Saint Vincent Archabbey
Fourth Sunday of Easter, Classic
In this gospel passage, Jesus draws upon imagery associated with sheep herding. The people to whom he spoke were well aware of the practice of herding sheep into a protective corral during the night so that they would not become easy victims of wild animals. They were also aware that robbers could climb over the low wall and steal the sheep. The true shepherd does not need to do this because the sheep are entrusted to his care and he has access to them through the door of the corral.
In the spiritual sense intended by Jesus, the thieves and robbers are those shepherds (pastors, counselors, friends) who claim to be concerned about the sheep (parishioners, anyone of us) but who deceive them by offering quick fixes, which promise salvation without the need of painful personal conversion.
Sheep have always had a reputation for being soewhat naïve and easily confused just as we humans, while very cautious in some areas, are often gullible when it comes to spiritual matters.
Jesus then changes the imagery and calls himself the door to the corral. This means that it is only through the door of his teaching that one can find true salvation. In the same sense, he calls himself "the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). His is the only trustworthy way because he teaches the only reliable truth which leads to true and lasting life.
We are great believers in salesmanship and we rely on salesmen even though we know that some of them inflate or misrepresent the benefits of the products they offer to us.
This is true also when the product is the most important thing we can imagine, namely, everlasting life and happiness. We are constantly bombarded with promises of eternal salvation without the need to deal with personal problems or deficiencies. We are vulnerable to such offers because we yearn for that kind of security and because these promises are often packaged in very attractive wrappings.
We are told, for example, that if we go through certain external rituals or say certain special prayers we will find salvation in spite of our attachment to selfish behavior. Or we may be told that reaching an emotional pitch of fervor, which cannot be maintained, will nonetheless guarantee our future happiness. When Jesus says that he alone is the true shepherd and that he alone is the door to security for the sheep, he is telling us that it is only his teaching of unselfish love that will lead us to true life and happiness.
Prayers and rituals and fervor are wonderful and necessary, but only when they lead to real conversion from selfish tendencies to genuine concern for others.
Being converted in this way will involve the painful process of facing the truth about destructive addictions and being willing to seek help in dealing with them. It will also mean being honest about one’s prejudices and striving with God’s help to escape from their dangerous influence. But most of all, it will mean trying to be a caring, thoughtful, generous person. This is the path on which the good shepherd leads us for he has come, not to deceive us, but that we "might have life and have it more abundantly" (v.10).
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.Fourth Sunday of Easter, Modern
Gospel: John 14: 1-12
"They were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, 'What are we to do, my brothers?’ Peter said to them, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:37-38).
The first reading startles us with the immediate response of the people in Jerusalem to Peter’s preaching—it stands in contrast to the presumed way in which many of us regard our faith, even if we truly hold it dear. It is implicit and always there, and in a society that is still largely structured around Judeo-Christian principles it rarely requires us to do anything that would strike our fellow citizens as remarkable.
But not so with these folks gathered for Pentecost (the feast being celebrated in Jerusalem when Peter gives his speech).
They are deeply moved, to the point of actually making a religious conversion: "Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day” (Acts 2:41). Would we have done so? Would we have so readily heeded the call to faith in the risen Lord were it the very first time we had heard the call? It is easy to live the faith when it is part of the fabric of our culture and family, but had we stood in the assembly with Peter and the others that day in Jerusalem would we have been among those baptized?
We can only speculate really, no one can say for sure what they would have done in that setting. Nonetheless, thinking of the situation that unfolded in the first reading reminds us of the Good Shepherd whom we meet in the gospel.
The same Lord whom Peter proclaimed and in whose name three thousand people were baptized that day in Jerusalem is revealed to us as a shepherd who protects his sheep, "I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture,” and as the shepherd who is willing to give everything for his flock: "I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:9, 11).
Nowhere in this gospel passage does Jesus say that he will discriminate as to whether his sheep readily accepted him in a moment of dramatic conversion or whether they only recognized him through the habits and ingrained beliefs gained through many years of life.
If we are like one of the eager crowd in Jerusalem or a Christian believer of many generations he accepts us all, and guards us as a shepherd guards his flock.
The Psalm speaks of the Lord as a shepherd too, and here "the Lord" as it is spoken by the Psalmist indicates not Jesus but the Father, the Lord God of Israel. Whether in the days of Israel of old or in the time of Christian revelation God always seeks out his children, protecting and guiding them into verdant pastures and leading them to restful waters, no matter how they came to belief.
Some do not like the language in these passages which seems to compare people to sheep in an unfavorable way, as though the faithful are excessively docile or easily led like sheep. Some especially were put off by Pope Francis’ remarks some time ago about priests needing "to take on the smell of the sheep”. But in the final analysis this parable is not about us but about God, acting in Christ, who is truly our Good Shepherd and faithful Sheep Gate, willing to welcome into his good pasture even those who arrive at the eleventh hour.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.