The image of the shepherd is developed in this reading with an extraordinary richness, focusing on the Lord’s free and generous self-giving. Fr Adrian Graffy reflects.
11 Jesus said: ‘I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd is one who 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 and runs away as soon as he sees a wolf coming, and then the wolf attacks and scatters the sheep; 13 this is 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 these I have to lead as well. They too will listen to my voice, and there will be only one flock and 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 it is in my power to lay it down, so it is in my power to take it up again; and this is the command I have been given by my Father.’
Other readings: Acts 4:8-12 Psalm 117 (118) 1 John 3:1-2
The description of Jesus as a shepherd adopts an image which is often used in the Hebrew Scriptures. The shepherds of Palestine provided for their sheep in so many varied ways that the image was used of the loving care of God for the people. In the Fourth Gospel the same image is elaborated in new ways.
Jesus is the good shepherd who gives his very life for his sheep. He contrasts his commitment to the sheep with the behaviour of the hired ones who flee at the first hint of danger. Jesus was fearless in the face of death in order to save his sheep.
Jesus knows the sheep. His knowledge of them, his familiarity with them as he enfolds them in his loving care, reflects the close relationship between the Father and the Son. The image of the shepherd is developed here with an extraordinary richness.
He will bring new members into his fold. The flock of Jesus Christ is not composed only of those who were first called. The mission of the followers of Jesus is limited by no boundaries of race, nation or origin. The unity of all the children of God is the goal of his coming and of his saving death and resurrection.
Our passage ends with a focus on the Lord’s free and generous self-giving. In doing the Father’s will he shows the power of his love, which is fully displayed in his rising to new life. The Good Shepherd is risen indeed, and shares his new life with us.
Do I value my place in the flock of the good shepherd?
Do I do what I can to attract others to receive new life from the Risen Lord?
Let us pray for all pastors of the Church that they may truly imitate the Good Shepherd.
Let us pray that all those called to priesthood may respond with courage and generosity.
Rev Dr Adrian Graffy is a member of the Vatican Commission that takes a lead in Bible scholarship, interpretation and promotion in the Catholic Church.
Rev Dr Graffy said of his five-year appointment by Pope Francis in 2014: “It is an honour to be nominated by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I feel humbled and very much look forward to being of service to His Holiness and the Church.”
He added: “A great deal has been achieved in England and Wales in recent years by many co-workers to advance Biblical scholarship and the provision of easy-to-use resources. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis for their efforts to promote understanding and love of the Bible, particularly through the publication of the teaching documents, The Gift of Scripture and the study guide to Verbum Domini, The Word of the Lord.”
Rev Dr Graffy received his doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1983. He taught for over 20 years in St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, and is Chair of the National Scripture Working Group, which is an instrument of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Fr Graffy is a past director of Brentwood’s Commission for Evangelisation and Formation and parish priest of Christ the Eternal High Priest in Gidea Park, Essex. Among his publications are the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Romans (Alive Publishing).
Listen to BBC Essex interview with Fr Adrian Graffy