The theme for many on the Fourth Sunday in Easter is well-loved, that of the Good Shepherd. The Gospel reading for the three-year series is always some part of John 10. And it is certainly helpful to have a context for that chapter.
Sometimes in these writings I like to focus on a particular word. This time I am focusing on a particular account.
Like other sections of the bible that have duplication, many have suggested sources for such a unique perspective. One of the theoretical sources for the Gospel according to John is the so-called ‘Signs Gospel’. People have counted seven signs in the Gospel according to John.
Now I am certainly not against seeing the importance of that number in the scriptures. There are seven words in the first statement of the bible and fourteen in the next one. And the seven-day week was entirely God’s idea, not ours.
Given the literary evidence, I would like to make a slightly different emphasis. Taking into account the similarity of the first three accounts and the great difference of the fourth, I would like to suggest a sort of ‘blessing’ structure to that fourth account, similar to a benediction at the end of a church service. After the first three accounts are laid out before a person—all of them ultimately pointing to Christ, that person is (hopefully) ready to receive a blessing.
The typical position for blessing contains two basic parts: hands are raised and, then, words are given out. And so, as there are two signs clearly designated within the text (at 2:1-11 and 4:46-54), these may correspond to two hands being raised. And then, for most of the rest of the account, you have Jesus giving out his words of blessing.
As the figurative hands are raised, the blessings that are given out are that certain people now believe. This is emphasized at the end of both signs (2:11 and 4:53). And, at the very end of the entire account, the writer speaks to the reader and states that ‘these are written that YOU may believe….(20:31)’ In a way, the hands are still raised.
Certainly blessings are given out in the rest of the account, but it does not seem like the words of Jesus and the words of the writer point to signs as much as the writer did in the beginning. The writer seems to make a deliberate switch to focusing on a year of Jewish festivals.
He starts by mentioning a ‘feast’, without any specifics (5:1). And, at that festival, Jesus gets into serious trouble with ‘the Jews’, and they want to kill him (5:18). Then, in spring, there is Passover (6:4). In autumn, there is the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles (7:2), and, in the winter, there is the Feast of Dedication (or Hanukah; 10:22). Jesus continues to run into some serious (and, eventually, deadly) trouble.
The Jewish festivals are an opportunity for the Lord’s words to be spoken in a variety of settings, for further blessings to be given. Jesus obviously handles each festival—and each person he meets—differently. And, at each festival, there are those who go in another direction than the way of Jesus. And, then, there are those who continue to follow Jesus.
It is interesting that the topic of Jesus as the shepherd appears, in the seasonal year, right before winter. That is when you can tell that a shepherd is serious about his work. It is easy to stay with the flock during the warm summer months. But sticking it out during the cold winter months shows some commitment.
Jesus, therefore, speaks about laying down his life, not once, but twice within the text (v. 11 and 15). He is a serious shepherd for us, an EXTREMELY good shepherd.