John (Part 34): The Good Shepherd (ch 10)
Jesus’ summary statement in 9:39 actually initiates the conversation that follows. As mentioned, when Jesus talked with the healed man, they were not alone. Some Pharisees were around as well listening and judging. Jesus statement had talked of judgment. He said he came for judgment. Note that he doesn’t say that he came to judge. The reason is probably emphasis. The point here is that it will be on the basis of belief in him whether a person will be judged as within or without the New Covenant. Note that judgment will be made by this; it is not that God has already judged. Jesus has come for the judgment because it depends on response to the light—revelation. The end of his statement shows a stylistic dance, but it should not be taken too literally. There are not two groups—one not seeing that see and one seeing that becomes blind. Technically all are blind. But Jesus is distinguishing between those who trust in themselves and those who trust in him. The ones trusting in Jesus admit personal blindness and are given sight/understanding. The ones trusting in self claiming sight are not given further revelation in order to see.
The Pharisees immediately recognize that in his seeing / blind metaphor, Jesus is talking about understanding spiritual truth. They may have taken his statement as an insult to them, but I doubt it. These men are too arrogant to recognize that not only is Jesus including them with the blind, but they are the very focus of his statement. They, in thinking they see, assume Jesus is talking about the unperceiving people in the general rabble of the citizenry. Chuckling, then, they nod while saying, “You don’t mean us, right?” and look for his confirmation. Notice also that they say, “Not us, too.” In other words, they expect those who don’t understand to be part of the general rabble, but they are better—above—smarter—more spiritual. This disdain for those for whom they are charged with caring and leading is the very point that launches us into the good shepherd story of the next chapter.
Jesus responds highlighting the paradox in his metaphor. The matter is one of perspective versus reality. If they think they can see (think they understand truth based on their selfish condition), they will never see in actuality (i.e., realize they are in reality blind so that Jesus can give them truth, goodness, and beauty through revelation). And, thus, their sin remains.
The chapter division here is stuck in to start the illustration but is misleading. It is not a break in thought to a new discussion. Jesus is illustrating to the group of listeners, which include the healed man, his disciples, the Pharisees, and others gathered around (but especially focusing on the Pharisees), the contrast between himself and the Jewish leaders.
Some scholars view this illustration, however, as given at a separate time, and certainly that is possible. We have a style change from polemical in chapter 9 to allegorical in chapter 10. Of course, that alone does not necessitate a break in conversation. But looking ahead to verse 22, we do see a time and scene change, and verse 26 brings up the sheep/shepherd illustration again, making some scholars believe that 10:1-21 also took place during the Feast of Dedication. However, it seems more likely to me that the illustration in 10:1-21 takes place immediately after the chapter 9 discussion, and the break in verse 21 does indicate the chronological break. Jesus has used the sheep/shepherd illustration before and it is also a familiar metaphor from the Old Testament with which the people ought to be familiar. So bringing it up later is no difficulty. Also, 10:21 (after the illustration is given) seems to point back to the chapter 9 man’s healing, which would be a difficult tie to understand if the incident is separated by several months.
Whatever the case of timing, the thematic connection holds. The attitude and actions of Jesus, especially toward this blind man, is contrasted with the attitude and actions of the Pharisees in regard to the man. Jesus is presented as the good shepherd, whereas the Pharisees are shown as doing evil—first as thieves and then as hired men. The first point of connection is in the action of casting out. The Pharisees cast the man out in 9:34. They excluded him from the covenant community—the fold. The word used here is the Greek ejkbavllw, which does mean exactly that—to cast or throw out. (The Greek is made from the prefix ek meaning out and ballo [from which we get our word ball] meaning throw.) The same Greek word is used for what Jesus does to the sheep except with a markedly different approach and attitude. The good shepherd, in 10:3b also “brought all his own outside,” in other words, he “puts them forth” (ejkbavllw), but he “leads them out” and “goes ahead of them” as he takes them to pasture. So the Pharisees had cast them aside while the good shepherd also takes them out (a picture of living through this sin environment) but will be with them and cares for them as they go along.
It is often taught that the Gospel of John has no parables in it like the Synoptics do. However, we get to this story in chapter 10 and find something very similar. In 10:6 we have a word that the KJV actually translates as parable, although most other modern translations put in figure of speech for this word (NIV, ESV, NASB). The HCSB uses illustration. The Greek here is paroimiva as opposed to parabolh, or parable, as in the Synoptics. The literal meaning isn’t much different (thinking alongside versus tossing out alongside), and so the point in their use is not much different—they are basically both illustrations. Some scholars want to differentiate as one would between an allegory and a parable in English—one is an extended metaphor while the other is an extended simile, but I’m not sure that those distinctions would hold up in all the parables of the Synoptics. Perhaps a parabole has somewhat more of a plot line than the paromia, but even that is debatable.
This allegory of sheep and shepherd is familiar to the Jews because it is provided numerous times in the Old Testament. God is shown to be the good shepherd in Psalm 23; 79:13; 80:1; 95:7; Isaiah 40:1; and Ezekiel 34:11-16, 25-31. The Messiah is also shown to be a good shepherd in Isaiah 44:28 and Ezekiel 34:23-24. And even Israel’s leaders are depicted as shepherds (although not as good ones) in Ezekiel 34:1-10.
I mention that the symbolism is familiar to the Jews just to clarify the comment in verse 6. There it says that the crowd did not understand what he was telling them. What they did not understand was not the illustration itself or that it applied to leaders (God, Messiah, Jewish leaders) and the people. They heard the allegorical references before. But they did not understand the contrast Jesus was drawing between himself and the Pharisees. But knowing (and understanding and seeing) is the focused point of this allegory as it was all through the narrative of chapter 9.