Not that kind of Shepherd!
I want to dissuade you from a certain misreading of this morning’s gospel passage. You can easily find examples of what I mean if you Google “images” and look for “Good Shepherd.” We are all familiar with those images from the walls of countless Sunday School classrooms, and Children’s Bible Story books. These are the pictures of a very gentle looking Jesus, holding in one arm an innocent looking little lamb, and a shepherd’s crook in the other. He is also often accompanied by a flock of grown up sheep, who look up at him adoringly. This Jesus’ hair is perfectly coiffed, and he is, for some reason, bare footed. Those who know better might correct me, but I would imagine that there are good reasons why most shepherds wear shoes, preferably boots. At any rate, it is clear from this morning’s reading that Jesus is not that kind of shepherd.
This morning’s readings are not about Jesus gently holding cuddly lambs in his arms, but about disagreement and division. John 10:22-30 is the second of two Shepherd parables in this chapter, and takes place two months after the first one, at the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple, what we know as Hanukkah. The Feast of the Dedication is the celebration of the Maccabees’ re-dedication of the temple after the defeat of the Seleucid King Antiochus Ephiphanes, who had desecrated the temple by offering pagan sacrifice there. (It’s all in the Apocrypha.) Symbolically, Jesus accomplishes in person what the Maccabees tried to do. He is the new temple. (more…)