by Father Mike Stubbs
Years ago, when I was still in high school, the place of our family business suffered a major fire. It caused so much damage, we had to relocate.
Against the advice of the firefighters, my father dashed into his office to retrieve some business records. Even though the fire had not yet reached that section of the building, he took a major risk in doing that, because of the danger of smoke inhalation. He was willing to take that risk, since it meant a lot for the business.
Sunday’s Gospel reading, John 10: 11-18, calls Jesus “the good shepherd.” It tells us “a good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
Some have interpreted that to mean that the shepherd lays his life on the line — that he is willing to risk his life — for the sake of the sheep.
It would be like a business owner who is willing to take some major risks for the sake of the business, much along the lines of what my father did during the fire.
On the other hand, we would ordinarily not expect an employee to go to such lengths. That is why the Gospel reading contrasts the good shepherd with the hired man:
“A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.”
However, it is not very likely that a business owner would purposefully die for the sake of the business. That would be taking it too far.
Yet, that is exactly what the Gospel later on suggests. In it, Jesus tells us: “I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.”
By these words, Jesus claims responsibility for his own crucifixion. At the same time, he also claims control over his resurrection, which will reverse the outcome of his death.
He lays down his life “in order to take it up again.” Taking up his life again means rising from the dead.
Our good shepherd is extremely responsible. He is able to live up to his responsibilities because of the powers that God has endowed him with:. “I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.”