4th Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:14, 36-41, 1 Peter 2:20-25, John 10:1-10

Pectoral Cross of Pope FrancisWhen Moses asked God for some identification, God replied ‘I am who I am’.   And that is the way we regard God to this day. In the Gospel reading of today’s Mass we find Jesus trying to reveal Himself to the disciples by means of a parable, but they don’t seem to understand.  So, Jesus makes it simple for them; ‘I am the gate of the Sheepfold’! ‘I am’ is a very definite and direct way of identifying oneself. In the Gospel of Saint John Jesus uses this ‘I am’ seven times.  Each time it helps us to understand Him and His ministry a little better; ‘I am the light of the world’ lifts our spirits and lights the way for us: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ gives us confidence on our journey of Faith: ‘I am the Bread of Life’ assures us of nourishment for the journey: ‘I am the Vine and you are the branches’ connects us and our growth to the person of Jesus: ‘I am the Resurrection’ is the everlasting promise to us that Jesus has overcome death and shares his glorified new life with us: ‘I am the Good Shepherd’, the one who leads, who watches over and protects his flock.

In today’s Gospel the ‘I am the gate to the sheepfold’ may seem a little confusing.  Jesus is talking to the Pharisees about Sheep! This situation may need Saint Thomas, who always seems to ask the right question (“We don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”) – to ask ‘what on earth are you talking about?’ The Sheepfold is the place to which all disciples aspire – the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus warns that many pretend to lead people in the right direction and falsely try to enter the sheepfold.  But they are thieves and brigands, their message is unbalanced, materialistic, self-serving and self-promoting.  Jesus himself is the ‘gate’, the open gate which is welcoming and assuring.

The image on Pope Francis’ pectoral cross is a beautiful illustration of the theme of today’s liturgy.  The Shepherd is at once in the very midst of the flock and at the head of it, leading it to pastures green.  The Good Shepherd is also carrying the vulnerable sheep on his shoulders, having saved it from harm and being lost.

The image of the Good Shepherd is not just a romantic one, because shepherds were not usually held in high esteem at the time of Jesus.  Often they were regarded as robbers, as dirty and antisocial.  They spent their lives, not in the lush grasslands of Galilee, but on the rocky out-backs where sheep were kept. The aspects of a shepherd’s life with which Jesus identifies are the dedication, which living with the sheepfold entails and the one-on-one relationship of living with the sheep. The shepherd will lay down his life in order to protect his flock. In our second reading of today’s Mass Saint Peter describes what it means to be within this sheepfold: ‘The shepherd is bearing our faults in his own body so that we might die to our faults and live for holiness’. We have been healed! We had gone astray but now we have come back to the Shepherd – the Shepherd who guards our souls.

“The Lord is my Shepherd: there is nothing I shall want”