4th Sunday of Easter (A)
Jesus, the Good Shepherd
I came that they may have life, and have it to the full!
1. Opening prayer
Jesus, send your Spirit to help us read the Scriptures with the same
mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the
light of the Word, written in the Bible, you helped them to discover
the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death.
Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them
the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in
the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering.
May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus,
may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you
are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this
of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your
a) A key to the reading:
This Sunday’s Gospel presents us with the familiar image of
the Good Shepherd. When speaking of the sheep of God’s flock,
Jesus uses several images to describe the attitude of those who look
after the flock. The text of the liturgy is taken from verses 1 to
10. In our commentary we add verses 11 to 18 because these contain
the image of the “Good Shepherd” and help us better understand
the sense of verses 1 to 10. During the reading, try to pay attention
to the various images or similes that Jesus uses to present to us the
way a true shepherd ought to be.
b) A division of the text as a help to the reading:
The text contains three interrelated similes:
John 10:1-5: The simile of the bandit and the shepherd
John 10:6-10: The simile of the door of the sheepfold
John 10:11-18: The simile of the good shepherd
c) The Text:
1 'In all truth I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold
through the gate, but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a bandit.
2 He who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the flock; 3 the
gatekeeper lets him in, the sheep hear his voice, one by one he calls
his own sheep and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all those
that are his, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow because they
know his voice. 5 They will never follow a stranger, but will run away
from him because they do not recognise the voice of strangers.'
6 Jesus told them this parable but they failed to understand what he was saying
to them. 7 So Jesus spoke to them again: In all truth I tell you, I am the
gate of the sheepfold. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and bandits,
but the sheep took no notice of them. 9 I am the gate. Anyone who enters through
me will be safe: such a one will go in and out and will find pasture. 10 The
thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come so that they may
have life and have it to the full.
11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.
12 The hired man, since he is not the shepherd and the sheep do not belong
to him, abandons the sheep as soon as he sees a wolf coming, and runs away,
and then the wolf attacks and scatters the sheep; 13 he runs away because he
is only a hired man and has no concern for the sheep. 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 my sheep. 16 And there are other sheep
I have that are not of this fold, and I must lead these too. They too will
listen to my voice, and there will be only one flock, one shepherd. 17 The
Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18
No one takes it from me; I lay it down of my own free will, and as I have power
to lay it down, so I have power to take it up again; and this is the command
I have received from my Father.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) What part of the text most touched you? Why?
b) What images does Jesus apply to himself? How does he do that and what is
c) In this text, how many times does Jesus use the word life and
what does he say about life?
d) Pastor-Pastoral. Do our pastoral actions carry
on from the mission of Jesus-Pastor?
e) How can we acquire a clear view of the true Jesus of the Gospels?
5. For those who wish to enter deeper into the theme
a) The context within which the Gospel of John was written:
This is a further example of the way John’s Gospel was written
and organised. Jesus’ words on the Shepherd (Jn 10:1-18) are
like a brick placed in an already built wall. Just before this text,
in John 9:40-41, Jesus was speaking the blindness of the Pharisees.
Immediately after, in John 10:19-21, we come across the conclusion
of the discussion on blindness. Thus, the words concerning the Good
Shepherd show how to remove such blindness. This brick renders the
wall stronger and more beautiful.
John 10:1-5: The simile of the bandit and the shepherd
Jesus begins his discourse with the simile of the gate: "I
tell you most solemnly, I am the gate of the sheepfold. All others
who have come are thieves and brigands; but the sheep took no notice
of them. I am the gate. Anyone who enters through me will be safe!” To
understand this simile, we need to remember what comes after. In those
days, shepherds took care of the sheep during the day. At night, they
brought the sheep into a large sheepfold or common enclosure, well
protected against thieves and wolves. All the shepherds within a region
brought their flocks there. There was a guard who watched over the
flock throughout the night. In the morning the shepherd would come
and knock on the gate and the guard would open the gate. The shepherd
then called the sheep by name. The sheep recognised the voice of their
shepherd and so they got up and followed him to pastures. The sheep
of other shepherds would hear the voice, but stayed where they were,
because they did not recognise the voice. Every now and then there
was the danger of an attack. Thieves went into the sheepfold through
a kind of loophole by removing stones from the wall around and stole
the sheep. They did not enter by the gate, because the guard was there
John 10:6-10: The simile of the gate of the sheepfold
Those who were listening, the Pharisees, (Jn 9:40-41), could not
understand what “entering by the gate” meant. Jesus explains: "I
am the gate! All others who have come are thieves and brigands”.
To whom do these hard words of Jesus refer? Considering his way of
speaking about brigands, he was probably referring to religious leaders
who dragged people after them, but did not fulfil their expectations.
They were not interested in the welfare of the people, but rather in
their money and their own interests. They deceived people and abandoned
them to their fate. The basic criterion for discerning between the
shepherd and the brigand is the defence of the life of the sheep. Jesus
says: “I have come so that they may have life, and have it to
the full!” To enter by the gate, means imitating Jesus’ attitude
of defending the life of his sheep. Jesus asks people to take the initiative
by not following those who pretend to be shepherds and who are not
interested in their lives.
John 10:11-15: The simile of the Good Shepherd
Jesus changes the simile. First he was the gate, now he
is the shepherd. Everyone knew what a shepherd was like,
how he lived and worked. But Jesus is not just any shepherd, he is
the good shepherd! The image of the good shepherd
comes from the Old Testament. When Jesus says that he is the
Good Shepherd, he is presenting himself as the one who comes to fulfil
the promises of the prophets and hopes of the people. He insists on
two points: (a) In defending the life of his sheep, the good shepherd
gives his life. (b) In the mutual understanding between shepherd
and sheep, the Shepherd knows his sheep and the sheep know their
The false shepherd who wants to overcome his blindness, has to confront his
own opinion with that of the people. This is what the Pharisees did not do.
They looked down on the sheep and called them cursed and ignorant people (Jn
7:49; 9:34). On the other hand, Jesus says that the people have an infallible
perception in knowing who is the good shepherd, because they recognise
his voice (Jn 10:,4) “My own know me” (Jn 10:14). The Pharisees
thought they could discern the things of God with certainty. In truth they
The discourse on the Good Shepherd includes two important rules for removing
pharisaic blindness from our eyes: (a) Shepherds are very attentive to the
reaction of the sheep so that they may recognise the voice of the shepherd.
(b) The sheep must be very attentive to the attitude of those who call themselves
shepherds so as to verify whether they are really interested in the lives of
the sheep and whether they are capable of giving their lives for their sheep.
What about today’s shepherds?
John 10:16-18: Jesus’ aim: one flock and one shepherd
Jesus opens out the horizon and says that there are other sheep
that are not of this sheepfold. They will not hear Jesus’ voice,
but when they do, they will realise that he is the Shepherd and will
follow him. Here we see the ecumenical attitude of the community of
the “Beloved Disciple”.
b) Further comments:
i) The image of the Shepherd in the Bible:
In Palestine, people largely depended on raising sheep and goats for
their living. The image of the shepherd who leads his sheep to pasture
was well known to all, just as today we all know the image of the driver
of a coach or of a train. It was common to use the image of the shepherd
to illustrate the function of one who ruled and led the people. The
prophets criticised kings because they were shepherds who did not take
care of their flock and did not lead the flock to pasture (Jer 2:8;
10:21; 23:1-2). Such criticism of bad shepherds grew in the measure
that, through the fault of kings, the people saw themselves dragged
into slavery (Ez 34:1-10; Zac 11:4-17).
Before the frustration experienced because of the lack of leadership
on the part of the bad shepherds, there grew the desire or the hope
of one day having a shepherd who would be really good and sincere and
who would be like God in the way of leading his people. Thus the Psalm
says, "The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want!" (Ps
23:1-6; Gen 48:15). The prophets hope that, in some future time, God
himself would be the shepherd who would lead his flock (Is 40:11; Ez
34:11-16). They also hope that at such a time, the people would be
able to recognise the voice of their shepherd: "Listen today to
his voice!" (Ps 95:7). They hope that God will come as a Judge
to judge the sheep of the flock (Ez 34:17). They wish and hope that
one day God will raise good shepherds and that the messiah would be
a good shepherd for the people of God. (Jer 3:15; 23:4).
Jesus turns this hope into reality and presents himself as the Good
Shepherd, different from the brigands who were despoiling the people.
He presents himself as a Judge, who, at the end, will judge as a shepherd
who will separate the sheep from the goats (Mt 25:31-46). In Jesus
is fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah who says that the good shepherd
will be persecuted by the bad shepherds who are disturbed by his denunciations: "I
am going to strike the shepherd so that the sheep may be scattered!" (Zec
13:7). Finally Jesus is everything: he is the gate, the shepherd and
ii) The community of the Beloved Disciple: open, tolerant and ecumenical:
The communities lying behind the Gospel of John were made up of various
groups. Among them there were open-minded Jews with a critical view
of the Temple of Jerusalem (Jn 2:13-22) and the law (Jn 7:49-50). There
were Samaritans (Jn 4:1-42) and pagans (Jn 12:20) who became converts,
both with their historical origins and cultural customs, quite different
from those of the Jews. Even though they were made up of such different
groups, John’s communities will see the following of Jesus as
a concrete lived love in solidarity. By respecting each other’s
differences, they will be aware of the problems arising from pagans
and Jews living together, problems which troubled other communities
at the time (Acts 15:5). Challenged by the realities of their own time,
the communities sought to deepen their faith in Jesus, sent by the
Father who wishes that all should be brothers and sisters (Jn 15:12-14.17)
and who says: "In my Father’s house there are many mansions!” (Jn
14:2). This deepening facilitated dialogue with other groups. Then
there were open, tolerant and ecumenical communities (Jn 10:16).
6. Psalm 23 (22)
Yahweh is my shepherd
Yahweh is my shepherd,
I lack nothing.
In grassy meadows he lets me lie.
By tranquil streams he leads me
to restore my spirit.
He guides me in paths of saving justice
as befits his name.
Even were I to walk in a ravine as dark as death
I should fear no danger,
for you are at my side.
Your staff and your crook are there to soothe me.
You prepare a table for me
under the eyes of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup brims over.
Kindness and faithful love pursue me
every day of my life.
I make my home in the house of Yahweh
for all time to come.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand
better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions
and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed
to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also
practise the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity
of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen