A Reflection on John 10:11-18 by the Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy
Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away-- and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care 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. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father."
Last week I had the pleasure and privilege to gather in Arizona with sixteen of the RevGals for the second annual Big Event (BE 2.0). Our speaker was the Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney, who presented on the women prophets. Wil had us do a Bible study exercise that many of us found particularly enlightening and interesting. We were asked to take a Scripture passage and remove everything but the pronouns and the verbs, leaving us with the “she-verbs” to ponder. We did a group exercise on this and shared it and we “heard in action” Martha and Mary, Abigail, Esther and other unnamed women whose voices are not always heard or presence noted. We found when we read them aloud to each other that they sounded like poetry and often packed quite a soul punch.
One of the other things Wil said that stuck in my mind is simply using the word “God” for God does not assure inclusivity, as people are just as likely to fall back into male images, and sometimes saying “she” really is the only way to assure that the feminine image of God is held up.
I thought about some of my experiences at the BE as I read the very familiar John passage that is the appointed reading for this Sunday. The first thing I wondered is if there were also “good shepherdesses.” One would assume so. And certainly those attributes of God referred to in the passage in Jesus have no gender beyond that which we impose. So I decided to do the exercise on the passage, taking some license and substituting feminine pronouns….
The good shepherd:
lays down her life
knows her own.
lays down her life
has other sheep
brings them also
lays down her life.
lays it down
Indeed! And amen.