“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and I give them eternal life and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. ” (Jn 10:27-28)
A close examination of our quotation from Sacred Scripture (above) seems to indicate a shifting metaphor. For if the sheep “follow” the shepherd it means that they walk on their own and are not carried. Thus, the entire quotation would be more consistent if it concluded with “and no one shall lead them astray” rather than “and no one shall snatch them out of my hand” (since, as noted, the sheep follow and are not carried).
However, since the Bible is a spiritual work we need to seek a spiritual meaning whenever we spot a grammatical inconsistency, which, if we are patient, will engender our gratitude rather than our criticism, since what first seems a difficult passage will often reveal a profound lesson.
In the book of Deuteronomy we read the expression “there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Dt 32:39). In its context it means that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, and that no one can turn or malign his divine plan. In the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, we find a similar expression: “there is none who can deliver from my hand” (Is 43:13). Here the phrase once again means that no one can hinder the work or providence of God. Hence, when Jesus makes a parallel statement in our quotation He is saying that He is God and that no one can defy his will which is to lead his flock into eternal and imperishable life. Further, when we, the flock, follow Jesus we need not fear of falling behind, for if we do we can be assured that He will lift us up, carry us, and protect us.
Thus, we place on our bulletin cover for this 4th Sunday in Easter a work by the American artist Henry Tanner entitled The Good Shepherd (1903). There are very few allegories as straightforwardly portrayed in art than the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. However, we have chosen a work of Impressionism, an unusual and opaque visual medium for this ordinarily simple theme.
Tanner presents an enigmatic Good Shepherd who before making his flock “to lie down in verdant pastures” (Ps 23:2), must lead it through the “valley of the shadow of death” (Ps 23:4) so represented here by the dark trees and cumbersome hills. In Impressionistic fashion it is the light that is painted; not sunlight in this case, but moonlight which imbues the flock with brilliance as it follows its obscure shepherd over arduous terrain. The flock may not look obviously like a flock because of its lack of linear form; however it is a flock, a unity of form in reflected light moving as one body: behind, below, and around its leader. Neither sheep nor shepherd appears to have legs. They proceed as a singularity of Spirit, the Head and Body of Christ capable of striving forward freely as a distinct and graceful force through the eerie shadow of sin and death.
“ … At the sight of you the mountains writhed… The sun forgot to rise; the moon left its lofty station… You came forth to save your people.” (Hab 3:10, 11, 13)
–Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services