'My sheep listen to my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never die. No one will steal them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than anyone. No one can steal them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.’
”My sheep listen to my voice. I know them, and they follow me.“ (cf. verse 27)
Today's Gospel is a very short but nevertheless wonderful text. It contains a wonderful promise of the Lord. It is preceded by the confrontation with the Jews who have seen his signs but do not believe his word. Jesus even says very clearly: Because you do not belong to my sheep, you do not believe.
Jesus contrasts the unbelief of the Jews with the behaviour of those who belong to his sheep, those who listen to Jesus: "My sheep listen to my voice." "Listening" has to do with obedience. If I belong to him, then I also have the desire to do only his will, because I know that he means well with me. The shepherd lives and dies for his sheep. That is why I can totally surrender myself to this shepherd. "My sheep" are those who trust the shepherd who gives himself up for them. And that is why they listen to him. Are we also among his sheep? Do we listen to him in the certainty that he means well with us?
But where do people today still listen to Christ in his disciples and in his Church? For it is through them that he speaks to us today. The Pope, the bishops and the priests have taken over his shepherding ministry and he said to Peter: "You now feed my sheep and lead and guide them. In another place he says quite clearly: He who hears you hears me. He who despises you despises me and him who sent me. How much disobedience do we experience today - also among Christians - towards the one who was given this shepherding office by Jesus? Do we still listen to his voice? Only those who belong to him can believe, Jesus says. The verse preceding the Gospel text says: "You do not believe because you do not belong to my sheep," (Jn 10:26) because you do not entrust yourselves to me as shepherds. We too must examine ourselves honestly: Am I listening to Christ as he speaks to me today, i.e. through the one to whom he has entrusted his shepherding ministry, through Peter, the present Pope, always the very concrete person whom Jesus has called to speak through him?
Then Jesus clearly names who belongs to him, namely those whom he knows. "To know" in this biblical sense means to see through someone completely and to be completely committed to them. So these words describe a pure relationship to each other.
"I give them eternal life, and they will never die. No one will steal them out of my hand.“ (cf. verse 28)
Now comes this great assurance and promise of Jesus. In it he also describes his care for his own. He knows them, is familiar with them and protects them. This is his pastoral care. Jesus here gives the assurance that His own cannot be robbed of the possession of salvation. "They shall never perish." If we belong to Christ and are surrendered to him in the sense of "belonging to him entirely of our own free will" no one will be able to rob us of the possession of salvation. We can only voluntarily throw it away ourselves, as it also says in the Secret Revelation, but no one can rob it from us. This is a very important promise: no one can simply rob us of this possession of salvation against our will.
"My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than anyone. No one can steal them out of my Father’s hand.“ (cf. verse 29)
At this point it becomes clear that the power of Jesus that protects His own is actually the power of the Father, who is much greater than all the people and powers that threaten the sheep. Jesus gives them a safeguard, so to speak. For they are the sheep of the Father, whom the Father has entrusted to him, so that he might accomplish his work of salvation on them and redeem them. In the argument with the Jews, Jesus constantly invokes this will and the authority of the Father, to whom the sheep belong.
Jesus is already speaking here in the Upper Room in view of his act of redemption. For the sheep, the thought of the death of the shepherd, of which Jesus spoke again and again, is already in the background. What will happen when Jesus, the shepherd to whom the Father has entrusted us, is dead? Jesus gives a clear answer: when the Son goes into suffering and death, the Father himself will again take over the protection of the disciples. That is why Jesus prays in Jn 17:11: "Holy Father, keep them in your name which you have given me," - because he himself is no longer in this world through death.
"I and the Father are one.“ (cf. verse 30)
After Jesus' emphasised assurance of his own care for the sheep and after the promise that the power of the Father will preserve them, Jesus now emphasises his unity with the Father: "I and the Father are one". This formulation surpasses everything Jesus has already said so far in John's Gospel about his relationship with the Father. In leading the sheep and protecting them, unity suddenly becomes oneness because the sheep belong to both of them together and are included in their fellowship. Jesus says: No one can snatch them from my hand. The Father has given them to me, but they belong to the Father and no one can snatch them from the Father's hand, for he is stronger than all attackers. The sheep are, as it were, in one hand. They are taken into this unity between Father and Son. That is something wonderful. We belong to both, but both are one.
With this sentence, we are given a glimpse into the mystery of the relationship between Father and Son. One cannot meditate enough on this and contemplate it. This is exactly what Christian mystics have experienced throughout the centuries: this growing into and being taken into the unity of Father and Son. Here the mystic experiences, as it were, that he is one with the Father, with the Son and with the Holy Spirit and that he participates in their mutual love. The Father thus loves the Son in me and the Son loves the Father in me, for my human love is far too weak to love God properly. It is the love of God Himself in me, of the Father for the Son and of the Son for the Father, for I belong to both. This is a wonderful mystery that we should contemplate again and again.
So let us take with us from today's Gospel the assurance: If we belong to his sheep, i.e. belong to him completely, have given ourselves completely to him and trust him completely, as sheep do to the shepherd, then no one, no power in the world can snatch us away from the hand of either the Father or the Son. We are taken into this unity of Father and Son. The most we can do is voluntarily throw away what we have received. ∎