‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.’
Translation: I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. And the hired hand is not the shepherd. The sheep surely do not belong to him. He sees the wolf coming and releases the sheep and he runs away, and the wolf seizes them and scatters because a hired hand is and does not concern himself concerning the sheep.
I am the good shepherd, and I know my own, and my own know me. just as the father knows me and I likewise know the father, and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep who are not out of this sheepfold, and that one, it is necessary for me to lead them and my voice they will hear, and they will become one flock, one shepherd.
Through this, the father loves me because I lay down my life so that I might take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down from myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my father.
The fourth gospel has seven "I am" sayings. At various points, Jesus says "I am the bread of life" (6:35), "the light of the world" (8:12), "the gate" (10:9), "the good shepherd" (10:11, 14), "the resurrection and the life" (11:25), "the way, the truth, and the life" (14:6), "the true vine" (15:1).
The fourth gospel likes the number seven. In addition to seven "I am" sayings. the fourth gospel also has seven pre-resurrection "signs". If seven is the number of completion and wholeness, then these seven "signs" and seven "I am" sayings give us a complete view of the ministry and identity of Jesus.
The fourth point is sometimes regarded as central. (Count four from either end of a line of seven dots and you arrive at the "central point".) The fourth "I am" saying is "I am the good shepherd." In the fourth gospel, this is at the heart of the divine identity of Jesus. Just so we don't miss the point, Jesus says it twice.
The Good Shepherd: The "good shepherd" is one of the earliest and most popular images for Jesus. In fact, before the cross became a universal symbol of Christianity, the image of the good shepherd may well have been the most popular image of the early Christians. The cross does not appear in the catacombs below Rome, for example, but Jesus the Good Shepherd does.
In an Jungian archetypal sense, the "good shepherd" is a guide for a person's spirit. The "good shepherd" helps and leads a person toward ego maturity, which is one of the major goals of a person's life. Jung called this "individuation". The "good shepherd" leads and guides his sheep on this important journey.
The comparison of people to sheep is not meant as an insult, though it seems oft-understood this way. The metaphor of human beings as sheep means that human beings have a capacity, like sheep, to hear their shepherd. It refers to that part of the human psyche which listens for a True Voice.
There are, of course, many entities in life which purport to lead us one way or the other. These competing voices--the market, this-or-that celebrity--all make their appeals. This is confusing. Which one, among all these contenders, is a true "good shepherd"? Which one has a "voice" which the sheep can hear?
For the fourth gospel, that Good Shepherd--the one with the True Voice--is, of course, Jesus. The fourth gospel tells us that this "good shepherd" does not operate out of selfish motives, as "thieves" and "robbers" do (10: 1, 8). The "good shepherd" does not take anything away, but will, instead, give up all he has for the benefit of the sheep.
Moreover, this good shepherd "knows" his sheep. The word is ginosko, which refers to an intimate and personal knowledge. The "good shepherd" not only cares for the sheep with no ulterior motive of his own, but "knows" their deepest and more private yearnings.
This sense of intimacy between Jesus and his followers pervades the fourth gospel. The relationship between the two is like unto that between Jesus and his father. The intimacy they enjoy is of the same kind as that between the "blessed community" and its shepherd, Jesus.
Note, for example, that the fourth gospel repeatedly uses the word menein, which means to live with, dwell with, remain with, or abide with. Over and over, the fourth gospel asserts that Jesus "abides with" the community and with God, who, likewise, abides with Jesus.
In 11-18, Jesus switches from "thieves" and "robbers" to the "hired hand"--misthotos. (This is the only use of the word misthotos in the fourth gospel.) The hired hand gets scared in the face of danger--the wolf--and then abandons the sheep.
Wes Howard-Brook argues that the "hired hand" refers to early leaders who collaborated with the Romans during the Roman-Jewish War (AD66-70):
For the Johannine community and the listening pharisees, this willingness to abandon the sheep rings true about those leaders who, during the war with Rome in the late 60's, chose to collaborate with the empire to save their lives rather than be willing to remain with the people (and with God) until the end. (p. 239)
The "other sheep": The phrase "other sheep" has inspired much speculation. (Mormons think it means them!) The phrase is followed by dei--"it is necessary"--which underlines its importance.
Traditionally, the church has tended to argue that "this fold" refers to the church, and "other sheep" are a rather vague reference to people outside the church. Or, sometimes, "other sheep" was said to refer to gentile Christians.
In the context of the times and the fourth gospel itself, it seems more likely to identify "this fold" as the Johannine community, the community that formed around the figure of the Beloved Disciple. If this is the case, then "other sheep" could refer to other Christian communities, perhaps even some which may be rivals with or somewhat at odds with the circle gathered around the Beloved Disciple.
To zero in even more, one suspects the fourth gospel may mean Peter and the community around him in Jerusalem.
Throughout the fourth gospel, Peter takes a secondary position to the Beloved Disciple. In order to ask Jesus a question (13:25), Peter addresses his question to the Beloved Disciple and asks the Beloved Disciple to ask Jesus. Peter cannot go into the courtyard of the high priest, but the Beloved Disciple apparently can (18:15).
At the resurrection, Mary Magdalene goes to tell Peter and the Beloved Disciple. They both run to the tomb, but the Beloved Disciple gets there first. Peter is the first to enter the tomb, but the Beloved Disciple is the first to "believe" (20: 8). The fourth gospel appears to fault Peter for not loving Jesus enough (21: 15-19).
Yet, despite the tension between Peter and the Beloved Disciple, one never has the sense that the author of the fourth gospel considers Peter, or the community around him in Jerusalem, to be outside the fold. Peter and the Beloved Disciple are colleagues in a common cause, but with differences.
Jesus will lead "other sheep" who will "hear" him so that, eventually, all will be joined together. The verb is genasontai, which is future tense and carries with it an association with creation. The present sheep, and the "other sheep" will become "one flock, one shepherd."
Jesus has received a "command" from the Father, the command to lay down his life for the sheep. The Hebrew scriptures have many references to sheep and shepherding the flock, but none that would indicate that the shepherd is to die for the sheep.
Unlike the synoptic gospels where Jesus is seen as a victim, set upon by forces outside his control, Jesus is clearly in charge throughout the fourth gospel. His life is not taken from him; he freely gives it up. What's more, he says, "I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again."
Throughout the New Testament, it is always God who raises Jesus, but not in the fourth gospel. Here, Jesus can raise himself! Says Ray Brown: "...since in Johannine thought the Father and the Son possess the same power (10:28-30), it really makes little difference whether the resurrection is attributed to the action of the Father or of the Son."
Image: Jesus the Good Shepherd, St. Josephat Ukrainian Catholic Church, Edmonton, Alberta