4th Sunday of Easter, Year A.
Acts 2:14, 36-41 – 1Pet 2:20-25 – John 10:1-10.
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. Good Shepherd Sunday is when we celebrate Jesus as the Good Shepherd of His flock which comprises all of us who love Him and try to follow Him. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who will never allow any of His sheep to be lost. Whenever we are lost, He goes in search of us.
The Old Testament perception of a shepherd is that of a man who spends his whole life with his sheep, taking care of them, raising them, loving them, healing them and protecting them from harm night and day. The Israelites applied this image of the shepherd to their relationship with God, whom they called their Shepherd. There are many psalms that mention God as the Shepherd of Israel, the most well-known of them being Psalm 23. You may also be familiar with the imagery of God as Shepherd in Ezekiel chapter 34, where God promised to rescue His people from wicked shepherds who preyed upon them: how He was going to retrieve His sheep from them and shepherd them Himself, because the earthly shepherds had left them neglected, unloved, malnourished and at the mercy of predators. It is Jesus, the Son of God, who is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11) that was promised. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who will lead us to good pasture.
In the Gospel reading, we hear Jesus using a second shepherding image to refer to Himself. “I am the Gate of the Sheepfold” He declared. Jesus is the gate to new life for us, new life that is the life of grace. Let us unpack this concept so that we can understand it better.
The ‘sheepfold’ was a protected area in a field where the sheep were herded together overnight. The sheepfold was usually built of rocks to a height that the sheep could not get over. There was only one way in and out and of the sheepfold, and that was through the ‘door’. There was no actual door or gate in place, though. There was just an opening between the rocks that walled the sheep in together. Overnight, when the sheep were inside, the shepherd would sleep across the opening. In that position, the shepherd would be woken by any predator or rustler trying to get at the sheep through that ‘doorway’. Nobody of evil intent would want to alert the shepherd to his presence, which is why Jesus says, “anyone who does not enter the sheepfold through the gate, but gets in some other way, is a thief and a brigand.” The shepherd lay alongside his sheep in a position designed to protect them against predators. Since they were always together, the sheep knew the voice of the Shepherd and the shepherd was so close to the sheep that he got to know each one of them. Consequently, when the shepherd called and led them each day, the sheep recognised him and followed only him. Our relationship with Jesus is as close as that!
So today, Jesus teaches us that He is both the Shepherd who takes care of us and protects us, and the Gate to fellowship with God, in Whom is eternal life, security, comfort and rest.
Jesus’ promise to us today is: “anyone who enters through Me will be safe: he will go freely in and out and be sure of finding pasture.” What do we understand from this promise?
Firstly, that Jesus promises us salvation through Him. Remember, going back into the sheepfold was what happened at the end of every day. When we understand that we belong to the flock of God, that we come from God and go back to God, we will hear Jesus saying to us, “I am your gateway to eternal life, into heaven, into the glory of the Father and into eternal rest and salvation.”
Secondly, that Jesus’ use of such imagery can be seen as a direct criticism of the Pharisees in the Temple. Jesus continually criticised the Pharisees because their leadership – their shepherding of the people of God – had failed to be to the salvation and the good of those in their care. There was a ‘sheep gate’ on the Northern wall of the Temple, but no sheep that entered by it ever came out again because it had been slain. In Jesus, not even one of us is lost; rather, we gain life eternal, freedom of movement, and a dynamism in the Holy Spirit.
Thirdly, that Jesus assures us His sheep will find pasture – that is, a home, a place or a position where their hunger and thirst will be satisfied. By keeping close to Jesus Christ, the satisfaction of our hunger and thirst day and night is guaranteed. When we are out and about in the world, Jesus is there for us. When we undertake our daily tasks, Jesus is there for us. When night falls, Jesus is there to give us grace and protection. When we find ourselves in sin, we are reconciled to the Father through The Son, Jesus.
I conclude with a reference to the first reading, where the crowd asked Peter, “what must we do?” When we have gone astray like sheep, we too find ourselves asking, “what must we do?” Listen to what Peter said, and you will hear the answer: “you must repent and every one of you must be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ….” Repentance involves a metanoia, a deliberate 180˚ turn with full intent to return to righteousness. Whenever we are lost in sin, whenever we have lost our focus and direction in life, we are under obligation to return to God. How do we do this? By listening out for the voice of our Lord and Good Shepherd Jesus Christ, and by obtaining through Him the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus is indeed the Good Shepherd and the Gate of the Sheepfold; He is the way to God and to glory. Amen. God bless you.