Fourth Sunday of Easter

Healing leads to belonging

"The shepherd," Image by Joseph D'Mello via Flickr, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

April 21, 2024

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Commentary on John 10:11-18

Dear Working Preachers, as you know, Easter 4 is always Good Shepherd Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary. The Revised Common Lectionary presents a homiletical conundrum even beyond what to preach about shepherds and sheep year in and year out. In Year A, the Gospel reading is John 10:1–10 and in Year B, John 10:10–18 is the designated passage, yet John 10:1–21 is a narrative unit—typically called the Shepherd Discourse. In Year C, John 10:22–30 is the assigned Gospel text but has nothing to do with John 10:1–18. John 10:22–30 mentions sheep but occurs in a different time of year altogether, during the Feast of Dedication. 

What’s more, the Revised Common Lectionary distances Jesus’ words about being the Good Shepherd (10:1–18) from the sign the discourse interprets—the healing of the man born blind (9:1–41), which occurs on Lent 4 in Year A. Jesus does not stop talking at the end of chapter 9 but continues on to decode the sign he has just performed. You get the problem. John 9:1–10:21 is spread out over three Sundays, two liturgical seasons, and two lectionary years.

Why these observations? Because liturgically, the Good Shepherd is then separated from his sheep and the sheep then separated from the Good Shepherd, when that is the exact opposite of what “I am the Good Shepherd” means.

John 9:1–10:21 follows a narrative pattern for John already established in chapter 5 with the healing of the man ill for 38 years and the feeding of the 5,000 in chapter 6. Jesus performs a sign, which is followed by dialogue concerning the meaning of the sign, and then Jesus’ discourse that interprets the sign. Jesus’ signs have the potential to be misunderstood as only demonstrations of his authority, power, and glory when, in fact, they point to the abundant life he offers through relationship with him and the Father. 

Abundant life for the man born blind is more than being healed. He is now a sheep of Jesus’ own fold, own flock. Without the man born blind, Jesus as the Good Shepherd falls flat, a generic pastoral image that preachers try to make relevant for 21st-century listeners. Without Jesus as the Good Shepherd, the healing of the man born blind is reduced to spiritual sight alone. They need each other. Otherwise, both become mere metaphors for the sake of our christological commitments.

While the blind man gains his physical sight, the fullness of this sign comes in Jesus’ promise, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (10:16 New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition). The man born blind heard Jesus’ voice before ever seeing him, followed the voice of the shepherd (10:3–4), washed in the pool of Siloam, and was able to see. Yet, as his recognition of the identity of Jesus grows over the course of chapter 9, he is thrown out by the religious authorities when he states the truth of Jesus’ identity: “If this man were not from God [but he is], he could do nothing [but he can do anything]” (9:33). 

When Jesus hears that the man has been thrown out, he finds his sheep, the man born blind, a second time (9:35), having first seen him as he was walking along (9:1). The verb “find” recalls the central verb of the calling of the disciples in the Gospel of John (1:35–51). What follows is the blind man’s call narrative and the promises of discipleship fulfilled—for him.

Before identifying himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus says, “I am the gate for the sheep” (10:7). He will fulfill this promise when he comes out of the garden, standing between his sheep and the soldiers who have come to arrest him (18:4). He is the Good Shepherd when he willingly gives himself up—“Whom are you looking for?”—leaving his disciples safely in the fold/garden. Before ever going to the cross, Jesus lays down his life by handing himself over to the authorities in order to save his sheep, protecting them from harm. All of this is now for the man born blind.

Adding John 10:19–21 brings the sign, dialogue, discourse to its intended end. “Why listen to Jesus?” is the question at stake. The blind man did and gained abundant life by becoming a sheep of Jesus’ own fold. Lazarus will hear Jesus call his name and will walk out of his tomb into resurrected life, reclining with Jesus (12:2). Mary Magdalene will hear Jesus call her name, and in hearing her name will recognize her teacher—and thus herself as one of Jesus’ disciples.

What makes the Good Shepherd “good”? Jesus sees the man, and the healing leads to belonging. Jesus’ words lead to abundant life—listen to him.

Pittsburgh skyline

Festival of Homiletics 2024

May 13-16 | Pittsburgh (or digitally from anywhere)

The 2024 Festival of Homiletics is an invitation to lean into a little self-love. Hear from some of the voices of our time, including Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Pádraig Ó Tuama, Neichelle Guidry, Brian McLaren, and Angela Dienhart Hancock, and more! Experience inspiring worship along with time for reflection, renewal, and remembering – to recall once again the why for what we do.