Reflection on the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Meditation on the Gospel on the Good Shepherd for the Fourth Sunday of Easter 2020 by Prioress Sister Mary Forman

I invite you to meditate with me on John 10:1-10, the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, by reading the passage out loud slowly with listening for the phrase(s) that touch you.  Certain key words give shape to this parable intended to distinguish those “inside’ the meaning—the disciples and believers, distinct from those “outside,” who fail to understand.

[Jesus said:] “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate…” The sheepfold is the pen where the flock stays together, protected by the shepherd from wolves and thieves. It is a shelter with a gate, admitting no one but the caretaker of the sheep. Where is the sheepfold where you have been sheltering in place these days of the pandemic? Who guards the door to that shelter, reminding you to follow the guidelines for safety and good health?

Whoever…climbs over elsewhere [than the gate] is a thief and robber…Likely this reference in John is to Jewish teachers or false prophets, whose teaching oppose those of Jesus; there is an allusion here to the bad shepherds of Ezekiel, who use the sheep for their own profit or purposes. Who or what has tried to climb over your safe place, however attractive, yet drawn you or your loved ones away from the way of salvation? Who has enticed you to wander away from that which you hold most dear? 

But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. “Jesus is the gate through which persons have access to the sheep; the gate serves as a door of Psalm 118:20: “This is the Lord’s own gate, where the victors enter,” that is, those who are just in God’s eyes; “I thank you for your answered me; you have been my savior” (v 21). Jesus is the one who will bring salvation, not the thieves and robbers of Ezekiel 34. The shepherd takes seriously his/her responsibility for the sheep, even to laying down his/her life for them.  The word for shepherd in Latin is pastor, from which comes pasture, where the sheep are nourished and safeguarded. Who has been a pastor for you in your life, watching over you, guiding you, safeguarding you? For whom have you been a pastor, gathering the sheep and keeping them from harm?

The gatekeeper opens it for him… The gatekeeper knows the shepherd and who is allowed in to be with the sheep. Who has been gatekeeper in your life, opening the way to the Savior and Jesus’ message? Who knows the Lord so well, s/he opens the doorway to salvation?

And the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out… In the resurrection account of Mary Magdalene at the tomb, she only recognizes the gardener as Jesus, when he calls her by name “Mary” and he tells her to go and tell the brothers who he is (Jn 20:16-17). When have you heard the Lord call you and followed where that call led you? If you haven’t, have you asked for the grace to be called and waited for the voice of the shepherd? Where and to whom have you been sent?

When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. So many times in Jesus’ ministry, he walks accompanied by his disciples—to the house of the Centurion to cure his servant (Mt 8:5), to the house of Peter’s mother-in-law (Mt 8:14), to the town of the paralytic (Mt 9:1-2), etc. The most famous walk is that to Emmaus, where he walked with the two disciples, who did not recognize him until he broke open the scriptures and broke the bread with them (Lk 24:13-35). When have you experienced a conversation that transformed your awareness of God in your life, of the Lord having walked with you, although you may not have realized it at the time? How has your heart burned when you tasted the bread of life and just knew you were loved?

But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers. Again, we have the contrast between the voice of the Holy One and the voice of a stranger, an outsider. When one is akin, that is, in close relationship with the shepherd, and one knows the tenderness of that voice, how can one follow an alien voice that does not resonate with one’s deepest self?

Although Jesus used this figure of speech, the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them. In John’s gospel the Pharisees are the outsiders, who do not hear the master’s voice nor recognize its meaning. Elsewhere in John 9:40-41 they are “blind” because they do not see the source of Jesus’ healing power of the man born blind. When has blindness clouded your own (in)sight into how God has been with you in a parabolic experience?

So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers…” Whenever biblical or early church writers repeated a phrase, it not only served as a point of emphasis, but also often as a frame through which the rest of the verses were intended to be understood. Each time Jesus mentions gate, he reiterates the difference between himself as doorway to God as distinct from those who are only would-be shepherds—the thieves and robbers, who lead away from God to themselves. How has Jesus been a gateway in your spiritual life? How has he been a gate for your community of believers?

But the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. The allusion seems to be to Ezekiel 34:30-31: “And they will know that I Am…the Lord their God, and they, house of Israel, are my people, says the Lord. You are my sheep and the sheep of my pasture and I AM the Lord your God.” When the flock of the Lord knows to whom they belong they can only listen to his voice. When have you experienced the congregation to whom you belong following the voice of the Lord in matters of concern to you all? What happened?

Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.  Jesus promises nourishment and salvation to those who come to him, for as Ezekiel proclaims of God, “You are my sheep and the sheep of my pasture and I AM the Lord your God” Ez 34:31), for there is no other. Pasture derives from the Latin pascere meaning “to feed.”  There is an association of pasturing a flock and giving them the bread of life, who is the Christ. How are you being nourished, fed, given the food of life these days? Who is providing that food? How do you respond?

A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that you might have life and have it more abundantly. The closing verse of the pericope again manifests the contrast between Jesus’ shepherding that brings life and that of bad shepherds, who ultimately steal and destroy the life of the sheep. Who might we guard against in these days of widespread hunger? Who are manifesting the abundance that feeds the poor and forgotten all around us? How might we supply their need?