John 10:1-21 Here we move to an extended teaching followed by a passage describing conflict between Jesus and Jewish leaders. “Instead of the Synoptic parables o f the kingdom as the substance of Jesus’ message, in John Jesus delivers extended metaphorical discourses focused on himself and his mission” (People’s New Testament Commentary). While the image changes dramatically between chapters 9 and 10, there is a continuity. Jesus has welcomed a blind man into the community of those who “see” (metaphorically speaking), while criticizing those who claim to see and know god but are evidently truly blind. Now he will use another metaphor to describe those who have come to see. The controversy with Jewish religious leaders continues from chapter 9 as well. One of the beautiful aspects of John’s gospel is his rich use of a variety of images for Jesus. It reflects the way the Johannine Jesus community was trying to understand this person who had so changed their lives and their world. How sad that all too often the Christian Church in its history has limited its use of metaphors for Jesus, choosing only one or the other as more true. While Jesus touches our lives with God’s love always for our good and the common good of the world, the way we describe that should vary, should be rich and multi-faceted.
Jesus begins by using a figure of speech about sheep, shepherd, and gates. In images many of the day would understand, Jesus talks about sheep knowing the voice of the shepherd, and about the gatekeeper recognizing the shepherd. They understand this, but don’t understand why he is now talking about sheep and shepherds.
Jesus now proclaims himself the gate for the sheep. He is the way forward, the way of life. This is not an image different from the image of Jesus as the shepherd. Palestinian shepherds often slept lying across the entrance to their sheepfolds. They were both shepherds and gates. 10:10 is a beautiful image: I come that they may have life, and have it abundantly. Those who come to steal, kill and destroy are those Jesus thought of as false spiritual teachers, and we do not lack for those today. Think of ordained persons who have abused others through their office. Think of gurus who enrich themselves more than help others. There are all kinds of people whose aim is harm rather than good. That which comes to steal, kill and destroy can also be found within. Origen, an ancient Christian theologian and teacher understood that thieves and robbers can be found within (Mystical Christianity, 211). Jesus offers another image – “I am the good shepherd.” In Judaism such an image was frequently used of kings and of God. Jesus then adds a rather surprising twist – the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. This redefines the image of power that may have been associated with the royal connotation of the good shepherd image. As the good shepherd, Jesus will be with us when wolves appear. In John’s theological view, Jesus, as the good shepherd willingly lays down his life for the sheep, but will also take that life back up. In the next chapter we will see something of the power Jesus has to give life. In verse 16, Jesus refers to other sheep, probably a reference to Gentiles who are an important part of John’s Jesus community. John Sanford takes that farther. Psychologically, this is a way of saying that the Center is a reality in all humankind. Christ is within all of us, regardless of our color or religious persuasion. (Mystical Christianity, 212) Certainly not all would agree with Sanford on this.
Jesus’ words divide those who are listening, just as they have in the other gospels. And just as in the other gospels, some accuse him of having a demon. But do demons heal?
John 10:22-42: The controversy continues, as does the use of the shepherd image. “The Jews” ask Jesus to speak plainly (note we have already commented on John’s use of this term, and of our need to be cautious as we read it). Jesus responds that both his words and his deeds have been clear enough, but that they are not responding because they really don’t want to. Those who follow Jesus have a new kind of life. This life comes from God, whose work through Jesus make Jesus and God virtually one in John’s theology. Such words are blasphemous to those listening so they take us stones to stone him. Jesus responds using Hebrew scriptures (Psalm 82:6 – “you are gods”), and by referring to the kinds of things he has been doing – teaching, healing. Surely they should see that the work Jesus does is work befitting God. The unbelief of the leaders is contrasted with the belief of many others.