Fourth Sunday of Easter
LAY DOWN MY LIFE
In the Old Testament, God is described many times as the shepherd of the people of Israel. So when Jesus claims this image of God to describe himself, it is startling even to his
disciples. In today’s Gospel, he takes the image one step beyond the Old Testament: as the Good Shepherd, he is to “lay down his life.” This phrase is stated, with slight variation, five times in today’s short passage. Jesus is describing the meaning of his life and of his death.
With firm roots in the story of Israel and their God, Jesus is now starting a new chapter. He is helping his disciples make sense of his death on the cross, and to describe how to follow this particular shepherd. When Jesus lays down his life, he is revealing the infinite love that he and the Father have for the flock. To follow Jesus, to be a part of Jesus’ flock, means participating in that same sacrificial love.
Jesus adds another feature to the shepherd imagery, which was also disturbing to his disciples. He refers to “other sheep which do not belong to this fold,” who will become part of the same flock. This likely refers to the Gentiles, to all peoples beyond Israel. The Shepherd extends his flock, but emphasizes that there is still only one flock. Jesus spoke forcefully and frequently, especially in the Gospel of John, of the importance of unity among those who follow him.
We who follow Jesus are expected to embrace the “other sheep,” to respect and celebrate differences among Christians. We are expected to learn from one another. All those things that seem to divide Jesus’s followers in culture, ethnicity, or history of conflict fade in comparison with the deeper unity of the one flock under one Shepherd. Living in unity is essential for us to be faithful and credible witnesses of Christ to the world.
Today’s Readings: Acts 4:8–12; Ps 118:1, 8–9, 21–23, 26, 28, 29; 1 Jn 3:1–2; Jn 10:11–18