Early in John’s Gospel we were told: ‘God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.’ (John 3:16) Here in today’s Gospel Jesus tells what it means for God to love that much: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) In his crucifixion Jesus shows us that this is no mere rhetoric. For, as he put it on the night before he laid down his life for us, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” His death reveals just how much God loves us. (Romans 5:7-8)

“I am the good shepherd” — an ancient Israelite image for God was as Shepherd of his people: ‘The LORD is my shepherd,’ as the Psalm has it. (Psalm 23:1) This imagery implied all the intimate love and care that a shepherd of those times had for his flock, shown in his always guiding them safely to good pasture, and implied here when Jesus speaks of his not fleeing when he sees the wolf coming to attack his flock, of his willingness to risk everything for them. (John 10:12-13) When the rich young man ran up and knelt before Jesus and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. (Mark 10:17-18) In calling himself the ‘good shepherd,’ Jesus is taking to himself this title of God. This is reinforced in his saying, “I am the good shepherd.” For here Jesus is taking us back to God’s self-disclosure to Moses, when Moses asked God his name: ‘God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14) In saying, “I am the good shepherd,” Jesus is saying something more than that he is like God. Rather, in laying down his life for us, Jesus not only shows us how much God loves us, but he actually reveals our God to us (c.f.: John 18:6), the God who loves us so much — the flash of which is ‘the flame of YHWH’ himself, as the Song of Songs puts it. (Song of Songs 8:6. C.f.: Luke 24:31)

‘God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.’ In laying down his life for us, Jesus did not just indulge the macabre. He did it that we may have eternal life. “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me.” (John 4:37) And again: “Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.” (John 6:57) To have life in him we need to do his will, as he did his Father’s will. (C.f.: John 10:18; 13:17; 20:21) On the night before he gave his life for us, he said, “A new command I give you: Love one another; as I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34) He wants us to live as he himself lived; we are to love one another as much as he loved us by laying down our life for one another. (John 10:11; 13:15)When we can do this, ‘we shall be like him’ (1 John 3:2) — all sons and daughters of the one Father. (John 1:12; 8:35; 10:16; 13:20; Romans 8:29; Galatians 3:28) In so doing, as he laid down his life that he might take it up again, so we in laying down our life for one another will be able take up our life again as he did and come ‘to be with him where he is.’ (John 17:24) This is what he means when he invites us ‘to take up our cross and follow him’ (Mark 8:34. C.f. John 12:26) and says to us, “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25) Our is to be a life of love of one another — this is how we are to live, and how we shall live; there is no other way. In so doing, like Jesus, we shall manifest the God who loves the world so much … and in this way ‘everyone will know that we are his disciples.’ (John 13:35; 17:23)

By Dom Steele Hartmann OCSO