“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
In the Gospel according to St. John, Jesus makes several statements about himself to try to inform and reinforce his message to those willing to hear.
To begin, it’s best to see why these statements had such an impact on his hearers.In the 3rd chapter of The Exodus, Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro. Moses had gone from a favored administrator in the court of Pharaoh, to a lowly shepherd. He led the flock to Mt. Horeb, the mountain of God, as we are told.
There, the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire of out the midst of a bush; the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.
The LORD spoke to Moses, and told him that he had heard the cries for help from his people, and he had seen their affliction.
He instructed Moses to go to Pharaoh to let the people go out of Egypt, and into the promised land.
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
The Name of God is “I Am.” Simple enough, right? It’s not a name that we are familiar with, but we have heard the Hebrew form of the Name, which is Yahweh.
In most of the books of the Old Testament, the name is translated as LORD, with all capital letters. The Jews followed the 2nd Commandment against using the LORD’s Name in vain, so they did not say it out loud during worship. They used the word LORD instead.
Being intimately familiar with Yahweh, or the LORD, as he was his Father, Jesus used the Name of God in ways that would inform his hearers, and at the same time, upset the Pharisees.
Every time he used the Name, I AM, he was equating himself with God, and affirming his relationship with God as the Son of the Father. There are seven such statements in the Gospel of St. John;
I am the bread of Life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35)
I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. (John 8:12)
I am the Gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. (John 10:90)
I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me will live. (John 11:25)
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
And, as we heard today, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Not only does Jesus use the sacred Name of God, he also calls himself the Good Shepherd.