April 13: Fourth Sunday of Easter Year A
Readings: Acts 2:14, 36-41; 1 Peter 2:20-25; John 10:1-10
The Fourth Sunday of Easter is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday”, a Sunday on which the Universal Church prays for good vocations. Those called to ministry in whatever capacity in the Church are like shepherds, for they are called to care for the spiritual welfare of the people. The readings therefore focus on the Risen Lord, the Shepherd par excellence. The central image is that of a caring shepherd. That is why Jesus in the passage refers to himself as the Gate for he ensures their security. The early church would have seen Jesus as the Gate of the sheepfold, while the shepherds are pastors who are faithful to Jesus. Anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the Gate is dangerous and should be avoided. Jesus refers to such a person as “a thief and a brigand” who comes to harm the sheep. The genuine shepherd, however, enters by the Gate through Jesus. Such a person is recognized and admitted by the watchman at the gate. The responsorial Psalm 23 beautifully introduces this theme. "The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I shall want". The sheep hear the Shepherd's voice when he calls them one by one. He leads them out to pasture and brings them back securely. St. John uses these concrete images of Christ in order to give us the assurance that we are completely secure, provided we listen to his voice and enter through him who is the Gate. "When he has brought out his flock, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow because they know his voice. They never follow a stranger but run away from him: they do not recognise the voice of strangers."
Behind this parable of the Shepherd and the Gate, Jesus also calls our attention to a serious pastoral problem for the Church throughout the world today. The parable alludes to the phenomenon of sheep stealing, which can only be reduced by the continuous presence of the shepherd, in order to ensure that the sheep are not misled by strangers and the voice of thieves who normally target Catholic teachers, Catechists and young people. The absence of shepherds from Catholic schools, the failure to remain close to catechists, teachers and catholic students in non-Catholic environments, leaves an obvious vacuum that is easily exploited by strangers to corrupt and mislead the flock. Another obvious vacuum is created by political and economic crisis that creates slum and ghetto dwellers whose situation of poverty is prone to being exploited by responding to their economic needs. There is no other way of keeping strangers away except by responding to those needs while at the same time leading the flock closer to their shepherd. What is the message? 1) The readings challenge us to listen to our Shepherd in order to be secure; 2) We are challenged to allow ourselves to be led by him to pastures where we can find nourishment; and 3) As we pray for vocations today, we are challenged to reflect on how God is asking me to make my own contribution to the life and work of my parish because all of us are called to play the role of shepherd in our own area of competence.
©2008 John S Mbinda