Summary: April 21, 2002 - FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER John 10:1-10 Color: White Title: “The real thing in the case of Jesus, his voice, is found in his Word.”
April 21, 2002 - FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Title: “The real thing in the case of Jesus, his voice, is found in his Word.”
Jesus teaches that he is the gate of the sheepfold; no one can enter eternal life except through him.
Chapters nine and ten, form one literary unit. The final encounter between Jesus and the man born blind in chapter nine verses thirty-five to thirty-eight is paralleled by an encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees in 9:31- 10:21. The background of this teaching is not so much one parable or an allegory of even one image of a shepherd. It is rather more of a scene, a pastoral scene, composed of shepherd, gatekeeper, gate and fold, and sheep on the one hand and false shepherds, thieves and robbers, improper trespass, false representation, and ineffectiveness, on the other hand. Jesus uses a mélange of images rather than simply one in order to make his point. Although certain images stand for other realities- the thieves stand for the Pharisees, the good shepherd and gate both stand for Jesus, etc.- we should allow the fluidity of these applications to maintain their force. This allows for the application of this teaching to be effective in present day contexts as well as in the days of Jesus or the early Church. Verses one to five contain several images; verse seven, expand upon, explain and apply those images to the concrete situation. In verses seven to ten, the gate is explained; in verses eleven to eighteen, the shepherd; and the sheep.
The pastoral images and their application to moral behavior go way back into Israel’s history and her prophetic writings. Throughout the Old Testament God is spoken of as the shepherd of his people. The other leaders, like kings or priests, were really sub-shepherds. The exile raised doubts about God’s shepherding. The monarchy, his sub-shepherds, had disappeared, had he also? Ezekiel, an exilic and post-exilic prophet, wrote in Ezekiel thirty-four, that there would be a future, good shepherd, a descendant of David, David who was first the shepherd of his father’s sheep and then became the shepherd of Israel, a new anointed the Messiah one, who would gather the scattered flock and care for it. Other prophets joined him (Jer3: 15; 23:4-6; 31:10; Is40: 11; 49:9-10; Zech13: 7-9; Zeph3: 19; Mic2: 12; 4:6-7; 5:3). The bad- false shepherds, former “leaders,” would be replaced by, “one shepherd” and “one flock, (Ezek34: 23-24).” So, the point here is that Jesus is not only the descendant of David, but God’s authoritative representative good shepherd.
In verse one, “Very truly, I tell you”: This phrase is tantamount to Jesus’ signature and functions something like quotation marks. When we come across this phrase in the gospels we are very close to the actual wording of Jesus’ authentic teaching.
“Anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate”: There were different types and locations of sheepfold. There were those on a hillside, squares marked off by stone walls and there were those in the front of a house, a yard surrounded by a stone wall and topped with briars, much like our barbed wire fences. There are two ways to enter a sheepfold, depending on whether one wishes to shepherd the sheep or harm them, namely, through the front door or by subterfuge. Jesus takes this well-known scenario and sees deeper meaning in it. He sees the religious-political leaders –the priests, scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees- as thieves and robbers, pretending to be shepherds but really only using the sheep for their own selfish purposes and gain. In 12:6 John will refer to Judas as a thief Greek kleptes, the word used here. Judas represents inauthentic and unauthorized religious leadership, a rogue shepherd in it for himself. In 18:40 John will refer to Barabbas as a robber Greek lestes, at this time this word was used for members of the Zealot movement dedicated to the violent overthrow of the Roman regime in Palestine. Barabbas represents those bogus political leaders who are in it for themselves and will lead the sheep down the wrong path. Such “shepherds,” religious and political operatives, gain their positions through false claims, are dangerous to the sheep, and should not be in those positions in the first place. Here, Jesus is talking to the Pharisees who fancy themselves as leaders of the people and whom Jesus reveals as phonies, dangerous phonies at that. For Synoptic parallels see Matthew 24: 43 and Luke 12: 39.
In verse two, “Anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate:” To enter the sheepfold as one of the sheep one taken care of by the shepherd, belonging to the shepherd, a “kingdom member” to use Synoptic imagery, one must pass muster by Jesus, meet his terms. To enter the sheepfold as a “shepherd,” or sub-shepherd, helping Jesus to lead the flock, one must meet Jesus’ standards.