The Fourth Sunday of Easter [A]
Acts 2:14,36-41 + 1 Pt 2:20-25 + Jn 10:1-10
May 7, 2017
“‘I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.’”
Every year, the Gospel passage on this Fourth Sunday of Easter comes from the tenth chapter of St. John’s Gospel account. This entire chapter focuses upon the imagery of sheep and their shepherd. That’s why the Fourth Sunday of Easter is called “Good Shepherd Sunday”. But in today’s Gospel passage, while Jesus does mention “the shepherd of the sheep”, His chief focus lies elsewhere.
Jesus focuses in today’s Gospel passage upon “the gate for the sheep”. This focus is emphasized by Jesus in the way he introduces his teaching about the gate. “Amen, amen, I say to you….” Here we need to stop and consider this important phrase.
In the Gospel account of St. John, Jesus speaks this phrase—“Amen, amen, I say to you…”—fifty times. Fifty times Jesus begins an important teaching with this phrase which signals to us just how important the subsequent teaching is. Jesus means these words to be a red flag. Jesus doesn’t want us to miss His point. He’s emphatic in getting His point across.
But in today’s Gospel passage, Jesus twice within the span of just seven verses says, “Amen, amen, I say to you….” That’s more like a red cape being waved in front of a bull. We should consider His point here as so necessary to being His disciple that without hearing and heeding it, we would be lost.
So what is this point that Jesus stresses so strongly today?
“I am the gate for the sheep.” This is what Jesus says the second time He powers up His speech with those strong introductory words: “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.” The first time that He uses those introductory words, He’s speaking about the same reality a bit differently: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate, but climbs over elsewhere, is a thief and a robber.” The common thread is “the gate”, which Jesus identifies with Himself.
This is important for you and me, because Jesus is emphasizing first off that we need to be members of a flock, and that we need to enter into this flock through the gate that Jesus Himself is.
But where does this gate that is Jesus lead?
Very often, when we picture the Good Shepherd, we imagine him carrying a single stray sheep on His shoulders. That’s definitely a consoling image for us when we’re preparing for Confession. But when Jesus as the Good Shepherd takes us upon His shoulders, where does He carry us back to? When Jesus returns us “home” through the gate that He Himself is, what is this “home”?
The Good Shepherd carries us through the gate back into the midst of the flock. Jesus returns the stray to its flock so that all one hundred can graze and dwell together. This is an image of the Church. Being a Christian is never just about “me and Jesus”. As soon as we try to separate love of God from love of neighbor, we will love neither God nor neighbor as He wants, or as He does. Within the flock of the Church is where God teaches us to mingle our love of Him with our love of neighbor.
Here we start to see the importance of the gate. The gate is an entrance into the life of God’s people, not just into divine life: not just into some abstract nirvana or state of good vibrations, but into the life of God’s flock. This is a chief focus of the Easter Season. That’s why our First Reading throughout Easter is from the Acts of the Apostles: the book of Acts is all about the life of the early Church, which is to say, how the first Christians lived a common life as God’s flock, with the Apostles as their earthly shepherds. God’s flock on earth is His Church, which we live out practically within our parish family.