Monday, October 24, 2016

The Good Shepherd Is Not to Be Spiritualized

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing 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 the sheep.
John 10:10-15
The Gospel context and the cultural intertexts show that Jesus' use of the good shepherd image contests the leadership of those who administer the imperial system. The image is not to be spiritualized, as Kanagaraj does in claiming that the bad shepherds "steal people away from the path of obedience to Christ possibly by offering wrong teaching and theology." It is not primarily a matter of teaching and theology but rather societal injustice and exploitative leadership practices. These leaders cannot be good shepherds because they rule to benefit themselves materially and harm the people materially. No matter what they claim, they do not provide life and are not willing to give their lives for the life of society. They steal food, shelter, clothing, health, and safety from the people. They are illegitimate and violent rulers. Jesus-believers in Ephesus, urges the Gospel, cannot follow such violent "strangers." Violence is forbidden to Jesus' followers (John 18:36). They must "flee from" them and follow the good shepherd, whose voice they know (John 10:4-5). Happy accommodation with a thieving, illegitimate, violent, destructive, and life-threatening imperial system is not possible. They are called to an alternative allegiance in an antisociety, with a different set of practices. The title "good shepherd" as a descriptor of Jesus in contrast to imperial and allied leaders forms part of the Gospel's rhetoric of distance.

--Warren Carter, John and Empire: Initial Explorations, p.187-188

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