were the flocks to be sorted out? One of the shepherds stood some distance away and gave his peculiar call which only his sheep knew, and soon his whole flock had run to him, because they knew his voice. They would have come to no one else, but they knew the call of their own shepherd.

Whose voice do I listen to in my life?

On the image of the gate:

In the warm season, the sheep were out on the hills and at night, they were collected into sheep-folds on the hillside. These hillside sheep-folds were just open spaces enclosed by a wall. In them there was an opening by which the sheep came in and went out; but there was no door of any kind. At night, the shepherd himself lay down across the opening and no sheep could get out or in except over his body. In the most literal sense, the shepherd was the door.

When Jesus said, “I am the door,” we know that through him, and through him alone, we find access to God, and that means having life abundantly.

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