The verses that we read from St. John’s Gospel today follow immediately after the verses that we heard on Sunday, known as Good Shepherd Sunday. In my homily on Sunday, I emphasized the fact that Jesus would never abandon us. Today’s passage takes that point a little further as Jesus pronounces: “My sheep hear my voice;. . . no one can take them out of my hand.” In other words, not only can we place our trust in Jesus the Shepherd, he also tells us that the wolves that might wish to attack us will not be able to steal his sheep away.
The wolves that attack sheep are simply acting out of their hunger. All animals are both predators and prey. So when we hear Jesus speaking of wolves which attack his sheep, we can be sure that he is not referring to the natural enemies of sheep. He is, in fact, speaking of other human beings who choose to use or misuse their brothers and sisters to satisfy their greed, their lust, and their cravings for power. The men who question Jesus today are looking for the Messiah because they need someone to lead them in a revolt over the Roman occupation. They are not seeking a Messiah who cares for the poor, who preaches mercy and forgiveness of sins, and who reveals the love of God for the people. They are acting out of their own desire for power and wealth.
This is reflected in the first reading as well. A persecution has begun after the death of Stephen, a persecution that has the same motives underlying it that brought about Jesus’s death on a cross. So the followers of Jesus flee to Gentile territory to avoid the persecution. Remarkably, the citizens of Antioch receive the message of the Christian way of life favorably. The missionary activity of the disciples of Jesus in the Gentile territory did not begin as a way to convert Gentiles. However, when the Jewish Christians saw that their message resonated with these people, what began as a way to avoid persecution became a missionary effort to bring all people to faith in Jesus.
Wolves are still present in our world today. Human trafficking, ethnic cleansings, religious persecutions, and war and violence are wolves that attack us today. Following in the footsteps of Jesus means doing all we can to thwart the wolves of today’s world with confidence in Jesus’ promise. Nothing can take us out of his hand.