Jesus said: ‘I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep.
The hired man, since he is not the shepherd and the sheep do not belong to him, abandons the sheep and runs away as soon as he sees a wolf coming, and then the wolf attacks and scatters the sheep; this is because he is only a hired man and has no concern for the sheep.
‘I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep.
And there are other sheep I have that are not of this fold, and these I have to lead as well. They too will listen to my voice, and there will be only one flock, and one shepherd.
‘The Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me; I lay it down of my own free will, and as it is in my power to lay it down, so it is in my power to take it up again; and this is the command I have been given by my Father.’
Gospel for the 4th Sunday of Easter
These days the words about ‘other sheep not of this fold’ are often understood as referring to other Christian communities, divided from one another because of, well all sorts of reasons – including cultural difference, theological dispute – but separated despite their basic unity through the one baptism that most (if not all) Christian communities acknowledge.
And yet maybe those differences and distinctions are not what Jesus (and/or John) have in mind. Maybe the reference is to those other members of the human family who do not profess faith in Christ at all, or even in the One God professed by Jews, Christians and Muslims.
The unity for which Jesus works may easily be broader than we perhaps too narrowly conceive of it. Inspired by his example many may find encouragement and the freedom to live a life lived for love of neighbour, without (yet) being ready to profess faith in Jesus, or live as formal members of his Church. Let us be ready to find common purpose with them, and rejoice in those things which we find we share, rather than be distracted by the things which distinguish us.
Stained glass. Eindhoven, Netherlands. (c) 2003, Allen Morris.