Gospel: John 10:11-18

Leadership Through Sacrifice

What responsibilities do you have in life? What sacrifices have you made to carry out your responsibilities?

Sacrifice seems to be an ugly word these days. No political leader dare breathe the word, lest he or she loses the next election. No media star or technological CEO dares mention the concept, lest they be called "hypocrite." In these days of the hyper-economy and the "ME!" culture, the notion of giving up a desire or putting off a pleasure for the good of others is "verboten." Self-indulgence, not self-giving, is society's keyword.

Yet, beyond the self-absorbed veneer of culture, people are willing to give up for something greater. They are willing to sacrifice for those they love and for that in which they have faith. Sacrifice is the yardstick that measures one's character and values. Self-giving proves the worth of one's words and intent.

Just how far should we be willing to sacrifice for others and for our ideals? Look to Jesus for the answer.

Popular Translation

Jesus said to his followers:

11 I am the devoted shepherd
who would give his life up for his sheep.

12-13 Unlike the shepherd who owns the flock,
the hired worker sees the wolf coming and runs away,
because he doesn't care
if the wolf attacks the flock
and scatters the sheep.

14-15 I am the devoted shepherd
who would give his life up for his sheep.

Just like the Father knows me
and I know the Father,
I know my sheep
and they know me.

16 I have other sheep who do not live in this corral.

They need me to lead them.
They will hear me calling them,
and they will join my other sheep,
so there will be one flock with one shepherd.

17 Because I love my sheep,
and because I will lay my life down for them so I can take it back up again,
my Father loves me.

18 No one takes my life from me.
I give my life away willingly.
I have the power to lay my life down.
And I have the power to raise it up again.

This is what my Father wants me to do.

In this Sunday's passages, John presented Jesus as the dedicated shepherd. Like the shepherd, Jesus would lead even if it meant his death. He would not be a charlatan who gave a performance of holiness for his audience, only to flee at any sign of danger. His leadership bound the follower to himself in intimacy. And his Father loved him for the sacrifice he would make for his sheep and for power he would use to rise up from the dead.

Literal Translation

11 I am the good shepherd.

The good shepherd lays his life down on behalf of the sheep.

12 The hired worker, not being the shepherd,
who does not own the sheep,
sees the wolf coming,
abandons the sheep, and flees--
the wolf takes (one of ) them (as prey) and scatters (them)--
13 because he is a hired worker and he does not care for the sheep.

10:11 "I am the good shepherd." The term "good" referred to the quality of a dedicated shepherd, not Jesus' inherent virtue. In other words, Jesus said "I am like the good (i.e., devoted) shepherd." The dedicated shepherd will put himself in harms way for the good of the flock.

10:12 "who does not own the sheep" is literally "of whom the sheep is not owning."

"the wolf takes (one of ) them (as prey) and scatters (them)" It would be impossible for a wolf to simultaneously take all the flock and scatter them. More likely, John meant the wolf seized one, causing the others to scatter in panic. This editorial clause interrupts the flow of the sentence, as the subject changed from the hired hand, to the wolf, and back to the hired hand in 10:13.

What defined true Christian leadership? In this passage, Jesus pointed to himself as the model. He was willing to put himself in harms way for his followers. Jesus exemplified a highly esteemed cultural value for his time: loyalty. His loyalty would extend to his own death. Any follower who desired leadership in the Christian community should be willing to face the same fate. They must be loyal to the Lord and his followers, no matter the cost.

Unlike the loyal leader, the hireling played to the audience, but fled at the sight of any danger. Notice that the hireling's courage and personal integrity were questioned. Jesus inferred leadership would be tested. Indeed, any who aspired to leadership must be willing to be tested. With testing came disappointment and the possibility of disillusionment. After all, to walk in the footsteps of the Master meant a journey to the cross. The entire journey would bring joy and pain. Sometimes on a day by day basis.

Notice, like many of the other passages from John, Jesus painted two contrasting pictures of spiritual leadership: the loyal leader and the coward. But, underneath the contrasting pictures, Jesus emphasized leadership was a process of ongoing choices between self-giving and selfish preservation. The loyal leader died for his (or her) flock (even a little each day) in to hope of resurrection. But, the hireling didn't want to die for flock, because he (or she) had another agenda. How did a Christian leader know if he (or she) was a good shepherd? The shepherd empowered the sheep to an intimate relationship with the Lord and his Father. This was the value for which one would willingly give up his (or her) life.

14 I am the good shepherd;
I know mine and mine know me,
15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father,
and I lay my life down on behalf of the sheep.

16 I have sheep who that are not from this sheep corral;
and those it is necessary for me to lead;
they will hear my call and they will become one flock (with) one shepherd.

10:14-15 "I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father . . . " The verb "to know" referred to intimacy. Notice Jesus was the central figure. Acting as an intermediary (actually a "patron"), he is intimate with his followers and with the Father. Also notice he "knows" his followers as the Father "knows" him. In other words, Jesus has an intimate union with his followers through his divinity. As the Son of God, Jesus offered his followers participation with his divine nature.

10:16 "this sheep corral" is literally "this courtyard." The phrase referred to a fenced area. In a residence, the courtyard formed the living area (many times with a garden or vineyard) surrounded on three sides by living quarters. (A courtyard from a Spanish style home illustrates this design). In the case of sheep or cattle, the area referred to a corral or pen.

John 10:14 inferred Jesus had an intermediary role. He was like a social patron, a political and social contact between lower class and upper class families. In a culture of extended families, relations between these families (especially between families of different economic classes) depended upon patrons, people who knew "important people" and who could "get things done." Families in lower classes used patrons to gain favor and protection from the ruling families. Rulings families would use patrons to collect taxes, profits, or bribes from the lower class. The patronage system was the glue of ancient societies.

The patron "knew" his clients. In negotiations, the patron knew the needs and the secrets of each party, since patron was, in many cases, a lifelong partner. In the same way, Jesus "knew" his Father, especially since he was the only Son of the Father. He could model himself as the ideal patron, for who knew the Father better than the Son?

What sort of "patron" would be Jesus? A devoted shepherd, who called each sheep by name, who loved each sheep as a favorite pet, whose loyalty to his flock meant putting himself in danger. His intense devotion and loyalty would even gather other sheep into the fold. (After all, Jesus himself is the one who evangelizes; we are merely his instruments).

Like many other passages, John used several different images and analogies to make a point (indeed, several points!). He merged the patron and the shepherd together to make a point about a relationship between the believer and God. Not merely was Jesus the patron between the two. His relationship with the Father became the model and substance of his relationship with his followers. The love between the Father and the Son was divine. In the same way, the Son offered his followers the same divine love. A love so great Jesus would even give up his life for those he gathered. As he loved his followers, they were to love in return.

17 Because of this, the Father loves me
because I lay my life down, so I might take it (up) again.

18 No one lifts it (away) from me,
but I lay it down (away) from myself.

I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it (up) again.

I received this command from my Father.

10:17 "Because of this" Jesus referred to his life-giving devotion and his leadership of "other sheep."

"Because of this . . . because I lay my life down, so I might take it (up) again." Jesus gave two reasons for his Father's love, his devotion/leadership and his death/resurrection. In one sense, both reasons are the same. The devotion and leadership of Jesus were definitively found in his death and resurrection. Only through his death could Jesus become the Lord of all.

10:18 "I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it (up) again." Not only the quality of his love, but the power over life itself inferred his divine nature.

The Father's love was his command to Jesus: give of yourself completely. The death of Jesus would be the sign of the Father's command/love. In these short verses, "I lay my life down" was mentioned five times. It became the thread through which the believer was to understand the devotion of Jesus. That devotion (and the power that flowed from it) came from the Father. That devotion wants to fill us now.

Catechism Theme: Christ Offered Himself to the Father (CCC 606-609)

The Resurrection was a mere aspect of Christ's self-giving mission. Jesus came from the Father (his birth). He did the Father's will on earth (his ministry). And he gave himself back to the Father (his death, resurrection, and ascension). In every step, he loved and gave all for others. In every step, Jesus revealed the face of the Father to the world.

Notice Jesus was not only the intermediary. He embodied the Father's offer of love and our positive response. That is the reason his death forgave sins once and for all. In his death, we find the Father's love for us and we find our perfect response to that love. He did it all for us. We could never add to or improve upon his sacrifice.

Have you ever felt the Lord lift your burden? Or the loving care of the Lord? Describe this experience.

Jesus gave his all for us. He did it for love. The love he had for the Father. The love he had for all people. In that love he claimed his place as the Good Shepherd.

We are to shepherd in the same fashion, to sacrifice out of love. We are to lead by giving of self for the good of others. More important, we are to lead in a way that brings others to Christ and through Christ to the Father. So we can lead in this fashion, we need to sacrifice self interest and ego. But the rewards of love make that sacrifice worth the cost.

What sacrifices have you had to make to lead others to Christ? What sacrifices are you willing to make now? Look to the next week. Plan your sacrifice for the good of others.