Sunday Sermon for May 11, 2014, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A
Readings: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; 1 Pt 2:20b-25; Jn 10:1-10
In the first reading St. Peter proclaims to all the people in Jerusalem that God has made both Lord and Christ this Jesus Whom you crucified. The thought that they had killed their own Messiah stung the people to the heart, but rather than speaking any words of condemnation, St. Peter called the people to repentance. He showed them that God had foretold the suffering of the Messiah and showed them that this was necessary for them to be saved. Now all that was left was for them to repent and be baptized.
We have heard this message hundreds of times; consequently, it does not often sting us to the heart. We have also been baptized, so we might think that we are not included among those to whom St. Peter is speaking. While it is true that we cannot be baptized again, we do have need of repentance, we need to be saved from this corrupt generation, and we have a constant need of being reminded of how much Jesus loves us and how He demonstrated that love.
There are many ways of looking at the sacrificial love of our Lord. For each person, one particular aspect of our Lord’s saving work touches them more than any other. For this reason the Church continues to give us the many rich and wonderful ways of presenting and considering the passion and death of Jesus.
In the Gospel our Lord speaks about Himself in a way that moves so many people: He speaks of Himself as a shepherd. The particular passage for today, however, takes one aspect of the shepherd’s task and highlights it. Jesus calls Himself the gate. This imagery seems to have little practical application in a society like ours where most people have never met an actual shepherd.
The fact that most of us have no experience of what a shepherd does for His sheep does not seem to lessen the attraction of this image. I think people realize that a shepherd leads his sheep, feeds and waters them, and protects them. Even so, we have to wonder about this idea of being the gate. The general ideas of a shepherd are comforting, but what does it mean when Jesus calls Himself the gate?
I remember reading something about this image. The author of the article spoke of how the shepherd would lie down in the opening between the fence posts. When we think of a gate the idea that comes to mind is one of an upright, metal-framed structure that swings on its hinges. In the case of a shepherd in the ancient world it seems that when his sheep would enter into the pen, he would lie down where the gate should be. He personally blocked the sheep from leaving, but he also placed himself between the sheep and any predator who might want to attack the sheep.
It is not just that he brought the sheep into the pen and left them; he stayed with them and used his own body as the guarantee of safety for the sheep. One could say, that the shepherd is, indeed, laying down his life for the sheep. This is why our Lord can say that if anyone entered by another way is a thief and a robber. Such a person would not be able to get through the gate because the shepherd himself is the gate.
In order to enter into the sheepfold, one would have to step past the shepherd who is lying in the opening. Our Lord tells us that anyone who enters through Him will be saved. He knows us as His own and we know Him and trust Him because He has demonstrated Himself to be a good and faithful shepherd.
St. Peter reminds us that Jesus suffered for us and, in so doing, left us an example to follow in His footsteps. Certainly the sheep follow where the Shepherd leads them, but in this case we also share in the shepherding task, each in his own state in life. Therefore, to follow Him is to accept whatever suffering may be required of us as shepherds.
We need to know the individual needs of the sheep entrusted to our care, we need to make sure they know they are secure, bring fed and protected. And we also need to speak more by example than by words. Jesus did not announce His act of love for us from the Cross. He was silent and He allowed His actions and His willingness to suffer for us to speak to our hearts. This is why it touches us so deeply; perhaps it even stings the heart. It is also the example we need to follow: speak to the hearts of others by acts of love more than by words.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.