The Beautiful Shepherd of John 10:11
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” - The Gospel of John 10:11
The biblical figure of shepherd-king...is totally fulfilled in Jesus Christ in the sacrificial dimension, in the offering of life. In a word, it is brought about in the mystery of the Cross, that is, in the supreme act of humility and oblative love. - Pope Benedict XVI
“Beauty will save the world,” is a quote from the great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881). In his book The Idiot, it is “attributed to the main character, Prince Myskin. The prince, an epileptic Russian nobleman, serves as a Christ-like figure, who stands apart for his innocence and even naiveté.”1 Dostoyevsky’s own religiosity has long been a topic of those interested in his life and work; while coming from a family background of Russian Orthodox and Ruthenian Catholic heritage, and while remaining an official member of the Orthodox Church, his personal religious interests were quite eclectic. However, what stands out is his attachment to the person of Jesus Christ; he once wrote, “even if truth lay outside Christ, I should choose to remain with Christ rather than with the truth.”2 It should be said, he found no greater truth in his often turbulent life.
Pope Francis in his first encyclical Lumen Fidei, reflects on Dostoevsky’s understanding of salvation in Christ, as portrayed in his work The Idiot:
In Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, Prince Myskin sees a painting by Hans Holbein the Younger depicting Christ dead in the tomb and says: “Looking at that painting might cause one to lose his faith.” The painting is a gruesome portrayal of the destructive effects of death on Christ’s body. Yet it is precisely in contemplating Jesus’ death that faith grows stronger and receives a dazzling light; then it is revealed as faith in Christ’s steadfast love for us, a love capable of embracing death to bring us salvation. This love, which did not recoil before death in order to show its depth, is something I can believe in; Christ’s total self-gift overcomes every suspicion and enables me to entrust myself to him completely.3
Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008), who was for a time in prison and later expelled from Soviet Russia for his writings against the totalitarianism of the Soviet government, said during his Noble Prize speech that, “Dostoevsky’s remark. ‘Beauty will save the world,’ was not a careless phrase but a prophecy.”4 Saint John Paul II, also had reference to this prophetic sentence, when writing to artists he reminded them that, “it has been said with profound insight that, “beauty will save the world.”5
A Brief Consideration of the Language of the New Testament
There are two realities that are often overlooked when reading the Sacred Scriptures; first that we are normally reading them in translation, and secondly that the language of the Bible, be it the Hebrew of the Old Testament or the Greek of the Old and New Testament, were at that time living languages that developed and changed just like our own modern languages.
The Koine Greek6 of the New Testament may be understood as Near Eastern Greek or semitized Koine, strongly influenced by Aramaic and Hebrew. Chronologically it would be classified as that of the early Christians era (1st to the 3d centuries A.D.),
and even here we can distinguish between the popular Greek of Mark, and the cultured Greek of the Letter to the Hebrews.7 Therefore the New Testament, and all of Sacred Scripture is rich in its linguistic heritage, and its depth of meaning can often get lost in translation.
While almost all translations of John 10:11 speak of the “Good Shepherd,” the original Greek uses the word (kalos), meaning also Beautiful, or even Lovely. Therefore the translation could also be “I am the beautiful shepherd,” and this beautiful shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. While (kalos) is used here as an adjective, in its verb form it conveys the meaning of attractiveness, expressing how that which is beautiful draws the attention and devotion of those who encounter it.
Jesus Christ is the Beautiful Shepherd who reveals to us, as the Word (Logos) of the Father, the Goodness and Beauty of God. He is both the Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, and the “Lamb who was slain”. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we are drawn to the Beauty of Christ, and by that same Spirit we encounter the Beautiful Savior in the Sacraments.
In Jesus Christ our attraction to his beauty and goodness is not merely an emotional response to God, but the transformation of our Being. As St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit.” The Word who became Flesh, the Beautiful Shepherd, restores our beauty the beauty lost through sin, and in restoring our beauty he also transforms it by his Cross and Resurrection, to become a beauty graced with immortality. As so many of the Fathers of the Church (Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr, Theophilus of Antioch, Hippolytus of Rome, Athanasius of Alexandria, Gregory of Nysa, Augustine of Hippo, Maximus the Confessor, Gregory the Nazianzus, et al.) point to the fullness of Christ’s mission as that of saving us (Atonement) and transforming us (Theosis/Deification). As Clement of Alexandria eloquently expressed this mystery:
But that man with whom the Word dwells does not alter himself, does not get himself up: he has the form which is of the Word; he is made like to God; he is beautiful; he does not ornament himself: his is beauty, the true beauty, for it is
God; and that man becomes God, since God so wills. Heraclitus, then, rightly
said, “Men are gods, and gods are men.” For the Word Himself is the manifest mystery: God in man, and man God.8
The Beautiful Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep, so that we can have life and life abundantly, in which our beauty is re-fashioned to be like His who saves us, to become beings constituted by Love. “Beauty Will Save The World!”
Rev. David A. Fisher
1 Staudt, R. Jared, Crisis Magazine, July 10, 2013, p. 1
2 Jones, Malcolm V. Dostoevsky And the Dynamics of Religious Experience, Anthem Press, 2005, p.7
3 Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei, June 29, 2013 no. 16
4 Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Noble Laureate for Literature Speech, 1970
5 St. John Paul II, Lett er to Artists, April 4, 1999 no. 16
6 Koine Greek means common Greek, as compared to philosophical Greek. It is the Greek spread around the world by Alexander the Great’s conquests and for many centuries was the universal language of anyone with an education or anyone involved in trade.
7 For a more in-depth explanation see, The Blackwell Companion to the Bible, edited by David E. Aune, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, 2010.
8 Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book III, Chapter One, quoted here from NewAdven- t.org