John 10:1 – 10


As I mentioned last week, most of the Sunday Gospels during Easter this year will be from the Gospel of John.  We heard from the Gospel of Luke last week but we return to John’s Gospel.  This Sunday, we hear a presentation of the Lord’s attack against the Pharisees. The good shepherd discourse continues the theme of attack on the Pharisees that ends John 9; let’s quickly review this chapter that recounts the incident of Jesus curing the man born blind.  In this account, we recall the baptismal imagery of Jesus using spittle to give him sight and the blindness of the Pharisees, while the man progressively comes to recognize who Jesus is: “the man called Jesus,” “a prophet,” and finally “Lord.”  Chapter nine ends with Jesus chastising the Pharisees: “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.”  


In John 10, we hear Jesus present two images – the shepherd and the gate – which continues this attack against the Pharisees.  The figure is allegorical: the hired hands are the Pharisees who excommunicated the cured blind man. It serves as a commentary on John 9.  Jesus contrasts himself with the false shepherds of Israel – represented by the Pharisees – who rejected the one who gave the blind man sight.


To better understand the image of a good shepherd, let me tell you a little about sheep.  Unlike cattle, that are herded from behind, sheep prefer to be led.  The sheep get to know the voice of the shepherd and listen to his call.  And, they trust the shepherd because he leads them to food and water, so they follow wherever he leads.  In the small herds of the Middle East of Jesus’ day – a practice that is still found there today – the shepherds would give each of his sheep a name and the sheep are smart enough to get to know their name; they respond eagerly when they are called.  Many villages would have a common sheepfold where all the sheep of the villagers would be gathered in the evening.  The shepherds would take turns at night to guard the sheep from both two- and four-legged intruders.  In some instances, the shepherd would lie down in the opening of the enclosure, thus ensuring the flock’s safety with his life.  This custom makes Jesus’ statement that “I am the gate for the sheep” quite poignant.  Jesus is the means by which believers enter into the “sheepfold” of salvation.  And, as the gate, Jesus has laid down his life for his sheep.  This is a powerful image that the people of his day would immediately grasp and we do well to ponder.


When the nomadic people of the ancient Near East evolved into agrarian civilizations with monarchies, the image of the shepherd was appropriated as a model for a good and worthy ruler.  Ancient Sumerian, Babylonian and Egyptian texts all likened their rulers – Gilgamesh, Hammurabi and Ramses II – to shepherds.  In Israel’s history, Abel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David were all shepherds.  The kings of Israel and Judah were expected to be worthy shepherds, but all too often they were not.  This sad reality prompted Ezekiel to promise that God would intervene on behalf of the shepherd-less.  Let’s read chapter 34 for a rather powerful use of this imagery; we will find a condemnation of both the shepherds and the sheep. 


For the shepherd motif used of Yahweh throughout the Old Testament, let’s look at: Genesis 48:15; 49:24; Psalm 23:1-4; 80:1; Micah 7:14.  And remember, although Micah is a minor prophet, he is very important because of his prophecy about Jesus’s birthplace in 5:1.


With all of this background, let’s now examine this Sunday’s gospel account:


1 “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber.


Sheepfold: a low stone wall enclosure that is open to the sky.  As I noted above, all of the sheep of the various families in a town or village would be corralled there at night for safety.  Although the wall was high enough to keep the sheep in, it was low enough so that it was easy for thieves and robbers to climb over it to get into the sheepfold.


2 But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.

3 The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.


gatekeeper opens it for him: anyone can enter the sheepfold because of the low wall, but the shepherd is recognized by the gatekeeper as the legitimate shepherd and is let in.


4 When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.


Recognize his voice: the Pharisees do not recognize Jesus, but the people of God, symbolized by the blind man, do.  


5 But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.”

6 Although Jesus used this figure of speech, they did not realize what he was trying to tell them.


Figure of speech: John uses a different word for illustrative speech than the “parable” of the synoptics, but the idea is similar.  The Pharisees prove his point by not recognizing his teaching, while those who are Jesus’ followers do recognize the teaching just as the sheep of a shepherd recognize his voice and follow him.


7 So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.


Gate: In John 10:7-8, the figure is of a gate for the shepherd to come to the sheep; in John 10:9-10, the figure is of a gate for the sheep to come in and go out.  Jesus shifts the imagery to indicate that he associates with himself those who have come to the fold through him.  He admits the apostles and their successors by letting them in the gate.


8 All who came (before me) are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.


All who came (before me) are thieves and robbers: those who came before Jesus were self-centered rulers and false prophets; this is a very strong condemnation of them.


(before me): these words are omitted in many good early manuscripts and versions.  


9 I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.


Whoever enters through me will be saved: just as the sheep enter and leave the fold only through the gate, so entry is gained into God’s fold only through Christ.


10 A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.


A thief comes… I came:  the contrast is very clear and stark.  You can imagine why the Jewish leaders considered Jesus a threat.



1 Peter 2:20b – 25



Let’s look at Sunday’s second reading next because it continues to explore this idea of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, using the Isaian concept of Jesus as the Suffering Servant and the sacrificial lamb.  We hear again from Peter’s first letter to the Christian communities in the provinces of Asia Minor.  And, as you may know, there is endless debate about when it was written and who wrote it (cf. p. 1728 of the Catholic Study Bible).  Nonetheless, for our purposes, it helps us – as it did the early Christians – to bear our sufferings as Jesus did for us.


20 If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God.

21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.


Suffered: some ancient manuscripts and versions read “died” (cf. 1 Peter 3:18).


22  “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”


(22-25) He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth: After the quotation of Isaiah 53:9b, the passage describes Jesus’ passion with phrases concerning the Suffering Servant from Isaiah 53:4-12, perhaps as employed in an early Christian confession of faith; cf. 1 Peter 1:18-21 and 1 Peter 3:18-22.  



23 When he was insulted, he returned no insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten; instead, he handed himself over to the one who judges justly.

24 He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

25 For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.


The shepherd and guardian of your souls: the familiar shepherd and flock figures express the care, vigilance, and love of God for his people in the Old Testament (Psalm 23; Isaiah 40:11; Jer 23:4-5; Ezekial 34:11-16) and of Jesus for all humanity in the New Testament (Matthew 18:10-14; Luke 15:4-7; John 10:1-16; Hebrews 13:20).   




Acts 2:14a, 36 – 41


Here, we hear the rest of Peter’s address at Pentecost. As I mentioned last week, this is the first of six discourses in Acts (along with Acts 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 5:29-32; 10:34-43; 13:16-41) dealing with the resurrection of Jesus and its messianic import. Five of these are attributed to Peter, the final one to Paul. Modern scholars term these discourses in Acts the “kerygma,” the Greek word for proclamation (cf. 1 Cor 15:11).


14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed.


Then Peter stood up: If this sounds familiar, it’s because last week’s first reading began with the same verse; it’s included here to allow us to continue to hear the rest of Peter’s address this week.


36 Therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”


God has made him both Lord and Messiah:  As we heard last week, Peter proves that, through his death and resurrection, Jesus has, indeed, fulfilled David’s prophecy and demonstrated that he is both God – remember, “Lord” is the word the ancient Jews used instead of using the name of God – “Yahweh” – and the promised Messiah – the anointed one.


37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, “What are we to do, my brothers?


What are we to do, my brothers?: This phrase should sound familiar; we hear varieties of this question also in Luke’s Gospel (cf. 3:7 – 14), after John the Baptist warns the crowds that come to him.  As you know, the author of Luke is also the author of Acts and he is calling us back to the beginning of his gospel.  Whereas John the Baptist had called the people who came to him to a baptism by water and a change in behavior in demonstration of repentance, Peter calls for repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.  By citing this scene from the beginning of his gospel, Luke invites his audience to reread the entire Gospel story in light of the reality that God has made Jesus “both Lord and Christ.” 


38 Peter (said) to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit.


Repent and be baptized: repentance is a positive concept, a change of mind and heart toward God reflected in the actual goodness of one’s life.  It is in accord with the apostolic teaching derived from Jesus (cf. Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:14-15 and Acts 2:42). Luke presents baptism in Acts as the expected response to the apostolic preaching about Jesus and associates it with the conferring of the Spirit (Acts 1:5; 10:44-48; 11:16).  


39 For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.”


all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call: notice the hint at salvation for all.  Already, even though this speech occurs before Peter has his encounter with Cornelius, the Roman centurion and his household, he is speaking of universal salvation.


40 He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”


Save yourselves from this corrupt generation: unfortunately, every generation seems to be corrupt.  Kept safe under the watchful care of the Good Shepherd, however, we can be saved.


41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.



Sheep left unattended or corralled will wander off and get into trouble every time.  They need an attentive shepherd to guard them from harm and guide them to green pastures.  All three readings this coming weekend give us first the assurance that Jesus is, indeed, the good shepherd who leads and guards his sheep and second, the call to follow Jesus.  As we continue to celebrate this sacred season of Easter, we are drawn ever more deeply into the saving power that Christ’s resurrection has for those who believe in him and put their trust in him, like the sheep who follow the call of their shepherd.