Thoughts from the Early Church

Commentary by Basil of Seleucia

The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. (Jn 10:11)

“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” For the sake of his flock the shepherd was sacrificed as though he were a sheep. He did not refuse death; he did not destroy his executioners as he had the power to do, for his passion was not forced upon him. He laid down his life for his sheep of his own free will.

“I have the power to lay it down,” he said, “and I have the power to take it up again.”

By his passion he made atonement for our evil passions, by his death he cured our death, by his tomb he robbed the tomb, by the nails that pierced his flesh he destroyed the foundations of hell.

Death held sway until Christ died. The grave was bitter, our prison was indestructible, until the shepherd went down and brought to his sheep, confined there, the good news of their release.

His appearance among them gave them a pledge of their resurrection and called them to a new life beyond the grave. “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep and so seeks to win their love.”

Now to love Christ means to obey his commands. The shepherd knows how to separate goats from sheep. The Gospel says that “all nations will be assembled before him and he will separate people from one another, as the Good Shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right hand, and the goats on his left, and he will say to those on his right hand, 'Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.'”

What had they done to earn this invitation? “I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me.” What you give to those who are mine, you will receive back from me. Because they are naked, strangers, homeless, and poor, so am I, and in supplying their needs you show kindness to me. It is I who am afflicted when they cry out.

Win the judge over by gifts before you come to trial. Provide him with grounds for showing clemency, give him some reason to acquit you. Otherwise you will be among those on his left hand who hear the terrible sentence: “Depart from me with your curse upon you to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

What are the sins for which we would be condemned with the devil? I was hungry and you gave me no food; I was thirsty and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not welcome me; naked and you did not clothe me.

Who could turn away from his own shepherd when he was hungry, or fail to notice when his future judge lacked necessary clothing? Who could condemn the judge of the whole world to suffer thirst?

Christ will accept even the gift of the poor and for a small gift grant remission of long punishment.

Let us put out the fire with mercy and avert the sentence that hangs over us by showing love for one another. Let us be compassionate toward one another and forgiving, as God has forgiven us in Christ.

To him be glory and power for ever. Amen.

Homily 26, 2: PG 85, 306-07

Basil of Seleucia (c. 459) became archbishop of Seleucia about the year 440. He is remembered for his fluctuating attitude in the events which preceded the Council of Chalcedon in 451. He voted against Monophysitism at the Synod of Constantinople in 448, but at the "Robber Synod" of Ephesus in 449 gave his support to Eutyches, the originator of Monophysitism. Then at the Council of Chalcedon he signed the Tome of Saint Leo, which condemned Eutyches. Thirty-nine of Basil's homilies have been preserved. They show his concern to place the exegesis of his time within the reach of all.

 

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson