272. A Shepherd’s Lament (John 10:19-42)

“Let us have recourse to that fatherly love revealed to us by Christ in his messianic mission, a love which reached its culmination in his cross, in his death and resurrection.” – Pope Saint John Paul II

John 10:19-42: These words caused disagreement among the Jews. Many said, ‘He is possessed, he is raving; why bother to listen to him?’ Others said, ‘These are not the words of a man possessed by a devil: could a devil open the eyes of the blind?’ It was the time when the feast of Dedication was being celebrated in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the Temple walking up and down in the Portico of Solomon. The Jews gathered round him and said, ‘How much longer are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ Jesus replied: ‘I have told you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name are my witness; but you do not believe, because you are no sheep of mine. The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life; they will never be lost and no one will ever steal them from me. The Father who gave them to me is greater than anyone, and no one can steal from the Father. The Father and I are one.’

The Jews fetched stones to stone him, so Jesus said to them, ‘I have done many good works for you to see, works from my Father; for which of these are you stoning me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘We are not stoning you for doing a good work but for blasphemy: you are only a man and you claim to be God.’ Jesus answered: ‘Is it not written in your Law: I said, you are gods? So the Law uses the word gods of those to whom the word of God was addressed, and scripture cannot be rejected. Yet you say to someone the Father has consecrated and sent into the world, You are blaspheming, because he says, I am the son of God. If I am not doing my Father’s work, there is no need to believe me; but if I am doing it, then even if you refuse to believe in me, at least believe in the work I do; then you will know for sure that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.’ They wanted to arrest him then, but he eluded them. He went back again to the far side of the Jordan to stay in the district where John had once been baptizing. Many people who came to him there said, ‘John gave no signs, but all he said about this man was true’; and many of them believed in him.

Christ the Lord “I and the Father are one.” When the Jewish leaders heard him say that, they picked up rocks in order to stone him to death – for a man to claim equality with God was, for them, the purest blasphemy, the grossest idolatry. Indeed, what other man in history has claimed to be God – not just “a” god or a “manifestation” of a higher power, but the God? It is an outrageous claim, and it makes it impossible to write Jesus off as merely a great teacher, philosopher, or religious leader. Even believing Christians, however, can fall into those errors, at least in practical terms – treating their Christianity like a cold body of doctrine or a mere personal opinion. Therefore, although Christ has made this claim frequently throughout the Gospels, we should never tire of considering it, of letting it sink deeper and deeper into our understanding of the Lord we follow.

Someone who makes such a claim can only be one of two things: a lunatic or exactly what he says he is. The Gospels give no evidence for lunacy in Christ; in fact, his teaching and his behavior are more lucid and brilliant than anyone else’s, and his miracles (the “works” he constantly refers to) are incontrovertible. And in the centuries after his Ascension, his followers and doctrine have not waned – as would a lunatic’s – but have only grown, contributing immeasurable good to a human race beset with evil. Therefore, we have to conclude that Christ wasn’t a lunatic. Only one option remains. But if he is indeed who he says he is, then we must follow him. That takes humility; it takes listening to him and trusting him, as sheep do with their shepherd. Indeed, he is the Lord – that is clear; what’s problematic is our reluctance to surrender our personal kingdoms into his hands.

Another level of meaning can be ascribed to this phrase. On the one hand, as the Jews understood it, Jesus was claiming equality with God. On the other hand, Jesus alludes to the Old Testament texts that refer to judges who have been set aside to do God’s work as “gods” – i.e., men set aside to represent God to other men through the administration of justice (e.g., Psalm 82:6 and Exodus 21:6). In this sense, then, Jesus’ phrase “I and the Father are one” emphasizes the interpersonal union between the Son and the Father, a union of love that Jesus manifests more perfectly than anyone else who has ever been sent by God through his flawless and loving obedience. From this perspective, the Lord’s claim to be one with the Father is actually an invitation for his listeners to enter into the same union; if they “listen to [his] voice and follow [him],” they will enter into the “eternal life” that he shares with his Father.

Christ the Teacher The scene St. John describes is picturesque. It is winter, cool and blustery, during the celebration of Hanukah, a commemoration of the cleansing and rededication of the Temple in 164 BC after its three years of being polluted by pagan squatters (this had occurred with the successful completion of the Maccabees’ wars against the Greek Hellenistic ruler of Palestine, Antiochus Epiphanes). Jesus is spending his days in the outer courtyard of the Temple precincts. This courtyard was flanked by two huge covered colonnades that were over forty feet high. He and his apostles and other residents and pilgrims are walking up and down the colonnades discussing the meaning of the Scriptures, the nature of the Messiah, and the way of salvation. Jesus is strolling along the porticoes arguing and explaining and teaching and exhorting. It is no dry, difficult to comprehend, boring philosophical lecture, but a passionate, enthusiastic, fiery exchange in which the eager words of Jesus stir his listeners’ to question him and themselves. Their comments, questions, and reactions pour out, not waiting for the others to finish, talking over each other, full of intent enthusiasm. God is walking among men, speaking their language, engaging with them on their own turf, joyfully pleading with them to open their minds and hearts to his revelation.

This is still his methodology. Jesus is still walking among men through his ordained ministers and his missionaries, through his catechists and his disciples in every walk of life. He dwells and speaks and accompanies all men through those who by his grace have become his ambassadors. And he still backs up his words with incontrovertible deeds, with signs that prove his credibility and dependability – the greatest of which is the continued existence and expansion of his Church. In spite of twenty centuries of nonstop crises and attacks, the Church marches on, giving light to the world and reminding men and women of all times and places that they are loved by a merciful God who invites them to join him in the everlasting adventure of eternal life.

JesusChristTheGoodShepherdElBuenPastorCristobalGarciaSalmeronChrist the Friend “I give them eternal life.” Shepherds want their sheep to thrive. They want their sheep to stay safe, to eat well, to be healthy and happy – the shepherds’ livelihood depends on it. Christ is our shepherd.

Christ: All I want is for you to flourish, to experience the fullness and wonder of life as I designed it to be. Every invitation I make, every indication I give through my words, my example, the commandments, the teachings of my Church, the nudges in your conscience, all has but one purpose: to lead you into the incomparably rich pastures of a life in communion with me, a communion that can begin here on earth but will only reach its fulfillment when you come home to heaven. I want to be your Good Shepherd, and my greatest joy is when you decide to be my good sheep.

Christ in My Life You and the Father are one, and you invite me to be one with you. I can’t get over how strange it is that you, Creator of all things, deign to come into my life and address me, guide me, and patiently invite me to follow you and assume responsibility in your Kingdom. You and I both know that I don’t deserve this kind of attention. It flows from your abundant goodness, which will never run dry…

Only you know how hot the desire for meaning and fruitfulness burns in my heart. How strange this life is! It is so full of joys and sorrows and yet so incomplete. You are the bread of life. Keep guiding me, Lord; keep leading me. You know what I need and hope for – you are my hope. Never let me slow down or be satisfied when you still have more in store for me…

You were eager to dwell among men because you had something to give them – your love, your wisdom, your grace. And now you have made me your messenger. Am I as eager as you were to engage my neighbors, to bring them your light? I am reluctant sometimes. I don’t love enough. But you know that I want to love more. And that’s all you need – you will work wonders through those who trust in you…

PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.


Art: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. El Buen Pastor (The Good Shepherd), Christóbal García Salmerón, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, “Inside the Passion”–the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: “The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer”. His most recent books are “Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength”, and “Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions”. Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.

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