John’s use of Metaphors

According to George Bradford Caird, ―Metaphor is a lens; it is as though the speaker were saying, ‘Look through this and see what I have seen, something you would never have noticed without the lens! Metaphors play a significant role in the Johannine Gospel.27 Many of the great Johannine metaphors emerge in conversations. The usage of metaphors per se is neither a modern trend nor only limited to the theological domain. In fact, much of everyday language is metaphorical. According to J. Joubert, ―the Johannine Gospel is well known for its wealth and depth of figurative language, metaphors, and symbols.

John uses many different images. Some of the most prominent Johannine images are lamb, king, bread, sheep, shepherd, vine, eating and drinking, and so forth. In order for the evangelist to show the Christological focus of the Gospel, he uses the ―I am‖ + predicate sayings. These seven sayings do not merely reveal Jesus‘ essence but rather ―reflect his dealings with humans. In each of these seven sayings what Christ does for human beings is identified with a metaphor.

In the Old Testament, the political leaders of the people are described as the

shepherd‘s  of  God‘s  people  and  nation  (e.g.,  Ezekiel  34;  Jeremiah  10:21;  23:1-2).

Brueggemann explains,

The term ‘shepherd’ is a conventional metaphor in the ancient world for king, indicating the responsibility of the king to guard, feed, nurture, and protect the flock: that is, the community over which he presides. With the use of this metaphor, we are now able to see how the entire narrative of David‘s rise is staged from shepherd boy (1 Sam 16:11) to shepherd king.

This goes to show that in the OT the metaphor of shepherd and sheep introduces an entire theory of government and power. But power ought to be used in the spirit of service.

Prophet Ezekiel has indicted false leaders who seek their own good rather than the good of the flock: ―Ah. You shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? (Ezek 34:2).     Even Jeremiah has this to say of the leaders of the nation: ―Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! Says the Lord‖ (Jer 23:1). It is no wonder then that Jesus in John 10 is presented to us as the ‗Good Shepherd/King‘ whose death is interpreted as a complete sacrifice of the shepherd for the sheep: ―the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11).

Thus, according to Brueggemann, ―the metaphor is pushed to its interpretive limit, a limit obviously not approached by David. Raymond E. Brown states that ―in John there is a mixture of metaphors offerings different ways of looking at the same reality: Jesus is the gate by which the shepherd goes to the sheep, and by which the sheep come into the fold and go out to pasture; and Jesus is the model shepherd who both knows his sheep by name and willing to lay down his life for them.

The identity of Jesus as the shepherd-king in the Fourth Gospel creates as struggle over authority with the Jewish leaders of his time, ultimately leading to his death. The character of Jesus as shepherd-king extends to the disadvantaged and marginalized, providing justice to the oppressed and indicating the uncaring ‘hired hands’ who neglect them and the ‘thieves’ and ‘robbers’ who oppress them. Kingly justice requires a response of just action and holy self-sacrifice for those who would listen to the Good Shepherd act like his sheep.

While the passage under scrutiny (10:1-21) has similarities with the immediately preceding chapter (John 9), still one can say that there is a great difference in the symbolisms used by the author: ―John 9 employs the symbol of light for Jesus while John 10 uses the symbol of shepherd for Jesus.

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