The Fourth Sunday of Easter [A]
Acts 2:14,36-41 + 1 Peter 2:20-25 + John 10:1-10
“I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
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references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church cited for this Sunday by the Vatican’s Homiletic Directory:
CCC 754, 764, 2665: Christ the Shepherd and Gate
CCC 553, 857, 861, 881, 896, 1558, 1561, 1568, 1574: Pope and bishops as shepherds
CCC 874, 1120, 1465, 1536, 1548-1551, 1564, 2179, 2686: priests as shepherds
CCC 14, 189, 1064, 1226, 1236, 1253-1255, 1427-1429: conversion, faith, and baptism
CCC 618, 2447: Christ an example in bearing wrongs
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Every year, the Gospel Reading on the Fourth Sunday of Easter comes from the tenth chapter of St. John’s Gospel account. That entire chapter focuses upon the imagery of sheep and their shepherd. That’s why the Fourth Sunday of Easter is customarily called “Good Shepherd Sunday”. But in today’s Gospel Reading, while Jesus does mention “the shepherd of the sheep”, His chief focus lies elsewhere.
Jesus focuses in today’s Gospel Reading upon “the gate for the sheep”. This focus is emphasized by Jesus in the way He introduces His teaching about the gate. He begins: “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.
But in today’s Gospel Reading, 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 in this Gospel Reading?
“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 first emphasizing 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. Among the flock of the Church is where God teaches us to mingle our love of Him with our love of neighbor.
Here we see better the importance of the gate. The gate is an entrance into the life of God’s people, not just into divine life. That is, the Gate who is Jesus leads not just to deification, but to deification through the Mystical Body of Christ. The gate that Jesus speaks about in the Gospel Reading is not simply the Pearly Gate leading into Heaven. We cannot enter through the Pearly Gate into Heaven unless we first enter the Gate into the Church on earth.
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, the life of which we live out practically among our parish families.