An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A, John 10:1-10
In a collection of essays assessing the Estrada years entitled, Between Fires, edited by Amando Doronilla, Katrina Constantino-David, in “Surviving Erap,” said of Erap’s leadership: “There was no shred of professionalism and decency in his government. Here was a president who did not have any capacity to govern and did not care. Here was an administration where Cabinet members were routinely denied the courtesy of trust and where cronies and relatives treated the state as their own private playground. Here was a government that had squandered all the goodwill and hope that the masses had placed in it. At that moment, I became convinced beyond any doubt that this was an administration I could no longer be part of, and that this was a president who would only bring the entire nation down.” Probably, no one challenged David’s right to criticize Erap’s government. After all, she was an insider, and knew where she spoke. But listen to this: “We stand by the moral conviction,” said the Presbyteral Council of the Archdiocese of Manila, “that [Estrada] has lost the moral ascendancy to govern.” This was said in the last days of the Estrada regime. Some quarters viewed this statement as a form of interference of the Church in what they perceived as an exclusive domain of the State. They thought that Christ never bequeathed to the Church a mission to proclaim a message of such nature.
Nothing, of course, could be farther from the truth. The Church has a prophetic function, and in the Old Testament, the prophets could not, on God’s instruction, remain silent in the face of injustice committed against his people. Prophet Ezekiel accused the political and religious leaders of his time of various offenses which have a very contemporary ring: instead of taking care of the people, they took care of themselves; they enriched themselves in office while the people wallowed in poverty; they failed to look after the sick, the poor and the oppressed; they ruled them harshly and cruelly; and instead of uniting them, they scattered them. If the people suffered in their exile in Babylon, it was the fault of the political and religious leaders who never concerned themselves with the welfare of the people. They were only after their own interest which they identified with the interest of the nation (Ezek 34:1-6).
Himself a prophet, Jesus followed the prophetic tradition. According to John, the leaders misgoverned the nation, as evidenced by the way they treated the man born blind (John 9:1-42). They themselves were blind to the needs of the poor and the disadvantaged, because they chose to see only their advantages and privileges. The fact that John tells us the parable of the good shepherd (John 10:1-6) immediately after the story of the man born blind indicates that, for him, these leaders were blind guides because they failed to recognize God’s work in Jesus who cares for people, even as he cared for the man born blind. Not surprisingly, in today’s Gospel, Jesus carries on the prophetic critique against the political and religious leaders of his time. For him, these leaders of Israel had no claim to real leadership. He calls them thieves and bandits: “Whoever does not enter the sheepfold through the gate but climbs in some other way is a thief and a marauder” (John 10:2). Here it is most likely that Jesus has in mind the Sadducees and the Pharisees, and is probably comparing them with the high priests, the religio-political leaders, at the time of the Maccabees. Of course, the Sadducees controlled the Temple complex, and it is curious as well as instructive that in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus refers to the Temple as a den of thieves (Mark 11:17-18). One wonders whether in Mark, the thieves have reference to the priestly aristocracy that dominated it.
There is something positive, of course, in today’s Gospel. In sharp contrast with them, Jesus presents himself as the shepherd of the sheep (John 10:2b). In depicting Jesus under the image of a shepherd, it is most likely that John is teaching that Jesus fulfills God’s promise that he will send a shepherd after the figure of David. As the true shepherd of Israel, Jesus lays down his life for his people, unlike a thief who seeks their death. Rather than taking advantage of them, he willingly sacrifices his life for them. He takes so much care of them that he knows each by name: “The sheep hear his voice and he calls his own by name, and he leads them out” (John 10:3). But if he is intimately close to his flock, if he wholeheartedly gives up his life for his people, it is because all he wants is to give them life, life in abundance: “I came that they might have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). By life John, of course, means the life that a disciple shares with God, which implies love and unity that prevail in the community of disciples. It is divine life shared among community members.
That is what leadership is all about. It is not about having more (in terms of wealth, power and prestige), but about giving up. This is what biblical language describes as good shepherding. Shepherding applies not only in the Church but also in the secular world—in business and economy, culture and politics. What this means in politics, in the present circumstances, the Bishops of the Philippines put it this way: “We need a President whom the people can look up to, who can inspire confidence and motivate them to unite and conspire towards the common good. Leadership is not the same as popularity or prowess in oratory. Neither is it the capacity to manipulate people towards self-serving ends. Leadership is rather a way of serving that draws people together and draws the best from them so that they dare to forge a better future despite all obstacles” (CBCP, Pastoral Exhortation on the 1998 Elections). In business, to shepherd could, for instance, mean “to attract, retain, and motivate individuals—recognizing their intrinsic differences and lifestyles—and to assist and make possible in every way the achievement of their personal objectives in the accomplishment of our corporate goals.”