“I Am The Gate For The Sheep” – Submitted by Dan McMahon, Director of Music
The Fourth Sunday of Easter is known as Good Shep-herd Sunday. It is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. On this Sunday the Gospel story is not about a resurrection appearance. The scripture lessons are about shepherds. Each year on this Sunday we reflect on the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, devotedly taking care of his flock. The title of the parish priest, “pastor,” means shepherd. A shepherd leads, feeds, nurtures, comforts, corrects, and protects his flock—responsibilities that belong to every church leader. The earliest Christians had seen Jesus as the fulfillment of the ancient Jewish dream of a good shepherd.
The 10th chapter of John’s Gospel is the beginning of the “Good Shepherd” discourse. Today’s gospel reading has Jesus proclaiming himself as the “Gate” in which sheep enter and are saved. Unique to this gospel is Jesus not speaking in parables but speaking in “figures of speech.” He says several times that “I am the gate.” He became more direct with the Pharisees because it was apparent that they did not understand what he was trying to say to them. In other parts of this gospel he will say “I am the Good Shepherd,” “I am the Vine,” “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” and “I am the Resurrection.” The numerous “I am…” statements are unique to John’s gospel when compared to the other gospel authors. Their accounts are written in parables such as, “the kingdom of heaven is like….”
Being a shepherd is actually a difficult job. It’s not the stained-glass window picture of someone standing there looking rather beatific. Not at all. Shepherds work hard, and they get dirty. Your job, you see, is to guide, nurture and protect the sheep. A shepherd wears a young lamb over their shoulder so the lambs learn to recognize their voice. Sometimes sheep have minds of their own. They aren’t always very smart, and they need correction. They might wander off. When that happens, the shepherd will use the staff to pull them back into the flock, to keep them in line. The function of the gate is to keep the sheep together in the sheepfold during the night, safe from thieves and predators. During the day the gate is opened so that the sheep can go out, fol-lowing their shepherd, to find pasture. The gate and the shepherd work together for the well-being of the sheep, so that the flock thrives.
So in this passage Jesus is both the gate and the shepherd at the same time; he guards and protects his sheep from danger, and he provides for their nourishment, for their life in abundance. We are the sheep and Jesus is the shepherd to guide, nourish and protect us from all harm even to the point of laying down his own human life. In a sheep pen, there are no shortcuts, the only way in or out is through the gate. Jesus is the gate, the only way to enter into a heavenly encounter with the Father, paradise, heaven. We all know what fate awaited him on that first Good Fri-day.
During this difficult time of the pandemic we are not unlike the apostles locked in the upper room not knowing what to do or where to go. Our faith requires a great deal of trust in Jesus the Good Shepherd. We must listen and follow him to navigate this challenging time in our lives like a shepherd leading their flock over rugged and challenging landscape. Like sheep, we must listen to voice of the shepherd, Jesus……God calling us to himself.