Watch Reflection for the 4th Sunday of Easter by Fr Richard Ebejer, Salesian, entitled “Good Shepherd”
Fourth Sunday of Easter Year A – Lectio divina on Jn 10,1-10
Jesus describes his personal relationship with the community of disciples with the double image of the gate of the sheepfold and the shepherd of the flock. Familiarity with the sheep of his flock allows him to communicate easily with them, to guide them safely and to defend them effectively. Jesus insists, above all, on the personal mutual knowledge that exists between the shepherd and his flock, the result of their constant living together. As the gate gives access to the flock and to life, Jesus gives entry to the community and gives life in abundance. All others are not worthy of obedience, and, far from giving life, they steal it. An option for Jesus leads to life in common for all who obey and follow him. There is no other gate that leads to life, no other way of entering the Christian community. All who can distinguish the shepherd’s voice from the voice of the thief are united in the Christian community.
At that time: Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber; 2 but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them. 9 I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
I. Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it.
Chapter10 of St John’s Gospel consists of a debate in two parts between Jesus and the Jews. In the second part, which takes place in the temple (10,22-39), the conflict is more intense because Jesus claims to be the Son of God. Our text comes from the first part (10,1-21), which is linked to the healing of a blind man (10,21). A double reference to the reaction of the listeners (10,6.19-21) marks two sections introduced by an identical formula (‘Truly, truly, I say to you’) but in fact they form just one discourse by Jesus, based on different images – thief, mercenary/shepherd, gate. The vocabulary and images are taken from the world of shepherds, to which Jesus’ listeners were well accustomed. At first the description is general and impersonal (10,1-5). Later Jesus identifies the two images with himself (10,7-10).
The comparison between the shepherd and the thief is drawn from the life of shepherds (10,1-6), something his listeners were very familiar with. Every shepherd, owner or hired, had his own flock which he stayed with during the day. At night the different flocks were led to a single sheepfold with a gate guarded by a watchman. Anyone who planned to steal someone else’s sheep would have to enter the sheepfold either through a hole in the wall or by jumping over the wall. In the morning, it was enough for the sheep to hear their shepherd’s voice for them to leave and follow him. The contrast between the thief or stranger and the shepherd is seen in their way of acting, both when they approach the sheepfold (10,1-3) and when they leave it, whether or not they are followed by the sheep (10,3b-5). The legitimate shepherd is characterised by the way he enters the sheepfold and by the intimate relationship he establishes with the sheep.
The true shepherd enters by the gate, in the light of day. His voice is familiar, he knows his sheep by name. He goes ahead of the sheep and they follow. wherever he leads them. The stranger breaks into the sheepfold and does not know the sheep. The success of one and the failure of the other is seen in the fact that the sheep know the voice of the true shepherd and he can call each one by name (10,4.5; cf. Is 43,7). Spending time with them leads to familiarity. Familiarity is the reason why they follow him and this is the test of his leadership.
In his explanation of the parable, Jesus goes beyond mere clarification. Indeed, he continues the discourse, repeating the introduction (10.1.7). He identifies himself with the gate (10,7-10) and with the good shepherd (10,11-18). He reminds us that the gate was, first of all, the way of distinguishing between the good shepherd and the thief. Later he tells us that he himself is both the gate of entry to the sheepfold (10,7) and the way out which leads to the pastures (10,9; cf. Ez 34,14.25-31). As the gate of entry to life, and the way out, Jesus offers himself as both the means of salvation and its goal. Whoever enters by him is saved. Whoever leaves by him finds life. Those who came before him or will come before him are thieves. Instead of giving life to the sheep, they steal it from them (10,8.10). It is possible to see here a reference to the religious leaders of the Jews, based on the criticism offered by the prophets (Jeremiah 23,1-2; Ezekiel 34,1-10; Zechariah 11,4-10.15-16). What is certain, however, is that the image is intended to discredit anyone who appears in the world claiming to be a saviour. Any saviour other than Jesus is a thief and a stranger who will destroy rather than give life. Only Jesus offers his followers life in abundance and intimate knowledge.
II. Meditate: apply what the text says to life.
Jesus is presented as shepherd of the flock and as gate of the sheepfold, two images that may seem far removed from our present reality, but which define well the mission that Jesus wants to accomplish in our lives and in our community. It would be sad if we failed to grasp what he is saying and lost the opportunity of enjoying the service he offers us.
The shepherd guides his flock because he shares his life with them. He is their leader. He has no other concern except his flock. He knows his sheep because he is with them, day and night. His sheep recognize his voice because he shares his meals and time of rest with them. He walks ahead of them, and it is easy for them to follow. Unlike a farmer, the shepherd lives with his flock and devotes himself completely to them.
Be presenting himself as the shepherd, Jesus reveals his willingness to share his life with his sheep, to share his time and energy, his work and his rest, with those who follow him. As leader, he knows the way the flock must go because he has already gone that way. As shepherd, he will not eat until his sheep have found pasture, nor will he rest until they are safe. That is why they know each other so well. Sharing life together over a long period of time leads to intimacy. Sharing hardship and suffering gives rise to trust and trust leads naturally to obedience. It does not cost too much to follow one who goes just ahead of us, making the journey with us, seeking food for us and a place of rest. It is not too great a burden to walk with one who becomes our companion on the journey, to trust one who gives his whole life to caring for us, to obey one who understands our difficulties because he has shared them.
Unfortunately however, it is not enough that Jesus chooses to become our shepherd. No one can consider himself a shepherd if he has no flock to follow him. If we ignore his offer and do not get to know his voice, if we fail to appreciate his care for us, and disobey his orders, he will never be the shepherd and guardian of our souls, because we do not allow him. For Jesus to be our shepherd we must spend time with him, and entrust to him our lives, and the roads we travel and our places of rest. Unless we accept his decisions completely and wholeheartedly we will not realise that he is close to us, and we will not share his intimate friendship. It is not enough that he decides to walk with us for the whole of our lives if we refuse to share our life with him. He may continue to call us by name but to no avail, if we continue to listen to all the voices around us except his. Until we take seriously his decision to be our shepherd we will not know that he is closely involved in our lives and we will not appreciate his loving care.
Maybe there are times when we feel neglected by God. We need to ask ourselves if it is our lack of attention that makes us think he is not interested in us. No one who has abandoned God has any right to feel abandoned by God. If we listen to other voices or follow our own interests, we cannot expect God to speak to us. The shepherd gives life to everyone who shares his way of life, accepts his leadership and resolves to become his friend. If we want to enjoy the shepherd’s loving care and the security his leadership offers, we will have to live in his company, walk the road with him and submit to his demands. It is not enough for Jesus to want to be our shepherd, we must accept him.
We need to ask ourselves why it is that we Christians live worried anxious lives, and find it hard to trust him. Do we go through life forgetting God and his will, and then wonder why we have been forgotten by God? Can it be because we follow the stranger, and distance ourselves from our shepherd, that God no longer seems as familiar and close as before? We fail to do his will and we are surprised that his love seems far away. We feel his absence because we do not allow him to be our shepherd, to go before us and lead us, to walk by our side and protect us. If he were our shepherd there is nothing we would want. His goodness and kindness would follow us all the days of our lives.
Let’s go back then to his safe keeping, allow ourselves to be guided by his voice and accept once again his leadership. With him we will find security and rest. Only if we respond to his voice and follow his call, only if we walk in his footsteps, will we recognise his presence and his closeness. Jesus will be the shepherd of our lives and do all in his power to protect us, if we are among those who follow him. We know that he walks with us if we walk in his footsteps following his voice. Anyone who is sure of walking close to God all his life has courage in abundance and knows no fear. We can never feel abandoned by a God who wants to be our protector, unless we have first abandoned him.
It is not easy to understand this determination of Jesus to be our guide and companion, our jealous guardian and intimate friend. The gospel reminds us that, when his listeners failed to understand him, Jesus compared himself to the gate of the sheepfold. To feel safe, the flock must pass through the gate. To reach life, the Christian must pass, body and soul, through Christ. There is no other way that leads to life, no other way that guarantees rest, nourishment and shelter. If we enter through him, we come to stay with him. Only Christ can satisfy all our desires and fulfil our need for intimacy, keep us safe from the dangers we fear, and lead us to where he has prepared food and shelter for us. He has promised that he will do so – he died and rose for this! – provided we agree to follow his voice and accept his will.
It is sad that we continue to rob ourselves of happiness by seeking momentary satisfaction at any price, looking for a freedom that serves only to increase our loneliness and unease, and we lose the opportunity Jesus gives us to enter through him into life. Nobody deserves our attention and our obedience if he does not assure us of his care and of life. Jesus proclaims himself faithful guardian of our lives and the authentic gateway to eternal life. What more do we hope for? Can anyone else offer us more? Let us not lose the opportunity. Let us return today, body and soul, to obey and follow Christ, cost what it may. Then we will know that we are cared for by him and we will feel completely secure. If the Lord is our shepherd, there is nothing we shall want.
III. Prayer: I desire that what I have heard be done in me.
Lord Jesus, you are my shepherd! Make me know your voice. Make me familiar with your word. May I follow you so that you may know me and know my name. Come to find me wherever I may be. I will return with you as soon as I hear your voice, and I will stay with you and never cease to listen to you.
Save me from those who deceive me by imitating you, and who want to steal me. If the thieves prevail, you lose me and I lose you. I do not want to be the victim of someone who does not know me or love me. Come back and call me, and I will follow you without fear of ever being lost.
You are the gate that leads to life. Allow me to pass through! May I never pass except through you. You have come to give me life. Come, do not delay – I am waiting for you.