Father Koch: The Good Shepherd leads all to the father

April 19, 2024 at 11:19 a.m.
For the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Father Garry Koch reflects on Jesus as the Good Shepherd, who is always caring for his flock. Photo from Shutterstock.com
For the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Father Garry Koch reflects on Jesus as the Good Shepherd, who is always caring for his flock. Photo from Shutterstock.com (Shutterstock/Trenton Monitor)


Gospel reflection for April 21, 2024, Fourth Sunday of Easter

The Fourth Sunday of Easter always draws our focus to Jesus as the Good Shepherd. This imagery comes from the writings of the prophets and the wisdom literature of the Jewish tradition, where God contrasts himself and the priests and prophets who have gone astray and are deceiving the people and the leaders of Israel.

There are a number of ways in which this sense of God as a good shepherd manifests itself in the Jewish literature, so this image, then, makes sense to the crowds who follow Jesus. Each one of the Gospels uses the image of a shepherd for Jesus, enough so that we can be relatively certain that Jesus must have used this expression on numerous occasions to speak about himself and his relationship to those who followed him.

Shepherds, though members of the lower class of Jewish society, do play an important role in the imaginal world of the Jews. This may reflect the importance of David who was tending the sheep of his father, Jesse, at the time when he was anointed as king of Israel by Samuel.

Shepherds who were hired to tend the flocks of wealthy landowners were unreliable and would likely abandon the sheep in the face of danger. They were poorly compensated for this work and were required to spend extensive periods of time along with the flock as they wandered the wilderness looking for water, food, shelter for the sheep and themselves.

As he often does in his writing, John takes the portrayal of Jesus as shepherd -- the good shepherd -- to a deeper theological level.

The saving action of Jesus is expressed in the Good Shepherd dialogue in John’s Gospel. The Good Shepherd laid down his life for his sheep — not just his disciples or the Jewish people — but for all people, even those that the disciples could not imagine. A good shepherd cares for sheep, even those not immediately entrusted to his care. We saw an example of this when, though for selfish reasons, the future King David tended the sheep of Nabal in the desert. Jesus extends himself for us all, to be the bridge to eternal life.

The Good Shepherd does not do his own will but conforms his will to that of the Father. John very carefully and precisely emphasizes that the death of Jesus on the cross, indeed the totality of the paschal events, are not only the will of the Father, but that Jesus freely and completely lives that will.

This stands in a slight contrast to the Synoptic tradition where Jesus cries out in Gethsemane to the Father to remove the cup of his Passion but accepts the will of the Father. John does not present this episode nor does he even imagine it to be possible.

While the other Gospels are mute on the reasons for the atoning action of Jesus, John emphasizes that Jesus acts in and through the love that the Father has for us, and so the Son becomes the instrument of the expression of that love.

Jesus lays down his life -- literally -- as he freely walks the path to the cross. He knows that it is only by his death that he can be glorified and restored to the glory he had before the Incarnation.

His Death is the gateway for those who love him -- his own, his sheep -- to be kept safe for eternal life. It is through the Death of Jesus that life is poured out for all who believe. This is a death borne, not of blood vengeance or retribution but of love.

Consequently, if we love -- as our shepherds loves, they then must lay down their lives for their sheep. Yet, even in the new dispensation, there are bad shepherds, but there is always the one, the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.


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Gospel reflection for April 21, 2024, Fourth Sunday of Easter

The Fourth Sunday of Easter always draws our focus to Jesus as the Good Shepherd. This imagery comes from the writings of the prophets and the wisdom literature of the Jewish tradition, where God contrasts himself and the priests and prophets who have gone astray and are deceiving the people and the leaders of Israel.

There are a number of ways in which this sense of God as a good shepherd manifests itself in the Jewish literature, so this image, then, makes sense to the crowds who follow Jesus. Each one of the Gospels uses the image of a shepherd for Jesus, enough so that we can be relatively certain that Jesus must have used this expression on numerous occasions to speak about himself and his relationship to those who followed him.

Shepherds, though members of the lower class of Jewish society, do play an important role in the imaginal world of the Jews. This may reflect the importance of David who was tending the sheep of his father, Jesse, at the time when he was anointed as king of Israel by Samuel.

Shepherds who were hired to tend the flocks of wealthy landowners were unreliable and would likely abandon the sheep in the face of danger. They were poorly compensated for this work and were required to spend extensive periods of time along with the flock as they wandered the wilderness looking for water, food, shelter for the sheep and themselves.

As he often does in his writing, John takes the portrayal of Jesus as shepherd -- the good shepherd -- to a deeper theological level.

The saving action of Jesus is expressed in the Good Shepherd dialogue in John’s Gospel. The Good Shepherd laid down his life for his sheep — not just his disciples or the Jewish people — but for all people, even those that the disciples could not imagine. A good shepherd cares for sheep, even those not immediately entrusted to his care. We saw an example of this when, though for selfish reasons, the future King David tended the sheep of Nabal in the desert. Jesus extends himself for us all, to be the bridge to eternal life.

The Good Shepherd does not do his own will but conforms his will to that of the Father. John very carefully and precisely emphasizes that the death of Jesus on the cross, indeed the totality of the paschal events, are not only the will of the Father, but that Jesus freely and completely lives that will.

This stands in a slight contrast to the Synoptic tradition where Jesus cries out in Gethsemane to the Father to remove the cup of his Passion but accepts the will of the Father. John does not present this episode nor does he even imagine it to be possible.

While the other Gospels are mute on the reasons for the atoning action of Jesus, John emphasizes that Jesus acts in and through the love that the Father has for us, and so the Son becomes the instrument of the expression of that love.

Jesus lays down his life -- literally -- as he freely walks the path to the cross. He knows that it is only by his death that he can be glorified and restored to the glory he had before the Incarnation.

His Death is the gateway for those who love him -- his own, his sheep -- to be kept safe for eternal life. It is through the Death of Jesus that life is poured out for all who believe. This is a death borne, not of blood vengeance or retribution but of love.

Consequently, if we love -- as our shepherds loves, they then must lay down their lives for their sheep. Yet, even in the new dispensation, there are bad shepherds, but there is always the one, the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.

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