“I AM THE DOOR OF THE SHEEP”
Acts 2:14,36-41; 1Pt 2:20-25; John 10:1-10
The 4th Sunday of Easter is called “Good Shepherd Sunday”. It is also called “Vocations Sunday”. The Catholic liturgy provides us with three series of readings for Sunday: Year A, Year B and Year C, each meant to be read in separate years so that we would not have the same reading on the same Sunday every year. But on the fourth Sunday of Easter, all three gospels come from the same chapter of the Gospel of John – John 10. This Chapter principally talks about the good shepherd. For instance, the gospel text of Year A comes from Jn 10:1-10, “I am the door of the sheep”; Year B: Jn 10:11-18, “The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep”; Year C: Jn 10:27-30, “I give my sheep eternal life”. This image of God being a shepherd portrays his personal care towards his people.
Educational counselors tell us that the best way to communicate an idea to people is to use what is called “word pictures”. Jesus, the good teacher, makes great use of that form of communication. He was a Master teacher. He drew attention to what the people understood and then moved them from there to spiritual insights. For instance, he saw a man sowing seeds and told the people that the different soils the seed fell on were like different hearts that receive the Word of God. He said, looking for the Kingdom of God was like looking for a lost coin. He told us that God’s love for us was like that of a Father whose son had left home, wasted his life, and returned asking for forgiveness.
- I AM THE GOOD SHEPERHD
In today’s gospel, Jesus uses the word picture of a shepherd. He depicts us as sheep and he, himself, as the shepherd. He describes the love he has for his flock. “I am the good shepherd,” he says. Then, he lists some things that qualify him to be called the good shepherd.
- a) He is not a hireling. He does not work for pay. Jesus notes the difference between good and hired shepherds. The good shepherd is for the service, the hired shepherd is for the money. The former are few. The latter are aplenty.
- b) Second, the Good Shepherd knows his flock. Nobody likes to be called “What’s-his-name”, “Hey You!” or be treated anonymously. We like to be known, to be recognized and respected. The good Shepherd knows each member of his flock by name. In this respect, Jesus emphasizes the importance of the voice of the shepherd. The voice is significant because the following of the sheep depends on what they hear. By sense of hearing, they can identify the voice and recognize their shepherd. If they hear the right voice, they would follow him. Thus, sheep are known to be “listeners” to their shepherd.
- c) Third, the Good Shepherd will lay down His life for His sheep. That is exactly what Jesus did on the cross. Remember, Jesus once said that no greater love exists in the world that when a person lays down his life for his friend (Jn 15:13). Towards the end of the gospel, Jesus says that he came in order to give us life and that we may have this life more abundantly. His resurrection is a strong proof of fulfillment to his promise: he does not give us a simple life, but an eternal life.
- d) Jesus further emphasizes that he is the gate of the sheepfold. He promises that whoever passes through that gate will be saved. The refrain today’s Responsorial Psalm goes thus: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want” (Ps 23:1). It tells us that God is a protector, a protecting Shepherd.
- THE NATURE OF SHEEP
For the first century Jews, sheep were FOOD and CLOTHING and WEALTH. They were reared to be eaten; their fur was used for warm clothing, and they brought wealth for their owner. But the sheep needed understanding and care in order to provide food and clothing, and to make their owners wealthy.
Psalm 23, today’s responsorial Psalm is beautifully woven together with the second reading and the gospel by the idea of sheep and shepherding. Using the imagery of this psalm, we can understand better the nature of the sheep. It is a lot of work to look after sheep, to be a shepherd. This is particularly difficult work if one wants to love sheep properly and care for them correctly. First of all, sheep, as it were, have “small of brain”. They are not very smart. Sheep are laid back creatures, totally unaware of danger, no sense of direction, needing 24/7 watch. Besides that, they are generally fearful. They panic easily. For this reason, they are very jumpy. The shepherd must be on his feet always. Shepherding may have changed in many ways compared to how it was in the time of Jesus Christ, but the sheep remain the same, as when Psalm 23 was written.
The good shepherd understands his sheep, taking into consideration their delicate nature. He knows that when they awake, they are hungry. If they cannot immediately find food, they become very restless and agitated. He knows when to lead them to drink water, make a burn-fire to keep them warm, defend them against wild beasts, etc. The good shepherd literally guides every path of his sheep. Therefore, they understand their sheep; they know what makes them tick. They do not get annoyed with them for being sheep. They do no reject them when they display the characteristics that sheep display. In fact, they find them very appealing. They love their sheep.
In the same way, Jesus shepherds us with care and concern, with insight into the nature of the beast, with acute awareness of how we think. There are times, in all of our lives, when we have the feeling that we need some shepherding. These are times when we feel that no one is really concerned about us – that no one cares. In those times, we are called to KNOW that we can turn to Jesus, our Good Shepherd. He will not find us annoying; he will not reject us. In fact, he will find us wonderfully lovable and appealing. Jesus loves you, just like you are. He will guide you and guard you, protect you and direct you. He is your shepherd. He knows you well. You never get lost in the crowd. He has his eye on you at all times. He knows you are his and that his flock is not complete without you. Indeed, the Lord is YOUR/OUR shepherd, therefore, YOU/WE shall not want (be in any need).
- I AM THE GATE OF THE SHEEP
In the second part of the Gospel, Jesus adds that not only is he the Good Shepherd, He is the Sheep-gate. “I am the gate. Anyone who enters through me will be safe: he will go freely in and out and be sure of finding pasture…” (John 10:9). The gate checks intruders; all obstacles hit against the gate. In Palestine the shepherd brought the sheep into the sheepfold every night. It was a circular stone wall with an opening or door where the sheep entered. Once the sheep were inside for the night the shepherd slept in that opening or door all night. The sheep could not get out without stepping over the shepherd’s body which meant they would not get out at all during the night. Jesus is the gate, anyone who enters through him will be safe, and will go freely in and out and be sure of finding pasture. Others steal and kill and destroy but Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He is our protection against thieves and marauders who would steal and destroy our souls.
The gate is a small or perhaps a narrow entry toward the sheepfold. Passing through the gate of salvation is a process. Like sheep, we need to go through it. Our salvation should be hard-earned. But others think this would be easily earned. They simply want to “climb elsewhere” and thus, they are ‘robbers and thieves” according to Christ. Christ is the gate and door to salvation. Faith in him is necessary for our own salvation. The New Testament proclaims that all who stay united to Christ will live forever.
- BEWARE OF THIEVES!
Jesus gives a sober warning to his listeners. We must alert. There are thieves and robbers among the sheep, within the flock. There are always false shepherds who act as wolves clothed in lamb’s skin, lying and mistreating those sheep that belong to Jesus’ flock. There are many people in churches who do not know the true Shepherd. These people may be well-meaning but they are being deceived. The Bible warns us in several places about deception in the church:
“But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2Pet 2:1-2).
“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (2Tim 3:1-5).
“Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way” (Mtt 13:24-25).
Most of the false teachers are not as recognizable. Christians must beware of strange voices. When something does not sound right we must check it out thoroughly by doing the following:
- a) Be careful of things that sound “too good to be true”. Beware of those who present a Christianity that is absent of difficulties, trials, and sacrifice. When there is a teacher who is contradicting the Bible we must take a lesson from the sheep: we must run away from that person! (cf. Jn 10:5)
- b) We must, therefore, learn to recognize the Master’s Voice. There is only one way to train your ear to the voice of God and that is to become a student of the Word of God. We must not be content with a few verses a week, read from the pulpit. If we want to get to know God, we must listen and listen carefully. There are many impostors out there and many of them know all the short-cuts. To know the voice of the Lord, one has to practice. To practice you have to spend time in prayer, quietly listening – deliberately trying to learn the sound of Jesus’ voice. How can we possibly come under the loving care of someone unless we are listening for that voice? The voice of Jesus is always available to us, always speaking to us. The only way to withstand these intruding people is to be better acquainted with the truth than they are. Know your scripture! Know the Catholic doctrine!
- c) We must trust the true Shepherd for Salvation. It is not enough to merely recognize the gate; we must enter at the gate. One can know that Jesus is the true Shepherd, the only way of salvation, and still not be part of the flock. To become a part of the flock, we have to commit ourselves to the Shepherd.
- I CAME THAT THEY MAY HAVE LIFE TO THE FULL
Jesus comes that we might have life (cf. Jn 10:10). He is the giver of abundant life. Jesus is not concerned with giving us a life that is free from worries. He came to breathe life into us. But he is not content to breathe life into a still corpse. He wishes to renew, enrich and deepen our lives. He is the one who gives meaning, direction and purpose to all we do. Jesus is not there to judge us and cause us to enter into depression as to how bad we might be. He wants us to know the Father’s love and to receive it fully so that it will transform how we see ourselves, the world and even God Himself. God’s motivation is always that of life and love.
Pope St. John Paul II once said that “man is called to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God.” (Evangelium Vitae 2, 25th March 1995). Therefore, our natural life is just an initial stage which finds its full realization in eternity or the after-life. But often we have gone astray because of our sinfulness and weakness. These do not bring us life to the full. In the First Reading, we hear St. Peter proclaiming how to return to the Lord’s flock. He says that personal repentance, the purification of Baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit are necessary.
Like sheep, we all have strayed from God’s sheepfold (cf. Is 53:6). Let us pray for the grace to be able to listen attentively for the voice of Jesus, who on this Vocations Sunday calls each and every one of us to holiness, and calls a good few (others) to serve him as priests and religious. May our world heed to the call of God!