As people who live in the city, we often tend to utilize urban images to tell our stories. For example, it could be something that happened in the office at work. Something funny, or something sad. The point is that almost everyone today knows what an office building is, and consequently is placed in the right context to understand the nuances of the story.
But not so in the time of Jesus. Needless to say, it is quite likely that there were no office buildings. The people of his day were primarily agricultural folk, and could understand the nuances of images such as trees, plants, seeds and sheep. In fact, the shepherd-sheep image was often used in the Bible. We have the case of Ezechiel 34 which speaks of false and true shepherds. And in the case of the New Testament, there is the famous example of the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15: 3-7; Matthew 18:10-14). Jesus’ listeners knew about the nuances of sheep and sheepherding.
The Gospel of the fourth Sunday of Easter (John 10:1-10) speaks very decidedly about sheep and shepherds. Among the several possible, it seems to me that there are two themes that can be considered important. Namely, “familiarity” and “commitment.” These themes presuppose awareness of the nuances.
First of all, “familiarity.” Jesus calls himself the model shepherd. So, when the sheep hear his voice they follow him. The sheep may hear the voice of a stranger, but they do not follow. “Hearing the voice” of the shepherd and recognizing it means that a special bond already exists between the shepherd and the sheep. This is “familiarity.”
A second theme is “commitment.” As the model shepherd, Jesus will lay down his life for his sheep, while the hireling will not. In fact, Jesus did die and rise again thus granting life (pasture) to his sheep. This is “commitment.”
Now, what can we learn from today’s Gospel? The answer is based on the fact that our Baptism establishes our linkage with Jesus in a special way, and makes the following possible. The theme of “familiarity” means, above all, that I have to figure out the following question. WHEN do I hear the voice of Jesus? Is it when I read and reflect on the Bible and/or prayer? Or is it when I listen to someone who speaks like Jesus? One who tells me that I must have compassion, pursue justice, treat others with dignity?
The theme of “commitment” makes me answer the following question. How much of myself, in terms of time and resources, am I willing to give to others? Jesus, the model shepherd, died for his sheep. Basically, this theme is about “service.”
“Familiarity” means I have to listen to the VOICE of Jesus whenever I hear it. “Commitment” means that I give myself willingly to the SERVICE of others. Otherwise, I am deaf and selfish.