4th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 2:14a, 36–41; 1 Peter 2:20b–25; John 10:1–10
Where’s the gate? The image of the Good Shepherd underscores Jesus’ relationship and dedication to each one of us.
When night fell in Jesus’ time, shepherds herded their sheep into a pen.
If they were near the village, they would herd them into the common village pen.
If they were far from the village, they would herd them into a field pen, or sometimes a cave.
They did this to protect the sheep from chilly nights and wild animals.
In today’s gospel Jesus alludes to both kinds of pens. In the first half of the gospel he alludes to the common village pen. Specifically, he refers to early morning when the shepherd came to the village pen to get his flock and lead it out to pasture for the day. Jesus says:
The gatekeeper opens the gate for him; the sheep hear his voice as he calls his own sheep by name, and he leads them out. When he has brought them out, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice.
In the second half of the gospel reading Jesus alludes to the field pen. Specifically, he refers to the narrow opening in the pen through which the sheep passed. Jesus says: I am the gate for the sheep. . . . Whoever comes in by me will be saved; he will come in and go out and find pasture. In his book The Holy Land,
John Kellman describes a field pen. It consists of a circular stone wall about four feet high with an opening in it.
Kellman says that one day a Holy Land tourist saw a field pen near Hebron. He asked a shepherd sitting nearby, Where’s the gate for your pen? The shepherd said, I am the gate.
The shepherd then told the tourist how he herded his flock into the pen each night. Then he lay down across the narrow entrance. No sheep could leave the pen, and no wild animal could enter it, without stepping on his body.
Two things stand out in this beautiful story.
The first thing is the oneness that developed between the shepherd and his sheep. Most flocks of sheep were kept for wool. This meant that a shepherd was with his flock 365 days a year, and often 24 hours a day.
The shepherd got to know his sheep so well that he knew which one had tender hoofs, which got sick from eating certain things, and which was prone to stray from the others.
The second thing that stands out is the deep dedication of the shepherd to his sheep. It extended even to risking his life for them.
Against this background we are able to appreciate better what Jesus has in mind when he says, I am the good Shepherd? John 10:11
Jesus is saying that his relationship and dedication to us is as close as the shepherd’s to his sheep. Like the shepherd, Jesus is always with us 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. “I will be with you always, to the end of the age,” Jesus told his followers. Matthew 28:20
Like the shepherd, Jesus knows’ each one of us in a deeply personal way. He knows which of us has a weak faith, which of us is apt to become discouraged, and which of us is prone to stray from the flock.
Jesus never deserts us, He is always there to help us. And should we stray from the flock, Jesus will leave the other 99 sheep and go in search of us.
What God said to his chosen people through the prophet Isaiah, Jesus says to each one of us personally:
Do not be afraid. . . . I have called you by name. . . . You are precious to me. . . . Do not be afraid I am with you! Isaiah 43:1, 4–5 Today’s gospel reading is especially appropriate for Mother’s Day.
Like the shepherd, and like Jesus, a mother has a close and deep relationship to her flock or family There’s nothing she wouldn’t do to protect them from danger. And there’s nowhere she wouldn’t go to seek out the one who strays or gets lost. A mother’s love for her family functions even when she can no longer protect her children herself.
There’s a beautiful story in the autobiography of Jimmy Cagney, the famous Hollywood actor. It takes place in Cagney’s youth when his mother is on her deathbed.
Around the bed were the four Cagney boys and Jeannie, their only sister. Because of a stroke, Mrs. Cagney could no longer speak.
After she had hugged each of her five children, she lifted her right arm, the only one that was still functioning. Jimmy describes what happened next:
Mom indicated Harry with the index finger of her useless hand, she indicated me with her second finger, she indicated Eddie with her third finger, and with her fourth finger indicated Bill. Then she took the thumb, moved it to the middle of her palm, and clasped the thumb tightly under the other four fingers. Then she patted this fist with her good hand. James Cagney, Cagney
Jimmy says her gesture was beautiful. Everyone knew what it meant. The four brothers were to protect Jeannie after their mother was gone. It was a gesture that no words could have duplicated in beauty and meaning.
I’m glad we have a Mother’s Day to remind us of what mothers are and to remind mothers of what God has called them to be.
I’m glad that Mother’s Day coincides with Jesus’ words about the shepherd. For a mother’s close relationship and total dedication to her family are a perfect reflection of the shepherd’s close relationship and total dedication to his flock.
Above all, a mother’s relationship and dedication to her family are a perfect reflection of Jesus’ relationship to us.
Let’s rejoice, then, and pray that this day will draw family members closer together and give them a deeper appreciation of each other—especially their mother.
Series II 4th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 2:14a, 36–41; 1 Peter 2:20b–25; John 10:1–10
The good shepherd The good shepherd is committed, caring, and courageous.
Some years ago a national magazine carried a story about an unusual girl named Laura Bell. After graduating from college, she took a job as a sheepherder in Wyoming.
For the next three years Laura was on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, tending 2,000 sheep.
All this time she was completely alone except for her horse, her dog, and the sheep.
Once a week someone rode out to the distant hill country, where she pastured her sheep, to bring her food, mail, and rifle shells.
Laura’s job taught her a lot about herself.
The long hours alone gave her the time she needed to ponder her future, her doubts, her dreams. They also gave her the time to clarify her values and to set her goals.
But Laura’s job did more than teach her a lot about herself. It also taught her a lot about Jesus.
The Bible uses the image of a shepherd to describe Jesus. And now Laura experienced firsthand why the Bible uses that image. She learned firsthand what the qualities of a good shepherd are.
And what are those qualities?
First of all, a good shepherd is a totally committed person. A shepherd lives for the flock day after day, week after week, and month after month. Sheepherding isn’t just another job, like working in an office or clerking in a store.
Sheepherding isn’t a job at all; it’s a way of life. You don’t shepherd sheep because it’s a job to earn a living. You shepherd sheep because it’s a job you love.
When Jesus called himself a good shepherd, he meant that he was committed to his flock 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
In other words, all of his energies and concerns were for the flock entrusted to his care. Every moment of his life was dedicated to it.
This brings us to the second quality a shepherd must have. Besides being deeply committed, a shepherd must be a deeply caring person.
A shepherd’s satisfaction is tied up with the welfare of the flock. When the flock is happy, the shepherd is happy. When the flock is in pain, the shepherd is in pain.
There’s an old Jewish legend that explains why God chose Moses over all the other people on earth to shepherd his flock, Israel.
One day Moses was shepherding some sheep that belonged to his father-in-law, Jethro.
Suddenly he spotted a lamb darting off through the underbrush. Moses dropped everything and pursued it, lest it be killed by a wild animal or become lost.
He finally caught up with the lamb at a tiny stream of water, where it began to drink feverishly. When it had finished, Moses scooped it up in his arms, saying, “Little one, I didn’t know you ran away because you were so thirsty. Your tiny legs must be tired.”
With that, he placed the lamb on his shoulders and carried it back to the flock.
When God saw how caring Moses was, he said to himself, “At last, I’ve found the special person I have been searching for. I will make Moses the shepherd of my people, Israel.”
It was this kind of person that Jesus was, also: gentle and caring about each member of his flock.
This brings us to the final quality a good shepherd must have. Besides being committed and caring, a shepherd must be courageous.
There’s a story in the First Book of Samuel about how young David volunteered to fight the Philistine giant, Goliath. The king refused to let David do it, saying:
“You’re just a boy, and he has been a soldier all his life!”
David responded, saying:
“I take care of my father’s sheep. Any time a lion or a bear carries off a lamb, I go after it, attack it, and rescue the lamb. . . . The LORD has saved me from lions and bears; he will save me from this Philistine. 1 Samuel 17:33–35, 37
We all know how that story turned out. David defeated Goliath. And so Laura Bell’s unusual job taught her a lot not only about herself but also about Jesus.
It taught her why the Bible gave Jesus the title of the Good Shepherd. It was because he had to a perfect degree the three qualities every shepherd must have. He was committed, caring, and courageous. His sole concern was the flock his Father had entrusted to him. It taught her why Jesus is a model for all parents, all teachers, and others who have people entrusted to their care.
Let’s conclude by listening, again, to the words of today’s responsorial psalm:
The LORD is my shepherd; I have everything I need. He lets me rest in fields of green grass and leads me to quiet pools of fresh water. He gives me new strength. He guides me in the right paths, as he has promised. Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, LORD, for you are with me. Your shepherd’s rod and staff protect me.
You prepare a banquet for me, where all my enemies can see me; you welcome me as an honored guest and fill my cup to the brim. I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life; and your house will be my home as long as I live.
Series III 4th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 2:14a, 36–41; 1 Peter 2:20b–25; John 10:1–10
Morality Saying yes to Jesus’ invitation to live and love as he did.
Jesus said, “I have come . . . that you might have . . . life in all its fullness.” John 10:10 If you asked scientists how creation took place, they’d probably say that the “big bang” theory is the most reasonable explanation. It holds that a giant “fireball” exploded in space some 15 million years ago.
From that explosion, our universe emerged gradually by a series of quantum leaps that is, by breakthroughs from lower to higher forms of life.
Saint Augustine suggested a similar scenario some 1,500 years ago. And in his encyclical Humani Generis (1950), Pope Pius XII said an evolving origin of the human body does not conflict with Catholic faith so long as it does not deny “that souls are immediately created by God.” America 12/28/96
Of the quantum leaps, the leap to the human stage was the most spectacular leap of all.Why?
It brought forth human beings, made in God’s image, and capable of reflecting on past quantum leaps and posing questions about future ones.
For example, they could ask: “Is the leap to human life the last one in God’s plan of love? Or is there another quantum leap ahead?”
It is right here that the teaching of Jesus in today’s Gospel takes on tremendous meaning.
Jesus teaches that the leap to human life is not the final leap in God’s plan. A far more remarkable stage lies ahead. Jesus said:
I have come . . . that you might have . . . life in all its fullness. . . . What my Father wants is that all who see the Son and believe in him should have eternal life. And I will raise them to life on the last day. John 10:10, 6:40
And so Jesus teaches that another “quantum leap” lies ahead. It is the leap from eternal life to divine life.
We affirm this final leap in every Mass. For example, when the priest pours a few drops of water into the wine in preparing the gifts, he prays silently:
By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity. This brings us to a second fact that Jesus taught about human life.
With the arrival of human beings, God gave them the power to choose freely to make the leap to divine life or not. Before the human stage, all quantum leaps to a higher form of life took place randomly and blindly.
With the human stage, all this changed. God gave human beings the awesome responsibility of choosing to make the leap to divine life or not.
Let’s set the stage for the final critical teaching of Jesus about the purpose of human life with a parable:
Imagine that a century from now, the deterioration of our planet made it impossible for human life to survive beyond ten more years. What would happen?
Scientists would begin a frantic search for another planet that would be capable of supporting human life. Suppose they found one.What then? We’d all be excited!
But there is bad news and good news. The bad news is that life on the new planet is significantly different from life on earth.
The good news is that human beings have the ability to adapt to this difference. It is not easy, but within our capability. What would happen at this point?
Scientists would learn everything they could about life on the new planet. Then they would build centers on earth reproducing the exact conditions of the new planet. At these centers, they would conduct programs to teach people how to adapt to the new life. Obviously, only people who persevered would be transported to the new planet.
This parable gives us an insight into what Christian morality is all about. How so?
Old age and illness make it impossible for human beings to live indefinitely on planet Earth. Jesus has revealed, however, that there is another planet, so to speak, beyond this one: heaven.
Life in heaven, however, is totally different from life on earth.
But there is good news. Jesus taught us how to live in this life in a way that will adapt us and prepare us for life in heaven.
Viewed this way, Christian morality is simply preparing ourselves in this life to be able to make the leap to eternal life in heaven. We may describe it this way:
Christian morality is saying “yes” to Jesus’ invitation to live in this life in such a way as to enable us to make the leap to eternal life in the next life.
What Moses said to Israel, Jesus says to each human being:
I am now giving you the choice between life and death . . . and I call heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Choose life. Deuteronomy 30:19 Our job in this life, then, is to say “yes” to Jesus’ invitation to live and love as he did.
To borrow Saint Paul’s image, our job in this life is to plant the seeds that will yield a harvest of eternal life in heaven. Paul writes:
You will reap exactly what you plant. If you plant in the field of your natural desires, from it you will gather the harvest of death.
If you plant in the field of the Spirit, from the Spirit you will gather the harvest of eternal life. Galatians 6:8–9
What I say is this: let the Spirit direct your lives. . . . The Spirit has given us life . . . [and] must also control our lives. Galatians 5:16, 25
And so, our job in this life is to “plant in the field of the Spirit the seeds that will yield the “harvest of eternal life” in the next life.
This is the Good News in today’s Gospel. This is the Good News that we celebrate as we return to the Table of the Lord.
It is the Good News that Jesus came to bring us life—life in all its fullness. It’s the Good News that Jesus humbled himself to share in our humanity that we might share in his divinity.