If on this Sunday after the Resurrection you are a bit weary of talking about the Good Shepherd, try focusing on the Hired Hand who runs away. Ask: Who is that hired hand today? In every corner of the land – not just in sheep country – who is it? Who is turning his back on the vulnerable sheep? Who is arguing against safety nets for the hungry? Who does not want to contribute her riches to the commonwealth, the common good, the collective enterprise known as government or church or charity?
By giving a portrait of the hired hand, the preacher will be describing the tough realities of our social, economic, personal, familial, and political circumstances. In contrast to the hired hand, that Shepherd described in John's Gospel looks mighty good – one to whom we can safely give over our lives.
In these two moves, the preacher will have laid down 1) the situation in which this world finds itself and 2) the hope for this world given to us by the risen one who is our trustworthy caretaker for all time.
Arguably one of the most famous passages of John’s gospel, Jesus’ identification of himself as the “good shepherd” follows the healing of the man born blind in chapter 9. In that story, the man comes to deeper and deeper insight about who Jesus is: He is a man (v 11); he is a prophet (v 17); he is from God (v 33); he is Lord (v 38). In chapter 10, Jesus adds to that knowledge and, in his description, Jesus echoes God’s identity as the shepherd of Israel in Ezekiel 34. But where God contrasts himself with the bad shepherds who did not pay heed when the sheep were attacked, Jesus adds the adjective “good” to his identity and contrasts himself with hired hands (those who are not the shepherds and care more for themselves than for the flock). In addition Jesus will gather sheep “that do not belong to this fold,” a reference to the gentile community, and “there will be one flock and one shepherd.” – Mary Katharine Deeley
The love of God in Christ Jesus keeps expanding. It is abundant, luscious, huge, enfolding.
In keeping with that love, the Acts account of the disciples points to Jesus as the true healer and 1 John focuses on the love that can abound because of God’s love. All of these readings contribute to a portrait of the fullness of this Good Shepherd who is not a mere hired hand (uninvolved, unconnected, uncaring, uncommitted) and could never be so small.
In the early life of the church, the apostles’ miracles were often sources of controversy, not because they healed people but because they insisted on attributing the miracle to Jesus and preaching him as already raised from the dead. The leaders of the synagogue considered such talk heretical. The Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, but concluded that it would happen on the “day of the LORD” (Joel 2:1b) and would be the reward of the just and faithful Jew, certainly not to someone who had been branded a blasphemer. Other Jews, such as Sadducees among the leaders and elders described here, did not believe in resurrection of the dead at all, considering the concept to be utterly foreign to Mosaic Law. In addition, in verse 12, Peter flatly contradicts the Roman claim that the emperor is a source of salvation. Winning friends and influencing people was not the apostolic agenda. Proclaiming what they had seen and heard was. – Mary Katharine Deeley
1 John 3:16-24
The first letter of John challenged first-century Christians to connect the depth of their relationship with God with the depth of their love for one another. In John’s theology these two concepts are inseparable and those who think they can love God without loving their brother or sister are branded liars. The letter also corrects false ideas about Jesus that were circulating at the time—that Jesus was not the Christ or was not truly a man. For John, authentic love and moral behavior is known only in the context of the crucifixion and revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 John 3 points to the incarnation as proof of God’s love for us and exhorts everyone to be righteous as Jesus is righteous. – Mary Katharine Deeley
Mary Katharine Deeley, Ph.D., is the director of Christ the Teacher Institute of the Sheil Catholic Center, the Roman Catholic campus ministry at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. She is the author of many books, a frequent speaker on diverse topics, and a pastoral advisor.
Homily Service 39, no. 6 (2006): 2-11.