We are all familiar with John 10:1-18, in which Jesus offers what was, for the Pharisees, a radical reappraisal of the leadership of the people of God. Who has the right to include and exclude people from that community? It is not the Pharisees – though that was what they believed – it was Jesus. The chapter comes after the heated debates in chapters 7 and 8 about his identity, and immediately after the narrative in chapter 9 about the man born blind. Jesus restored his sight – on the sabbath, and thus vexed the Pharisees. All they manage to do is to drive the cured man from the synagogue – something symbolic of what had already happened to the early Christians by the time John wrote his Gospel. That chapter ended with the man coming to Jesus and worshipping him. In chapter 11 we will read about the raising of Lazarus and then the Passion narrative. Read in this context, we see that the Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep, does so of his own volition, and has the power from God to take it up again; for the post-resurrection church there is a powerful charge in this story which would not have been there when the event happened; as so often, it was only read in the light of the resurrection that full knowledge came with the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Moses and David both received their calls from God when they were minding sheep, and we see from Ezekiel 34 how God regards those kings of Israel who have failed in their duty as shepherds, and how he will punish them. If we contrast what Jesus says in John 10 about the Good Shepherd, we come to understand what Jesus is saying the Peter when he tells him thrice ‘feed my sheep’ – the job of Peter and the Apostles is to be the sort of Good Shepherd Jesus talks about – not the bad shepherd Ezekiel desctibes. Pastor is the Latin word for shepherd, and just as bishops and priests are called to be shepherds, so are we called as lay people to care for each other, and if we can, to offer care for, say the elderly or the refugees or the homeless. As Christians we are charged with loving God and our neighbour as ourself.
The ‘I am’ sayings are found only in John’s Gospel (John 6:35, 8:10, 10:9, 11:25, 14:6; 15:1) and echo what we find in Exodus 3:14 – And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ For his hearers this would have been a staggering claim, as it is for those who do not yet acknowledge him as Lord – that this man should forgive sins, that this man should say the Sabbath was made for man, that this man should say “I am” – for yes, as he tells the Jews, ‘before Abraham was, I am’. Those who claim Jesus did not say he was God, are failing to hear his words. We are saved, not by the Law, but by faith in Christ Jesus, who is, alone, the way, the truth and the light. He is the Good Shepherd and will lead us by still waters.