- Analysis of each verse
v. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Literally: I am (Egō eimi) the shepherd (poimēn) the good. The shepherd the good the life (psychēn) of him he lays down in favour of the sheep.
||Egō eimi (I am)
This expression is typical of the fourth gospel and he uses it frequently throughout his gospel. Let us note these passages outside of our pericope.
- John 4: 26: "Jesus said to her, 'I am (egō eimi) he, the one who is speaking to you.'"
- John 6: 20: "But he said to them, 'It is I (egō eimi); do not be afraid.'"
- John 6: 35: "Jesus said to them, 'I am (egō eimi) the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.'"
- John 6: 48: "I am (egō eimi) the bread of life"
- John 8: 12: "Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, 'I am (egō eimi) the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life'"
- John 8: 18: "I am (egō eimi) the (one) bearing witness on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf."
- John 8: 24: "I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am (egō eimi) he."
- John 8: 28: "So Jesus said, 'When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am (egō eimi) he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me.'"
- John 10: 7: "So again Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, I am (egō eimi) the gate for the sheep"
- John 10: 9: "I am (egō eimi) the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture"
- John 11: 25: "Jesus said to her, 'I am (egō eimi) the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live'"
- John 13: 19: "I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am (egō eimi) he."
- John 14: 6: "Jesus said to him, 'I am (egō eimi) the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'"
- John 15: 1: "I am (egō eimi) the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower."
- John 15, 5: "I am (egō eimi) the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing."
- John 18: 5-6.8: "They answered, 'Jesus of Nazareth.' Jesus replied, 'I am (egō eimi) he.' Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, 'I am (egō eimi) he,' they stepped back and fell to the ground...Jesus answered, 'I told you that I am (egō eimi) he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.'"
The expression itself points to the identity of Jesus. Who is Jesus?
- The Messiah
- He who rules the waters (evil)
- The bread of life
- The light of the world
- The gate of the sheep
- The good shepherd
- The real witness
- The resurrection
- The way, the truth and the life
- The real vine
This expression is typical of the fourth gospel and he uses it frequently throughout his gospel. Let us note these passages outside of our pericope:
- Exodus 3:14: "God answered Moses: I am (egō eimi) he who is; and God added: Thou shalt speak to the children of Israel, saying, 'He who is has sent me to you."
- Deuteronomy 32:39: "Behold, behold, I am (egō eimi), and there is no God but I; I give death and life, I strike and I heal, and no one can deliver out of my hands."
- Isaiah 41:4: "Who has worked, who has done these things? It is he who called righteousness, who called it from the beginning of generations. I am God, the first, and for all ages to come I am (egō eimi)".
- Isaiah 43:10: "Be witnesses for me, and I will bear witness, says the Lord God; and also my servant, whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe and understand that I am (egō eimi). Before me there was no other God, and there will not be another God after me."
- Isaiah 46:4: "Until old age. I am (egō eimi), and until you are very old, I am (egō eimi); I bear you, I have created you, I will sustain you, I will carry you and save you."
- Isaiah 48:12: "Hear me therefore, Jacob; hear me, Israel, whom I call to me: I am (egō eimi) the first, and I am (egō eimi) for evermore."
God is the being par excellence, that is why he is simply the one who is. We understand the intention of the evangelist by using the same expression to describe Jesus: he is the very image of God, so that to see him is to see God himself. And through his death, he reaches the very one of whom he is the image. That is why he is also the Messiah, the light par excellence, the true source of all knowledge and all life, the only one who can be our guide and show us the way, the only person to whom we must belong. This is the message of the evangelist, because believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, will allow the believer to find life in him.
Today, we might ask the question: Why is it that welcoming Jesus as the most perfect image of God is the source of true life? Coming out of the narrow rut of all organized religion, is there a profound and universal truth here? Is not his view of life as a spring of love that we are called to follow until we die, his faith that life is ultimately a deep communion with God and that it leads to a reality that will never end, his promised presence to accompany us, a matter of life and death for all of humanity? For, let us not forget, not all paths build the human person, and some are destructive.
|Glossary on egō eimi|
Expression egō eimi in John
The use of the figure of the shepherd suggests an agrarian culture where it was usual to see a flock of sheep under the direction of a shepherd. It was the shepherd's role to protect his flock from predators, especially the wolf, and to guide them to good pastures where they could feed. In his infancy narrative, Luke tells of shepherds in the neighborhood of Bethlehem who watch over their flock at night. The figure of the shepherd is applied to Jesus by the evangelists. Twice Mark uses it to enlighten us on the action of Jesus:
- Mark 6:34 || Mt 9:36: "When he disembarked, he saw a large crowd and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd (poimēn), and he began to teach them at length.
- Mark 14, 27 || Mt 26, 31: "And Jesus said to them, 'All of you will fall, for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd' (poimēn) and the sheep will be scattered'".
Thus, Jesus is the one who nourishes people through his teaching, he is the one who guides them to keep them together. For his part, evangelist John focuses in this chapter 10 (vv. 2-16) on his ideas about Jesus as a herdsman or good shepherd. Once again, he finds himself taking up a well-known image from the Old Testament (Septuagint version). This image is first applied to God.
- Isaiah 40:11: "He (Yahweh) will feed his flock like a shepherd (poimēn); he will gather the lambs and encourage the full sheep."
- Ezekiel 34:12: "As the shepherd (poimēn) seeks his flock in the day of clouds and darkness among the scattered sheep, so will I (Yahweh) seek my sheep, and I will bring them back from all the places where they have been scattered in the days of darkness and clouds."
- Psalm 23:1 (LXX: 22:1): "Psalm of David. The Lord is my shepherd (poimainō), and I shall lack nothing.
But it is also applied to the Messiah of Yahweh, to the descendant of David, and to the leaders of Israel.
- Psalm 78:70-71 (LXX: 77: 70-71): "And he chose David his servant, and took him out of the keeping of the flocks, while he watched over the mother sheep, to be the shepherd (poimainō) of Jacob his servant, and of Israel his inheritance."
- Jeremiah 3:15: "I will give you shepherds (poimēn) according to my heart, who will feed you (poimainō) with understanding and prudence."
- Jeremiah 23:4: "And I will raise up for them shepherds (poimēn) who will lead them to pasture (poimainō), and they will no longer be afraid or tremble, says the Lord."
- Ezekiel 34:23: "And I will raise up one shepherd (poimēn) for them, and he shall feed (poimainō) them; and I will raise up my servant David, and he shall be their shepherd (poimēn)."
For the evangelist, this promised shepherd or herdsmman is Jesus himself. This shepherd is called good (kalos), because not everyone is good. On several occasions, the prophets have denounced bad shepherds:
- Jeremiah 2:8: "The priests did not say, Where is the Lord? And the keepers of the law have not known me; and the shepherds (poimēn) have sinned against me, and the prophets have prophesied for Baal, and have walked after vanities."
- Jeremiah 10:21: "Because my shepherds (poimēn) were foolish and did not seek the Lord, therefore the flock was without understanding and the lambs were scattered."
- Jeremiah 23:1-2: "Cursed be the shepherds (poimēn) who lose and scatter the sheep from their pasture! Because of this, here is what the Lord says about the shepherds (poimainō) of my people: You have scattered and driven away my sheep, and you have not visited them. And I will punish you for your wicked deeds."
- Ezekiel 34:2: "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds (poimēn) of Israel; prophesy, and say to the shepherds (poimēn): This is what the Lord Teacher says: Woe to the shepherds (poimēn) of Israel! Do the shepherds (poimēn) feed themselves? Should the shepherds (poimēn) not feed the sheep?"
Thus, the evangelist insists that Jesus is not like these bad shepherds, he is the good shepherd. Note that the evangelist rarely uses the adjective "good" (kalos). Apart from its use in our pericope, it is only found in Cana about the good wine that must be served first (Jn 2:10) and in Jesus' discussion with the Jews about his good works (Jn 10:32-33).
The Greek word psychē
, (from which the English words psyche and psychic derive) translates the Hebrew word nepeš
, which is usually translated as soul, the vital force of a person who expresses himself through breathing. When a person dies, it is this vital force that leaves him. In the time of classical Greece, the psychē
also represented the seat of thoughts, emotions and desires. Apart from our pericope, let's look at the use of the word psychē
in the Johannine tradition, thus including the letters of John.
- John 12:27: "Now my soul (psychē) is troubled. And what can I say? Father, save me from this hour! But this is why I have come to this hour."
- John 13:37-38: "Peter said to him, 'Why can't I follow you now? I will lay down my life (psychē) for you.' Jesus answered, 'Will you lay down your life (psychē) for me? Verily, verily, I say to you, the cock will not crow unless you deny me three times.'"
- John 15: 13: "No one has greater love than this: to lay down one's life (psychē) for one's friends."
- 1 John 3:16: "By this we have known love: he laid down his life (psychē) for us. And we, too, must lay down our lives (psychē) for our brothers."
- 3 John 1: 2: "Dearest, I wish that you are well in every way and that your body is as healthy as your soul (psychē)."
As we can see, psychē designates both the seat of thoughts, emotions and desires (Jn 12:27; 3 Jn 1:2) and the breath of life that is given when one dies (Jn 13:37; 15:13, 1 Jn 3:16). What is a constant in the Johannine tradition is that love is measured in this capacity to lay down one's life for those one loves. Thus, the true shepherd is capable of loving to the point of laying down his life for those for whom he is responsible. With such a measure, it is probably necessary to eliminate all those who are unable to do so, thus a large part of those who call themselves shepherds. It is worth noting the expression: psychēn autou tithēsin (literally: lay down one's life). This means that one no longer considers one's life as a jealous possession, but as a reality that one can dispose of as a gift: it was received as a gift, and one can dispose of it as a gift.
||v. 12 The employee, who is not the shepherd and to whom the sheep does not belong, abandons the sheep and flees, when he sees the wolf coming - and the wolf seizes and disperses them,
Literally: The hired servant (misthōtos), however, not being the shepherd, whose is not the sheep (his) own, he looks at the wolf coming and leaves (aphiēsin) the sheep and flees (pheugei) - and the wolf snatches (harpazei) away them and scatters (skorpizei)
||misthōtos (hired servant)
This verse gives us an echo of the socio-economic world of the first century. First of all, it happened that an enclosure was used by several different shepherds. It was up to each one to recognize his sheep, or rather, the sheep knew how to recognize their master. Then, it happened that shepherds would entrust their flock to people in return for a salary. The word misthōtos
(wage earner) is extremely rare in the New Testament: it is only found here in our pericope and in Mark 1:20 ("and immediately Jesus called them (James and John). And leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with his employees (misthōtos
), they set out after him"). But the reality of people working for wages is widespread:
- Matthew 9:37 || Lk 10:2: "Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers (ergatēs) are few in number.'"
- Matthew 20:8: "When evening comes, the master of the vineyard says to his steward, '"Call the laborers (ergatēs) and give each one his wages (misthos), going from the last to the first.'"
- Luke 10:7 || Mt 10:10: "Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever is there; for the worker (ergatēs) deserves his wages (misthos). Do not go from house to house."
- Luke 15:17-19: "Then he (the prodigal son) came to himself and said, 'How many of my father's mercenaries (misthos) have an abundance of bread, and I am starving here! I want to go away and go to my father and say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son, treat me as one of your mercenaries (misthios)."
- John 4:36: "The reaper receives his wages (misthos) and reaps fruit for eternal life, so that the sower rejoices with the reaper."
||aphiēsin... pheugei (he leaves... he flees)
The employee or hired servant is the antithesis of the good shepherd. While the latter lays down his life for his sheep, and thus, in this case, would face the wolf, the salaried person abandons the flock. In the Old Testament, we find reproaches addressed to shepherds who do the same thing:
- Jeremiah 23:1: "Cursed be the shepherds who scatter (diaskorpizō) and lose the sheep from their pasture!"
- Zechariah 11: 17: "Woe to the shepherd of idols, to him who forsakes (kataleipō) the sheep! The sword is lifted up over his arm and over his right eye; his arm shall be withered, and his right eye shall see no more."
The flock can be abandoned for a short time when it is a question of finding one that is lost (Luke 15:4: "Which of you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does not leave (kataleipō) the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?"). But this temporary abandonment only emphasizes the importance of each one for the shepherd.
One might wonder: did the evangelist have specific people in mind when he spoke of these employees? We have no clues. So I am inclined to think that he only aims here to emphasize the good shepherd, and to insist that Jesus will know how to love to the point of laying down his life.
The wolf seems to be perceived as the worst threat to the flock of sheep.
- Ecclesiasticus 13:17: "How could the wolf and the lamb get along? So it is with the sinner and the godly man."
- Matthew 10:16 || Lk 10:3: "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves; be ye therefore as prudent as serpents and as simple as doves."
- Acts 20:29: "I know that after I am gone, there will come into your midst fearsome wolves who will not spare the flock".
What does the wolf represent? In a simple way, one could say that they are all the adversaries of the Christian community. But in John, the great adversary appears under the name of: Prince of this world, who seems to personify all the forces of evil.
- John 12:31: "Now is the judgment of this world; now the Prince of this world will be cast out."
- John 14:30: "I will not talk much with you any more, for the Prince of this world is coming; he has no power over me."
- John 16:11: "(When the Spirit comes, the Spirit will establish the guilt of the world in fact) of judgment, because the Prince of this world is being judged."
Jesus, good shepherd, will lay down his life in his struggle against the forces of evil. For the evangelist, all those who contributed to the death of Jesus, including Judas, are part of these forces of evil. Later, in the Johannine tradition, those who refuse the Christian faith and abandon it will also belong to the forces of evil in the form of the Antichrist.
- 1 John 2:18-19.22: "Little children, here comes the last hour. You have heard that the Antichrist is to come; and already now many Antichrists have come: to which we acknowledge that the last hour has come. They came out of our house, but they were not with us. If they had been with us, they would have stayed with us. But it had to be proved that they were not all ours... Who is the liar, if not the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? Here is the Antichrist! He denies the Father and the Son."
- 1 John 4:3: "And every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not of God; this is the spirit of the Antichrist. You have heard that he is coming; well, now he is already in the world."
- 2 John 7: "This is because many deceivers have spread throughout the world who do not confess Jesus Christ who came in the flesh. This is the Seducer, the Antichrist."
||harpazei... skorpizei (snatches... he scatters)
First of all, the verb to seize/snatch/take describes a violent and adverse action in the Gospels.
- Matthew 11:12: "From the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of Heaven has suffered violence, and violent people have taken it over (harpazō)."
- Matthew 12:29: "Or how can anyone enter the house of a strong man and take (harpazō) his belongings unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house."
- Matthew 13:19: "If anyone hears the Word of the Kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and takes (harpazō) what has been sown in that man's heart: this is the one who was sown by the wayside."
- John 6:15: "Then Jesus, realizing that they were coming to take (harpazō) him to make him king, fled again into the mountain alone"
Then, the action of scattering is a disaster: this is how the disciples will abandon Jesus when he is arrested. On the opposite side, the work of the resurrected Jesus is to restore the unity of the flock. It seems that keeping the flock together is vital.
- Mark 14, 27 || M 26, 31: "And Jesus said to them, 'All of you will fall, for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered (diaskorpizō).'"
- John 11:51-52: "Now this he did not say of himself; but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation--and not for the nation alone, but to gather together in unity the scattered (diaskorpizō) children of God."
- John 16:32: "Behold, The hour is coming, indeed it has come, that you will be scattered (korpizō), each one of you on your own, and leave me alone. But I am not alone: the Father is with me."
||v. 13 because he is only an employee and does not care for the sheep.
Literally: because a hired servant he is and it is not a concern (melei) to him about the sheep.
There is little to say about this verse which is an explanation of the previous verse: why the employee abandons the herd and runs away. We are not surprised to learn that the employee does not really care about the herd, since he is only interested in his salary. John uses a rather rare word to describe the situation: melō
, which means "what is important to someone, to care about something". Here are a few examples from the Gospels.
- Mark 4:38: "And he was at the stern, sleeping on the cushion. They woke him up and said to him: 'Master, don't you care (melō) that we perish?'"
- Luke 10: 40: "Martha was distracted by her many tasks. Intervening, she said: 'Lord, do you mind (melō) that my sister lets me serve alone? Tell her to help me.'"
- John 12:6: "But he said this not out of concern (melō) for the poor, but because he was a thief and, holding the purse, he stole what was put in it."
To care about people, one must first love them. The good shepherd loves, the employee does not love; he does the work he is paid to do.
||v. 14 I am the good shepherd, and I know those who belong to me, and they know me,
Literally: I am the shepherd the good and I know (ginōskō) my own (ema) and they know (ginōskousi) me my own (ema),
||ginōskō (I know)
This is a verb that the fourth gospel uses abundantly, it is even the one that uses it the most (Mt = 19; Mk = 11; Lk = 26; Jn = 57). Some biblical scholars find in it Gnostic tendencies, i.e. accents that resemble what we find in Gnosis, the sect that advocates salvation through knowledge. This is how the first epistle according to John feels the need to rectify things: "He that saith, 'I know him,' though he keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." (1 John 2:4). It is not enough to know, it is necessary that acts reflect our knowledge. But in fact, in John, the word ginōskō
is extremely versatile, and he uses it for all purposes, as does its synonym: oida
(to know). Let's take a representative sample to understand what he intends to express in this way.
Experience or deep knowledge of the person
- John 2:24-25: "But Jesus did not trust them, because he knew (ginōskō) them all and did not need a testimony about man: for he himself knew (ginōskō) what was in man."
- John 5:42: "But I know (ginōskō) you: you do not have God's love in you."
- John 10: 27: "My sheep listen to my voice, I know them (ginōskō) and they follow me."
- John 8:52: "The Jews said to him, "Now we know (ginōskō) that you have a demon"
- John 13:35: "By this all will know (ginōskō) that you are my disciples: if you have love for one another."
- John 14, 7-9: "'If you know (ginōskō) me, you will also know (ginōskō) my Father; from now on you know him (ginōskō) and have seen him.' Philip said to him, 'Lord, show us the Father and that is enough for us.' Jesus said to him, 'I have been with you so long, and you do not know (ginōskō) me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father?'"
Factual knowledge of things, awareness of what is happening
- John 6:15: "Then Jesus, knowing (ginōskō) that they were coming to take him to make him king, fled again into the mountain, alone."
- John 11: 57: "The chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders: if anyone knew (ginōskō) where he was, he was to tell them, so that they could seize him."
- John 7: 51: "Does our Law judge a man without first hearing him and knowing (ginōskō) what he is doing!"
- John 12: 9: "The great crowd of the Jews knew (ginōskō) that he was there and they came, not only for Jesus, but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead"
- John 16: 19: "Jesus understood (ginōskō) that they wanted to question him."
- John 15:18: "If the world hates you, know (ginōskō) that I was hated before you"
- John 3:10: "Jesus answered him, 'You are a teacher in Israel, and these things (you must be born from on high) you do not understand (ginōskō)?'"
- John 7: 49: "But this crowd that does not know (ginōskō) the Law, they are cursed!"
Understanding someone's words, grasping the meaning of events, interpreting well
- John 10: 6: "Jesus gave them this mysterious speech, but they did not understand (ginōskō) what he was talking about."
- John 8: 27: "They did not understand (ginōskō) that he was talking to them about the Father."
- John 12: 16: "His disciples did not understand (ginōskō) this at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that it was written about him and it was done to him."
- John 13: 7: "Jesus answered him, 'What I am doing, you do not know now; afterwards you will understand (ginōskō)'".
- John 13: 28: "But none of the guests understood (ginōskō) why he was telling him this"
Knowledge from the eyes of faith, the equivalent of believing
- John 6:69: "We believe, and we have recognized (ginōskō) that You are the Holy One of God."
- John 8:28 "Jesus said to them, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know (ginōskō) that I am and do nothing of myself, but I say what the Father has taught me."
- John 10: 38: "But if I do them, even though you will not believe me, believe in these works, that you may know (ginōskō) that the Father is in me and I in the Father."
- John 14:17: "the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see him nor recognize (ginōskō) him. You know him (ginōskō), because he dwells with you."
- John 14:20: "On that day you will recognize (ginōskō) that I am in my Father and you in me and I in you."
- John 16:3: "And this they will do, because they have not recognized (ginōskō) neither the Father nor me."
- John 17:3: "And this is eternal life, that they know (ginōskō) thee, the only true God, and him whom thou hast sent, Jesus Christ."
- John 17:7-8: "Now they have acknowledged (ginōskō) that all that you have given me comes from you; for the words which you have given me I have given them, and they have received them, and they have truly acknowledged (ginōskō) that I came out from you, and they have believed that you sent me."
- John 17:25: "Righteous Father, the world has not known (ginōskō) you, but I have known you (ginōskō) and they have recognized (ginōskō) that you sent me."
The word "know" (ginōskō) is therefore not a technical term with a specific meaning. It all depends on the context. In this verse it is used to describe the intimate relationship that exists between Jesus and the believer, and therefore the reciprocal knowledge that is possible, which we have grouped into the category: experience or deep knowledge of the person. On the animal level, it refers to the relationship that is established over time between the master and his animal, be it a sheep, a dog or a horse. But more profoundly, on the human level, it refers to the relationships of great friends or spouses or parents-children where intimacy allows for a great mutual knowledge. In a word, it is a knowledge born of love.
||ema (my own)
With emos (an adjective or possessive pronoun that translates as: my, mine, me), we are in front of another word that the fourth gospel uses abundantly, more than all the others (Mt = 38; Mk = 17; Lk = 37; Jn = 133). The explanation for this abundant use is simple: the fourth gospel stands out from the others by being above all a long speech by Jesus; of course, there are scenes of action where Jesus makes a certain number of actions, but they are largely surpassed by those where Jesus speaks. To be more precise, 424 of the 877 verses of the gospel, or 48%, present us with a Jesus who speaks. So we should not be surprised by the number of "my, mine, me".
||ginōskousi me ta ema (they know me my own)
We have previously clarified the meaning of "knowing" (ginōskō
) and referred to relationships of great friends or spouses or parent-child relationships where intimacy allows for great mutual acquaintance. We still need to clarify how the sheep, and therefore we believers, know the master or shepherd. In the animal world, it is the long association with the shepherd and the care he has provided that allows the sheep to recognize the shepherd among many others. But what about us humans? For the evangelist, "he who does the truth comes to the light" (Jn 3:21), and therefore welcomes Jesus as shepherd. But more fundamentally, the evangelist will say that he who is of God recognizes in Jesus the one who comes from God (Jn 8:47), and that it is therefore God who leads people to become attached to Jesus and to welcome his word (Jn 10:28).
But today, in our world, how can anyone in the world recognize Jesus as the true shepherd? This is where things become more complex. Of course, if you were asked the question: Who is your true shepherd? You would answer without hesitation: Jesus. But ask a Muslim, and you will get a different answer. Answers will also be different for a Hindu, a Buddhist, an agnostic, an atheist, etc. Is this recognition only a matter of culture or education? I don't think so. Let us take again the logic of John. One of the final scenes of the evangelist is that of Jesus breathing out on his disciples and giving them his Spirit, which Paul in his epistle to the Romans expresses as follows: "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Romans 5:5). Whoever opens himself to this Spirit, even without being able to name him, will recognize in the words of Jesus, if he is exposed to it, or in the words of some authentic witness, regardless of religion, the words of the true shepherd. Someone like Etty Hillesum will not speak of the Spirit, but rather of life in the depths of herself, and so, being a Jew, she recognized in the words of the New Testament a light that guided her, without really naming Jesus.
||v. 15 as the Father knows me, and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for my sheep.
Literally: as he knows (ginōskei) me my Father (patēr) and I know (ginōskō) the Father, and the life (psychēn) of me I lay down in favour of the sheep.
Calling God "Father" is another characteristic point of the fourth gospel (Mt = 41; Mk = 4; Lk = 13; Jn = 75). In all the Gospels, it is Jesus alone who calls God: Father. This defines his relationship with God, i.e. that of a son to his father. Here, this relationship allows him to speak of the degree of intimacy and mutual knowledge.
||ginōskei me ho patēr kagō ginōskō ton patera (he knows me my Father and I know the Father)
What is amazing here is that the relationship between the shepherd and his sheep, and therefore between Jesus and us, is compared to that of Jesus and his Father. Thus, for John, our relationship with Jesus is on the same level as his relationship with God. That is to say all its depth.
||tēn psychēn mou tithēmi (the life of me I lay)
One may be surprised by the introduction of the theme of laying down his life, when previously John spoke of the mutual knowledge between Jesus and his sheep, following the example of the mutual knowledge of Jesus and his Father: it appears as an appendix. In fact, this addition allows the author to make an inclusion with v. 11 where the description of the good shepherd, i.e. the one who is ready to lay down his life for his sheep, was given. So we have a form of conclusion, and it can be assumed that what follows begins another subject.
||v. 16 However, I have sheep that are not of this enclosure. These I have to lead and they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock, and there will be one shepherd.
Literally: And other sheep I have which are not from this court (aulēs). Those ones it is necessary (dei) for me to bring (agagein) and the voice (phōnēs) of me they will hear (akousousin), and they will become one (mia) flock, one (heis) shepherd.
Let us first note that the word aulēs
is very little used in the Gospels (Mt = 3; Mk = 3; Lk = 2; Jn = 3) and means: enclosure, fold, inner courtyard, temple square, house, palace. John is the only one to use it in the sense of "enclosure" (10:1 and here). All other cases refer to the palace or court of the high priest or the palace of Pilate, where Jesus was tried, with the exception of Luke 11:21 which is part of a parable of Jesus about a man who has a palace. For John, this enclosure has a gatekeeper watching over it (see 10:1). Behind this image, one can easily guess the Christian community.
Who are the sheep that are not from this enclosure? The evangelist has accustomed us to focus our attention on the members of the community whom he invites to cultivate brotherly love. There is very little reference to a world outside the community, except to the opponents he often calls "the world". However, there are a few references to people who might one day join the community.
- John 11, 51-52: "He (Caiaphas) did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God"
- John 17, 20-21: "I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me"
Thus, through missionary preaching, other believers will join the community. But these others seem to be restricted to the children of God, i.e. the people of the covenant. The author of v. 16 seems to be inspired by this passage from Ezekiel where the prophet announces the reunification of the kingdom of the North and the South to form the great Israel.
Ezekiel 37:21-24: And thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Master: Behold, I will take all the house of Israel from among the nations where they have gone in, and will gather (synagō) them from all the countries round about, and will bring (eisagō) them into the land of Israel. And I will make them one (heis) nation in the land that is mine and in the mountains of Israel. And there shall be one (heis) prince for them, and they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they be divided into two kingdoms, that they may not defile themselves any more with their idols; and I will preserve them from all the troubles in which they have fallen, and I will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I, the Lord, will be their God. And my servant David shall be a prince among them; and there shall be one (heis) shepherd for them all, because they shall walk in the way of my precepts, and keep my commandments, and do them.
||Those ones it is necessary for me to bring...
First of all, let us note that with v. 16 we have changed the theme. It is no longer about the opposition between the salaried employee and the good shepherd capable of laying down his life, nor about the intimate relationship between the shepherd and his flock. The shepherd gathers his flock to lead it to good pastures. We are in front of the guide.
||dei (it is necessary)
The expression may come as a surprise: why is it an obligation? In John, the verb deō
is used mainly to express the path necessary to reach a goal (on its use in the Gospels: Mt = 14; Mk = 12; Lk = 18; Jn = 11; all this reflects the fact that John uses it less than the others). If we eliminate the cases where the word is used in the very physical sense of "being bound", we get this:
- John 3:7: "Do not be surprised if I said to you: You must (deō) be born from above"
- John 3: 14: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must (deō) the Son of Man be lifted up."
- John 3: 30: "He needs to (deō) grow up and I need to grow down."
- John 4:24: "God is spirit, and those who worship must (deō) worship in spirit and truth."
- John 9:4: "As long as it is day, we must (deō) work at the works of him who sent me; night is coming, when no one can work."
- John 12:34: "Then the crowd answered him, "We have learned from the Law that Christ abides forever. How can you say, "The Son of Man must deō be lifted up?
- John 20:9: "For they did not yet know, according to Scripture, that he must (deō) rise from the dead."
Thus, to be born from above, to die (to be lifted up), to fade away (he grows... I decrease), to work while it is daylight, to enter into a relationship with God in a spiritual way and not through a physical temple, to resurrect, all this is the necessary path for the realization of what God has willed. For our verse, God wants to repatriate the whole of humanity, and to achieve this goal, a shepherd who guides his flock is absolutely necessary.
||agagein (to bring)
The word agō (Mt = 7; Mk = 3; Lk = 15; Jn = 14) has the trivial meaning of bringing someone. It implies either exercising authority or having influence over someone. We cannot, therefore, specify more precisely what the action of leading involves.
||akousousin (they will hear)
The word akouō
(Mt = 57; Mk = 41; Lk = 57; Jn = 54) often has the common meaning of "hearing", "learning" in John. However, it often refers to Jesus' preaching and, indirectly, to John's gospel, which wants to transmit this word. This word is therefore addressed to Jesus' contemporaries and to readers of the gospel, and, surprisingly, to those who have died. By opening oneself to this word, the person "has passed from death to life", does not suffer judgment but knows eternal life. On the other hand, we must realize that this word is hard, and that many are unable to accept it, because only those who are of God, or of the truth, or who love Jesus, are capable of it. Let us give a few examples.
- John 5: 24: "Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears (akouō) my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life."
- John 5: 25: "Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear (akouō) the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear (akouō) will live"
- John 5: 28: "Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear (akouō) his voice"
- John 6: 45: "It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard (akouō) and learned from the Father comes to me."
- John 6: 60: "When many of his disciples heard (akouō) it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can listen (akouō) to it?"
- John 8: 43: "Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot hear (akouō) my word"
- John 8: 47: "Whoever is from God hears (akouō) the words of God. The reason you do not hear (akouō) them is that you are not from God."
- John 12: 47: "I do not judge anyone who hears (akouō) my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world."
- John 14: 24: "Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear (akouō) is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me"
- John 18: 37: "Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens (akouō) to my voice"
Throughout the fourth gospel, Jesus repeats that what he proclaims does not come from him, but merely reproduces what he heard from the Father. In the same way, the Spirit he will send will also reproduce what he heard from the Father. Thus the image emerges that the Father is the source of every word, and that Jesus and the Spirit are only mediators. But the corollary is that there is no direct access to God except through Jesus and the Spirit. Examples.
- John 5: 30: "I can do nothing on my own. As I hear (akouō), I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me"
- John 5: 37: "And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard (akouō) his voice or seen his form"
- John 8: 26: "I have much to say about you and much to condemn; but the one who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard (akouō) from him"
- John 8: 40: "but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard (akouō) from God. This is not what Abraham did"
- John 14: 24: "Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear (akouō) is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me"
- John 15: 15: "I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard (akouō) from my Father"
- John 16: 13: "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears (akouō), and he will declare to you the things that are to come"
In the parable of the shepherd and his sheep, the evangelist represents through the sheep the one who welcomed this word. Thus, we can assume that this person is of God and truth, that he is able to distinguish what is of God and truth and what is not. In the parable of the shepherd and his sheep, it is through the image of the voice that reference is made to the word of Jesus, the word that guides them.
- John 10: 3: "The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear (akouō) his voice (phōnē). He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out."
- John 10: 4: "When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice (phōnē)"
- John 10: 5: They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice (phōnē) of strangers."
- John 10: 8: "All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen (akouō) to them"
- John 10: 27: "My sheep hear (akouō) my voice (phōnē). I know them, and they follow me"
|Verb akouō in John|
||mia poimnē, heis poimēn (one flock, one shepherd)
The fourth gospel is the only one that explicitly promotes the unity of the community (although, in a different way, the Acts of the Apostles will insist that the first Christian community "had one heart and one soul" to explain that they shared their goods: Acts 4:32). Above all, he is the only one to theologically establish the reason for this unity: it reflects the unity between God and Jesus, and the unity of believers with Jesus and with God himself. This unity proclaims the very existence of God and his love for the world.
- John 10: 30: "I and the Father are one (heis)".
- John 17: 11: "I am no longer in the world; they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name which you have given me, that they may be one (heis) like us"
- John 17: 20-23: "I pray not only for them, but also for those who through their word will believe in me, that they may all be (heis). As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, that they may be one (heis) as we are one (heis): I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one (heis), and that the world may know that you sent me and that you loved them as you loved me".
But in order to achieve this unity, there is only one way for Jesus, that of laying down his life: "'You don't even think that it is in your own interest that one man should die for the people and that the nation should not perish as a whole'. Now this he did not say of himself; but, being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation--and not for the nation alone, but to gather together into unity (heis) the scattered children of God" (John 11:51-52). The end of the gospel emphasizes this unity that is maintained despite the diversity of members in this fishing scene where, despite the diversity of fish, the net of the community does not break: "Then Simon Peter went up into the boat and drew the net to land, full of big fish: 153; and though there were so many, the net did not break" (John 21:20).
||v. 17 This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life to take it up again.
Literally: Because of this (dia touto) me the Father loves (agapa), for (hoti) I lay down the life of me, so that (hina) again that I might take (labō) it.
||dia touto (because of this)
Despite the fact that the expression seems ordinary, it is unique in the Gospels and only appears here. Yet the words, taken individually, are common. dia (Mt = 59; Mk = 33; Lk = 39; Jn = 59) is a preposition which, when followed by the accusative, has a causal meaning: because of, in view of, for. touto (Mt = 30; Mk = 13; Lk = 21; Jn = 52) comes from houtos (Mt = 147; Mk = 79; Lk = 228; Jn = 187: "this one, that one"), a word that can be either a pronoun or a demonstrative adjective, declined here to the neuter accusative. One might ask the question: what is the meaning of this "because of this"? This "this", or the demonstrative pronoun touto, refers to what? Does it refer to the preceding or the following? In English, the expression is often used to introduce a conclusion to what has just been stated. But here it is difficult to see how it could refer to the above. For Jesus has just expressed his plan to gather all the sheep into one flock, so that the final state will be one flock, one shepherd. All this is in itself a conclusion, which does not call for another conclusion. Therefore, it is very likely that "because of this" receives its meaning from what follows, which will be confirmed by our analysis of the Father's love.
||agapa (he loves)
For an analysis of love in John and throughout the Bible, see the Glossary
. What is surprising here is that the Father's love for Jesus needs justification, since the verse was introduced by: "because of this" (dia touto
). When we examine all the passages where John speaks of the Father's love for him, it is always an unconditional love: "He loved him before the foundation of the world" (17: 24), "He gave him glory, He gave him everything in his hands" (3: 35), "He shows him everything he does" (5: 20). Why should there be conditions now? Let us examine the rest.
The conjunction hoti
can be used in a complementary, consecutive or causal way. Here, following dia touto
(because of this), it is clearly a causal conjunction. Let us note in passing that the Gospel according to John is the one that makes abundant use of this conjunction in the gospel accounts (271 times, or 40% of all cases). Several times in his gospel, the conjunction has the causal meaning. Let us give three examples:
- John 1:15: "John testifies to him, and he cries out, 'Of him I said, 'He who comes behind me, behold, he has passed before me, for (hoti) before me he was'".
- John 1:50: "Jesus answered him, 'For (hoti) I said to you, 'I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe!'"
- John 3:18: "Whoever believes in him is not judged; whoever does not believe is already judged, for (hoti) he has not believed in the Name of the only Son of God."
Why does the Father love Jesus? Because he lays down his life. Should we then think that Jesus' death is the Father's condition for loving Jesus, so that without this death he would not love him? Spontaneously, we know that this is absurd, because love is unconditional. So how can we understand this ambiguous sentence? Here is what I propose. In our everyday language, we give various meanings to the word "love". For example, we sometimes say, "I love what you do". In this way, we express our appreciation and agreement with what we observe, and even our communion with the person doing the action. This helps us to understand what the evangelist intends to express. Jesus repeatedly proclaims the perfect agreement between his action and that of the Father: he does what the Father shows him (5:20), his works reflect the Father's testimony (5:36), so that there is perfect unity between Father and son (10:30). So the very fact that Jesus lays down his life is a reflection of all this: in Jesus who lays down his life, it is the Father who lays down his life in Jesus. Thus, we could rephrase John's sentence by saying: This is why the Father and I are one in love, for I lay down my life as the Father lays down his life through me; in short, through Jesus the Father's love is fully expressed.
||hina (so that)
This sentence may come as a surprise, because Jesus would lay down his life in order to get it back. What is this story about? Let's look at the evangelist's meaning of the words. Let's note at the outset that we are in front of words he likes: hina
(Mt = 39; Mk = 64; Lk = 46; Jn = 145); lambanō
(Mt = 53; Mk = 20; Lk = 21; Jn = 46); palin
(Mt = 17; Mk = 28; Lk = 3; Jn = 45). Let's start with (hina
) which can have a final meaning (so that, for, to), a consecutive meaning (so that) and a complementary meaning (that, that is, so that). When hina
is followed by a verb that is in the subjunctive (as in our verse) or the future tense in Greek, it usually means to express a goal. Let's give some examples:
- John 1:7: "He came as a witness, to (hina, for the purpose of) bear witness (martyrēsē, subjunctive) to the light, that (hina, for the purpose of) all may believe (pisteusōsin, subjunctive) through him."
- John 7: 3: "Then his brothers said to him, "Pass from here into Judea, that (hina, for the purpose of) your disciples also may see (theōrēsousin, future) the works which you are doing"
- John 7:32: These rumors of the crowd about him came to the ears of the Pharisees. They sent guards to (hina, in order to) seize (piasōsin, subjunctive) him.
Thus, what follows hina intends to express the purpose for which Jesus lays down his life.
||labō (I take)
The Greek word means: to take, to receive, to welcome. Of the 46 uses of the word lambanō
in John, 28 can be translated as "to receive, to welcome", and 18 as "to take". It is important to clarify the meaning of the word, because there is something surprising to hear that Jesus, after having laid down his life, and therefore after having experiencing death, "takes back" his life as if he were in complete control, having a prerogative that no human being possesses. One has the impression of having here the vocabulary of the ancient catechism that spoke of Jesus resurrecting himself. However, the whole New Testament is practically unanimous in saying that it was God who gave Jesus new life ("God raised him from the dead: we are witnesses", Acts 3:15). So we can see the importance of interpreting lambanō
The evangelist uses lambanō first of all in reference to the person of Jesus, or to his word, or to the testimony about him, or to the one he sends, which must be welcomed (1: 12; 3: 11; 5: 43; 12: 48; etc.). It also refers to the Spirit whom we are called to welcome (20: 22). We are therefore faced with a reality that is given to us and that we must welcome. There are, however, three cases in which Jesus is the subject of the verb:
- John 5:34: "Not that I am receiving (lambanō) the testimony of a man; if I speak of it, it is for your salvation."
- John 5:41: "I do not receive (lambanō) glory that comes from men.
- John 10:18: "This is the commandment I received (lambanō) from my Father"
Thus, Jesus receives from his Father the testimony, the glory and the commandment.
Yet the same word is used in the sense of "taking". Let's look at these different uses outside of verses 17 and 18 of our pericope.
- Jesus is the subject of action: he takes bread (6: 11; 21: 13), he takes a bite (13: 26), he takes vinegar (19: 30), he takes a cloth or his garment (13: 4.12).
- The disciples want to take him in the boat as he walks on the water (6: 21).
- Judas takes a bite (13: 30), then he takes a cohort and guards to arrest Jesus (18: 3).
- Pilate takes Jesus to be scourged (19:1), he tells the Jews to take him (18:31; 19:6), the soldiers take his clothes (19:23), or take his body for burial (19:40).
- Finally, Mary takes a pound of very pure nard perfume to anoint Jesus' feet (12:3) and the people of Jerusalem take palm branches to welcome Jesus (12:13).
We can see that the evangelist uses this term in the sense of "handling" an object or a person (a pound of perfume, palm branches, linen, bread, bites, a cohort and guards, Jesus himself), but also in the sense of consuming (vinegar), and receiving (in the boat). "To take" or "to take again/take back" does not thus have the meaning of "to be strong, to dominate, to seize, to be master of" which is expressed in Greek by krateō. Nor does it have the meaning of "to hold, take, seize, stop, capture" which is expressed in Greek by piazō. Why insist on this point? It would be easy to translate John's statement about Jesus resuming his life like this: Jesus is totally in control, he is the master of life, and there is no problem with him taking it back, so his death is a brief interlude that borders on the theatrical, because Jesus is always in control. Even if John's language sometimes lends itself to it, such a statement contradicts the heart of the Christian faith. So what is the meaning of the expression "so that I might take (lambanō) it again (palin)"? One could relate this expression to a phrase John used at the last supper.
- John 13:12: "And when he had washed their feet, and had taken back (lambanō) his garments, and had sat down again (palin) at the table"
Taking back life is like putting on a garment: there is a logical movement that starts from a garment that one lays down (John says: The good shepherd lays down (tithēmi) his life for his sheep, v. 11), and the one where one takes it back or puts it back. Saint Paul uses the same image to speak of resurrection, i.e. the putting on of a new garment:
- 1 Corinthians 15:53: "For this corruptible being must put on (endyō) incorruptibility, this mortal being must put on (endyō) immortality"
We still have one last problem to solve: how to interpret the affirmation that Jesus lays down his life in order to take it back? Isn't there something strange to say: I'm going to lose this object because it will allow me to find it again? Here we must enter into the language of the evangelist. We know very well that laying down one's life, dying, cannot be a goal in itself. If one gives one's life, it is for a higher purpose. For the evangelist, the laying down of his life by Jesus is an action of love that allows him to find the "glory" that he had with his Father, that allows him to give the Spirit to the whole of humanity, and therefore allows him to put into action this immense force that will bring humanity together in one community. Thus, John's statement must be translated as follows: I lay down my life in order to have access to this life that will transform humanity.
||v. 18 No one takes it away from me, but it is I who lay it down from myself. I have the power to lay it down, and the power to take it back. This is the precept that I received from my Father.
Literally: No one removes (airei) it from me, but I lay down it from myself. Authority (exousian) I have to lay down it, and authority (exousian) I have again to take it. This the commandment (entolēn) I received by the Father of me.
||airei (he removes)
The fourth gospel is the one that uses the verb airō
the most among the evangelists: Mt = 17; Mk = 17; Lk = 17; Jn = 23. One could summarize its uses in this way.
- In the sense of lifting: the cripple lifts his pallet (5:8-12), Jesus lifts the soul (holds it in suspense, 10:24).
- In the sense of rising: Jesus raises his eyes (11: 41); the people raise up/gather stones and throw them to Jesus (8: 59).
- In the sense of taking away: Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1:29); the Father takes away the branches that bear no fruit (15:2); no one can take away the joy of the disciple (16:22); Jesus does not ask to take away the disciples of the world (17:15); the bodies of the three crucified are taken away from the cross (19: 31), as well as the body of Jesus (19: 38); Mary of Magdala notices that the stone of the tomb has been taken away (20: 1); she complains that the body of Jesus has been taken away (20: 2). 13) and asks the gardener where he is so that he can go and remove it (20, 15).
- Finally, in the sense of suppressing: the Jews cry out to Pilate about Jesus: Suppress him! Suppress him! (19:15)
Once again, as we can see, airō receives multiple meanings and must be interpreted according to its context. Nevertheless, we can relate our vv. 18 to 16:22: "Now you also are sad, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you". Life, like joy, is not a reality that others can have a hold on, and in this sense no one can steal or take it away. Of course, we are at a deeper level than physical life. Thus, for the evangelist, the death of Jesus was a totally free decision. From this stems all its value.
What exactly is the meaning of exousia
? Once again, we have the impression of being in front of the image of someone who controls everything. The word itself means permission, right, authority, power. When we look closely at the evangelist's use of this word, we can group the texts into two categories:
- When it has the meaning of capacity or power: according to the narrator, the Word gives to those who welcomed him the capacity to be children of God (1: 12); according to Jesus, the Father gave the Son of Man the capacity to exercise judgment (5: 27) and he gave him the capacity to give eternal life to the believer (17: 2).
- When he has a sense of authority: Pilate boasts of having the authority to release or crucify Jesus (19:10), to which Jesus replies that this authority comes from God (19:11).
Thus, when it comes to Jesus, it is always about capacity, never about legal or political power. Therefore, we must interpret Jesus' phrase as his ability to freely lay down his life and then to find it again. But that still leaves us with the question: in what sense does Jesus have the capacity to regain life? This is where the temptation comes for some to say: since he is the Son of God, he can give his life back to himself. That would be to miss the point of what the evangelist is saying. In accordance with the whole New Testament, Jesus really dies and it is God who raises him up for John. But the life of Jesus is so much in accord with the word and the love received from the Father, the communion is so total, that the very life of God never leaves him, and it is this life that he finds again after death, and therefore, in a way, that he "takes up" it again. This is the capacity of the sons of God.
The word entolē
means: order, command, precept. The fourth gospel is the one that makes the most use of it among the gospels: Mt = 6; Mk = 6; Lk = 4; Jn = 10. And if, to this, we add the whole Johannine tradition, i.e. its three letters, we find ourselves with a total of 28 uses. It is therefore important to understand its meaning. Our Bibles usually translate entolē
by commandment, which gives it a slightly military connotation. In the Jewish tradition this word is the Greek translation of the Hebrew miṣwâ
, which means command, but a command that derives from the ten words received at Sinai and inscribed on the two tables of the covenant (Exodus 34:28): The gift of these words calls for a response that takes the form of a commandment, but a commandment that is life-giving; this is clearly reflected in Deuteronomy: "Out of heaven he made you hear his voice to instruct you, and on earth he made you see his great fire, and out of the midst of the fire you heard his words
". .. Keep his statutes and his commandments
which I command you this day, that you and your sons may have happiness and long life in the land which the Lord your God gives you for ever" (Deut 4:36.40). Let us briefly examine entolē
in the Johannine tradition.
Thus, when Jesus said, "This is the commandment which I have received from my Father," he is saying: "Through me the love of the Father is extended; in me his love goes so far as to accept death in order to be reborn to eternal life. This love is so strong that it takes the form of a precept or a commandment.
- Analysis of the narrative's structure
Analysis of the structure reveals some clashes and inconsistencies. We will therefore attempt to establish the structure of the current text, before examining M.-E. Boismard's hypothesis.
3.1 Structure of the current text
- Jesus as the good shepherd (11-15)
- Main statement: I am the good shepherd (11a)
- First rationale:
- Positive view: The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep(12a)
- The opposite: The hired servant leaves the herd facing danger (12b 13)
- Main statement repeated: I am the good shepherd (14a)
- Second rationale :
- Positive view: and I know those who belong to me, and they know me (14b)
- Comparison: similar to the mutual knowledge of Jesus and his Father (15a)
- First rationale repeated : I lay down my life for my sheep (15b)
- Jesus' mission to form one flock (16)
- Fact: some of his sheep are not in the same fold (16a)
- Mission : lead them through the sound of his voice to the same fold (16b)
- End state: one flock, one shepherd (16c)
- Explanation of the Father's love for Jesus (17-18)
- Jesus lays down his life to take it again (17b)
- This is a free decision (18a)
- Jesus has this ability (18b)
- Jesus thus fulfills the word received from the Father (18c)
An analysis of the current structure reveals a text that is not fluid and seems to have undergone additions. One would expect a short text around the theme of the good shepherd who knows how to lay down his life for his sheep, unlike the mercenary. But other themes come together, such as the unity of the flock, the mutual knowledge of the shepherd and the sheep, and the love of the Father for Jesus. Moreover, in some cases a sentence is extended when it was expected to end: for example, vv. 14-15 presents a second rationale on the statement on the good shepherd centered on the mutual knowledge of the shepherd and the sheep, and then, surprisingly, we see a repetition of the first rationale in v. 15b (see A.e).
3.2 Reconstruction of the evolution of the pericope
According to M.-E. Boismard (M. E. Boismard, A. Lamouille, Synopse des quatre évangiles, T. III - Lévangile de Jean : Paris, Cerf, 1977, p. 266), this pericope would have had this form at first.
11b The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.
12 The hired servant leaves the sheep and flees away, when he sees the wolf coming - and the wolf seizes and scatters them
14a I am the good shepherd
15b and I lay down my life for my sheep.
28 (I give them eternal life; they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand).
In its original form, the text appears much more fluid and is centered around a single theme: that of the shepherd who is ready to lay down his life for his sheep. It begins with the description of the shepherd who is ready to give his life for his sheep. Then the parable is applied to Jesus who is this good shepherd. We will have noticed that Boismard adds v.28 to the original text, because it would have been moved later at the end of this sequence to the good shepherd. This first version of the parable of the shepherd would be the work of the author he identifies as John II-A. The latter, probably living in Palestine, with Aramaic as his mother tongue, would have given us his composition around the years 60-65.
This original text would have subsequently undergone the transformations of John II-B (the same author as John II-A, but at a different date and place) that we mark in blue, and of John III (a different author) that we mark in red.
|John II-A||John II-B||John III
|11a|| || I am the good shepherd.|
|11b The good shepherd says down his life for his sheep.|
|12a The hired servant,|
|12b|| || who is not the shepherd and to whom the sheep do not belong,|
|12c leaves the sheep and flees, when he sees the wolf coming |
|13|| || because he is only an hired serevant and does not care about the sheep.|
|14a I am the good shepherd|
|14b||and I know my own and my own know me,|
|15a||just as the Father knows me and I know the Father,|
|15b and I lay down my life for my sheep.|
|16|| || I 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. |
|17||For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.|
|18||No 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.|
|28 (I give them eternal life; they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand)|
This John II-B would be the same as John II-A, because of the unity of vocabulary and style. But its composition would be much later, around the year 95, after the expulsion from the synagogues of Christians of Jewish origin. Above all, the place of composition is different, probably in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey), more precisely Ephesus. It seems to be influenced by Paul's letters. And he is probably the author of the Johannine epistles. In our parable of the Good Shepherd, he introduces one of his favorite themes, that of Jesus' relationship with his Father. This relationship is marked first of all by mutual knowledge, which then rubs off on Jesus' relationship with those who believe in him (14b and 15a); John II-B is the man of the interior life. This relationship is also marked by love (he is the only one to speak of God's love for Jesus: 3:35; 15:9; 17:23,24,26), and this love explains the fact that Jesus freely accepts to give his life (17-18). This last idea is presented in the form of chiasm.
|17 A For this reason the Father loves me||(Action of the Father)|
| B||For I lay down my life|
In order to take it up again.
|18 C|| ||No one takes it from me,|
I have the ability to lay it down
|(a totally free decision)|
| B1||I have the ability to lay it down|
And the ability to take it up again
| A1 I have receved this commandment from my Father||(Action of the Father)|
In a chiasm, it is the central part (here, part C), which gives the meaning of the whole: the decision of laying down his life by Jesus was a totally free.
As for John III, the latter probably belonged to the "Johannine" school and probably lived at Ephesus. His intervention in the final composition of the Gospel would have been around the year 100, and according to his habit, he liked explanatory glosses, which often made the text heavier. Thus he feels the need to explain twice that a hired person is not really a shepherd, because the sheep do not belong to him, and therefore he does not really care about them (12b and 13); John III no doubt fears problems of understanding the text on the part of his audience, who may have little pastoral experience. In the same vein, he added the introduction: "I am the good shepherd," to explain at the outset that the parable that follows is intended to explain why Jesus is the good shepherd; for him, it was not enough to begin with a parable and then apply it to Jesus.
- Context analysis
4.1. General context (7: 1 10: 21)
- Who is Jesus addressing? Where is he? What is the atmosphere like? To answer these questions, we must go back to the beginning of chapter 7 where the evangelist situates us geographically (v. 1) and in time (v. 2). In fact, he announces a new chapter with the expression "After that" which introduces chapter seven. This continues until 10:21, since 10:22 presents us with a new indication of time that seems to begin a new chapter: "Then there was the festival of the Dedication in Jerusalem. It was winter. "So let us take 7:1 - 10:21 as our general context.
- Where is Jesus? At what point in time? John 7:1-2 tells us that Jesus is traveling through Galilee, avoiding Judea where Jews are waiting to kill him. But the Jewish festival of the Booths is near. Remember that it is an autumn festival associated with the harvest when one camped in branch huts, the equivalent of our festival of thanksgiving. The religious festival ended on the seventh day with the rite of libation of water drawn from Siloe to ask for rain. Jesus' brothers invited him to go to the festival in Jerusalem. But Jesus refuses on the pretext that his hour has not come. But after their departure, he goes up to Jerusalem in secret, so that we find him in the temple teaching (7: 14) in the morning (8: 2), sleeping at night on the Mount of Olives (8: 1). But by the time the shepherd's parable begins, Jesus is no longer in the temple, but still in Jerusalem without anyone knowing exactly where.
- Who is he speaking to? The parable of the shepherd follows the healing of the blind man (9:1-39). Pharisees heard Jesus' conversation with the blind man, especially the statement that his mission is to restore sight to those who do not see, and blind those who claim to see. The Pharisees felt that they were being targeted and asked Jesus, "Are we blind?" Jesus' answer is simple: yes, because they claim to see. And this is where the parable of the shepherd begins.
- What is the atmosphere like? We are in the middle of a controversy. The tone is set from the outset: "he cannot circulate in Judea, because the Jews were trying to kill him" (7:1). This atmosphere will continue in the following chapters with expressions such as "Why are you trying to kill me?" (7:19); "Is it not him they seek to kill? "(7:25); "They then sought to seize him" (7:30); "They sent guards to seize him" (7:32); "Some of them wanted to seize him" (7:44); "You seek to kill me, because there is no place for my word in you" (8:37); "Now we know that you have a demon" (8:52); "They then gathered stones to throw at him" (8:59). At the same time, Jesus makes a number of statements: "My doctrine is not mine, but his who sent me" (7:16); "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink" (7:37); "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (8:31); "Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death." (8:51); "I have come into this world for discernment: that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind" (9:39). Thus, on the one hand, Jesus claims to bring the very word of God, to be the light and the water that brings eternal life, on the other hand, he receives growing opposition from the Jews who claim Moses as their guide.
All this gives color to the parable of the shepherd. Given the polemical context, the good shepherd opposes the figure of Moses put forward by the Jews: he operates a kind of split. This context also colors the sheep of this shepherd: since the majority of Jews refuse his teaching, the sheep become a small group of believers who detach themselves from the people as a whole.
4.2. Immediate context (10: 1-21)
- Here is the sequence of the stories. In brackets are additions to the original text, in bold our pericope.
- Parable of the shepherd and the thief (10: 1-6)
- The thief does not enter through the gate
- The shepherd enters through the gate
- The sheep hear and know his voice, and follow him
- The sheep will not follow a stranger
- Explanation of the parable (10: 7-10)
- Jesus is the shepherd of the sheep
- All who came before him are thieves
- (Jesus is the gate by whom one must go through to be saved)
- The thief brings death, Jesus brings life
- The good shepherd (10: 11-18)
- The good sheperd lays down his life for his sheep while the hired servant leaves them when facing danger
- Jesus is the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep
- (Jesus will gather other sheep that are not from this fold)
- (The Father loves Jesus because he lays down freely his life)
- Division among Jews (10: 19-21)
- Scissions among the Jews because of these words
- Some say: he has a demon, he is delirious.
- Others say: a demon cannot open the eyes of a blind man.
- From all this it is clear that the parables about the shepherd are well inserted in the polemical context: the finale refers to the healing of the blind man, and people are divided about it just as in the whole 7: 1 - 10: 21. The thief and the hired servant who does not really care about the sheep refers to the Pharisees. In this context, Jesus presents himself as the true shepherd who does not take detours to enter the fold and whose voice the sheep know. He is ready to lay down his life so that his sheep may find life. All this warns the listener that he has a choice to make: to let himself be guided by Jesus despite opposition, or to follow the majority of people.
- There is no parallel to the story of the good shepherd in the gospels: this story is unique to the fourth gospel. It happens in the synoptics that the believer is compared to sheep ("Behold, I send you out as sheep among wolves", Mt 10:16), or that the sheep is the image of his pastoral work ("he saw a great crowd and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd", Mk 6:34), or that the image of the shepherd is indirectly applied to Jesus ("I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered", Mk 14:27 || Mt 26:31). But Jesus is never clearly presented as the good shepherd in opposition to the bad shepherds. Nevertheless, we will compare some similar themes. All this will bring out the singularity of the fourth gospel.
|John 10: 11-18||Synoptic Texts|
|11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired servant, 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. 13 The hired servant runs away because a hired servant does not care for the sheep.||(Mark 14: 27.50-52) And Jesus said to them, "You will all become deserters; for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.'... 50 All of them deserted him and fled. 51 A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.|
|14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.||(Luke 10: 22 || Matthew 11: 27) All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.|
|16 I 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.||(Matthew 15: 24) He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."|
(Matthew 28: 19) Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
|17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No 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."||(Mark 8: 35) For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.|
(Mark 10: 45) For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.
- The parallelization of certain texts of the synoptic gospels only highlights the uniqueness of the gospel according to John.
- Contrary to John where Jesus presents himself as the shepherd who never abandons his sheep, the Synoptics insist on the sheep's abandonment of their shepherd. But, in a way, they confirm John's statement: in the absence of the shepherd, the sheep are scattered; the shepherd was the cement that held the flock together.
- Both John and the Synoptics affirm the mutual knowledge of the Father and the Son. However, while this is a recurring theme in John, it appears very rarely in the Synoptics. In fact, what Luke and Matthew present to us comes from Document Q. Moreover, in the latter case, the mutual knowledge is less about the life of intimacy between the Father and the Son than about the fact that in revealing the Kingdom to the little ones, Jesus transmits the vision of his Father.
- In Matthew there is a tension between a mission limited to the Jewish people and one that is open to the whole world: one belongs to the ministry of Jesus, the other to the Church after his resurrection. In John, the boundaries are not clearly explained. John 12:20-25 recounts the arrival of the Greeks, to which Jesus responds by alluding to his impending death, a way of saying that this opening to the world passes through his death and resurrection. But our passage from the parable of the shepherd may be limited to the other Jews who have not yet joined the community, but it is difficult to decide.
- Both John and the Synoptics insist on affirming the salvific value of laying down his life in general, and laying down his life by Jesus in particular. But what is unique about John is his insistence that Jesus' choice was totally free and that laying down his life reflects the very identity of God.
- Intention of the author when writng this passage
- We talk about author, but we know very well that more than one person may have contributed to the final text; a work as important as a gospel may have been published in several editions. What interests us is the final product.
- Our story is set in a polemical context. The dialogue with the Jews seems to be broken. Christians of Jewish origin who used to attend synagogue and talk with their co-religionists are now excluded from their place of prayer. This conflict is reflected throughout the gospel. Who knows God better: Moses or Jesus? Who should be followed? Who is able to point the way to life and light? What is the true community of God's children? The evangelist introduces this parable of the good shepherd and then puts this statement into the mouth of Jesus: "I am the good shepherd". This statement does not only set Jesus against the Pharisees and all those who claim to be Moses, but by referring to the expression "I am", associated with God in the Old Testament, it makes Jesus the very image of God: in Jesus, it is God himself that we see; in Jesus, God assumes his role as shepherd of his people.
- For those who are not convinced that they can rely totally on Jesus for guidance, especially in the context where the leaders of their religious milieu are in opposition to him, the evangelist provides a criterion: the ability to go so far as to lay down one's life for one's protégés; this is what distinguishes true and false shepherds. Since we are many years after the death of Jesus, the evangelist can use it to interpret the meaning of this death: it is as a shepherd that he accepted to die, as a life given for those for whom he is responsible. This struggle was part of his struggle against the forces of evil in all its forms, those who used religion for their own profit, those who have no interest in seeking the truth, those who are greedy or thirsty for power.
- To the criterion of the capacity to lay down one's life, the evangelist adds a second criterion to distinguish the true shepherd: mutual knowledge. First of all, the shepherd has an intimate knowledge of those in his care. The evangelist spoke to us at length about Jesus' compassion for the infirm and sick. But he also spoke to us of the deep knowledge he had of people (2:25: "for he himself knew what was in man"). Every shepherd who is incapable of compassion and deep knowledge is a predator (5:42, "but I know you: you do not have God's love in you"). Second, people have the ability to recognize their true shepherd. There is here a kind of knowledge by connaturality: by being sensitive to their inner voice, human beings have the capacity to find themselves in the true shepherd; they share something in common. The fourth gospel is a specialist in the inner life.
- The evangelist will give a theological dimension to this mutual knowledge: it is a reflection of the mutual knowledge between Jesus and his Father, so that this knowledge of Jesus for the human being is also a knowledge of God. This is what the Jewish community could not accept. But the evangelist insists: you want to know God, accept to know Jesus. Following Jesus leaves a heavy legacy for all shepherds-pastors, especially those in the Jewish community.
- One is not surprised by the logical continuation of all this: the communion between Jesus and his Father, and the communion between the believer and Jesus, the shepherd, can only lead to the unity of all believers, and for a Christian of Jewish origin, the adhesion of all Jews. We find in the evangelist the same wound that Paul experienced with the unbelieving Jews and the same hope of seeing them join the community of believers (see Romans 11), so that there will be only one community under one shepherd-pastor.
- Finally, there is a logical continuation of the intimacy between Jesus and his Father: Jesus' death was a totally free decision, a response to the love that unites him to the Father, the acceptance of the cross in order to be reborn to the eternal life he shares with this Father. Once again, the Gospel proposes a Christian interpretation of the scandal of the cross, and by doing so wants to rehabilitate Jesus as a true shepherd.
- Thus, starting from a simple parable, the author will develop criteria for recognizing the good shepherd, as well as a theological reflection on the shepherd Jesus as a reflection of God himself, and his death that reflects the very love of God and the true concern of the believing community.
- Current situations or events in which we could read this text
- Suggestions from the different symbols in the story
- "Good shepherd". All great leaders claim to be in their own way the "good shepherd" of their people. Saddam Hussein, the ra'ïs or leader of his people, had a huge statue erected in Baghdad with his right hand raised, pointing forward, as if to indicate the direction to follow. Mao Tse-tung, was known under his nickname of "Great Helmsman", this sailor who steers at the helm, and thus imparts the direction to the ship. Fidel Castro, known as the "Comandante", leader of the Cuban revolution, made socialism and nationalism the guiding principles of his country, because he saw in them what was good for his people. But if we applied Jesus' criteria for recognizing good shepherds to all these "shepherds," what would be left? How is Jesus different from all these leaders?
- "The wolf". It is a predator. It would be naive to deny the existence of predators in our lives and in this world. A predator sees others as prey and uses them for food and sustenance. A pedophile is said to be a predator. Those who use others to promote their ideology or assert their authority are predators. It is the responsibility of the good shepherd to protect people from these predators. Jesus denounced the behavior of many in his ministry. Who are these predators who can do a lot of harm?
- "To lay down one's life". The expression has many meanings. Of course, it has a physical meaning, but it can be very rare. More often than not, laying down one's life for someone means giving one's time, money and energy. Parents can give lay down their lives for their children. A man or woman can lay down their life for a parent. What the gospel reminds us is that we have here a criterion for lucidly determining our true concern for others. Jesus gave us testimony to this. So how far are we willing to go, and with whom?
- "Mutual knowledge". This criterion of the good shepherd is more difficult than we think. Knowing each other requires a lot of openness, a lot of patience, and a lot of love. In the Gospel according to John, Jesus repeatedly speaks of his deep knowledge of people. And he himself was totally transparent to others. There is no true pastoral relationship without this mutual knowledge, the Gospel tells us. Who is ready to embark on this little-used path? And here we have a criterion for denouncing all false shepherds.
- "Unity of the flock". There is something utopian in this quest for unity. Among Christians, there is an ecumenical movement that promotes Christian unity, without it being known whether it will ever be realized. Among Muslims, it seems that the tensions between Sunnis and Shiites are growing. At a more fundamental religious level, can we think of an ecumenism that would bring together Buddhists, Hindus, Shintoists, Christians, etc.? And if we go beyond the religious realm, can we envisage a global harmony between peoples? However, if we believe that at the source of humanity there is only one God, and that our happiness is to find ourselves in him, then it is normal to believe that this global harmony is possible. And it is normal to want to find ourselves all together. In his prayer, Jesus asked that he and his people live in the same home. But the question remains: how can we reconcile diversity and unity?
- Current situations or events in which we could read this text
- A commercial airline pilot commits suicide, taking 150 people with him to their deaths. A pilot has the responsibility for all the passengers of the plane, and in this sense, he is its shepherd. The very fact of using this role to destroy others is a perversion of that role. Of course, mental illness can be evoked. But that does not take away the perverse side of the action. It only brings to light the true shepherds who are ready to lay down their lives.
- There are reports of 148 deaths at a university in Kenya, people massacred by Islamist militants. There seems to be no limit to barbarism and blind ideology. On the other hand, the Gospel according to John seems disconnected from reality by speaking of intimacy with God and the beautiful relationship between the shepherds and his flock: isn't life fundamentally violent? We forget that there is a form of violence in love in going so far as to lay down one's life. Isn't this at the heart of today's gospel?
- Many governments have adopted austerity policies to cope with increasing spending and budget deficits. Citizens complain, take to the streets and express their discontent. Relations with the shepherd of the nation are becoming tumultuous. How can we distinguish between genuine concern for the greatest number and the great human values, and short-sighted selfishness? Where can we find the attitude of the shepherd who lays down his life for love? Where is the search for the unity of the great family?
- In our part of the country the winter was hard: it was very cold, and spring did not seem interested in imposing itself. An impressive number of people fell ill, unable to get to work. There was a sense of bad mood and frustration. Illness is part of life, whether you accept it or not. Healthy or sick, life with its challenges doesn't stop. You either accept or refuse to accept the illness. Doesn't integrating it allow us to continue our intimacy with our loved ones and with the God of Jesus?
A new report shows that the situation of low-income families in my region continues to deteriorate. It is noted that households living below the poverty level are making greater use of the services of community organizations. And the clientele has changed. In the beginning, it was more social assistance recipients. Now, there are more and more small workers, women, often in precarious jobs. In this context, how can we read again the parable of the Good Shepherd?
-André Gilbert, Gatineau, April 2015