4th. Sunday of Eastertide (A)
In today’s Gospel passage, People of God, there is mention of shepherds and their approach to, and relationship with, their sheep; and this is of practical interest for us today since parents, teachers, political leaders, and indeed many others, can be regarded to a greater or lesser extent as included in that word ‘shepherds’.
Jesus tells us that He Himself:
Came so that they (the sheep of His flock) might have life.
There were many who had put themselves forward as shepherds to the people in the long course of Israel’s history and more especially in quite recent times; but they had all shown themselves, or had been shown, to be not shepherds for life and salvation but bringers of slaughter and destruction as Jesus goes on to tell us:
All who came before Me are thieves and robbers.’
And He calls them ‘thieves and robbers – very strong language for Jesus – because:
Jesus said, ‘I am the gate of the sheepfold.’
They do not enter the sheepfold through the gate but climb over elsewhere.
Whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.
I am the gate. Anyone who enters through Me will be safe. He will go freely in and out and be sure of finding pasture.
The whole background of our Gospel reading is to be found in the thirty-fourth chapter of the book of the prophet Ezekiel. There the first part is – as in our passage in today’s Gospel reading from St. John – about worthless, ruthless, shepherds who feed themselves not the sheep; who let the flock be scattered over the face of the earth to become prey for wild beasts.
Then the prophet (vv. 11-16) continues:
Thus says the Lord God: Behold I, I Myself will search for My sheep and will seek them out. I will seek the lost, bring back the strayed, bind up the crippled, strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice.
Therefore, when Jesus said, ‘I am the gate’, He was saying that,
I came in the name of My Father.
Those pseudo-leaders, those false shepherds whom the Jews had followed before Him had not entered through Him; that is, they had not prepared the way for, spoken of, invoked or witnessed to, Him. They had done all in their own names and for their own glory;
You do not accept Me; yet if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. (John 5:43)
Nevertheless, Jesus, was indeed the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the gate through which God was coming to shepherd His flock. Through Jesus, the Father Himself would feed the flock, as the prophecy of Ezekiel (vv. 25ss.) foretold:
Thus says the Lord God: My flock shall know that I am the Lord; they shall know that I, the Lord their God, am with them and that they are My people, the sheep of My pasture.
Therefore, although God’s people will still have shepherds to lead them in Jesus’ Church, nevertheless, they themselves will, in Christ, be able to recognize God and His truth directly in their hearts:
(Jesus said:) My teaching is not My own but is from the One who sent Me. Whoever chooses to do His will shall know whether My teaching is from God or whether I speak on My own. Whoever speaks on his own seeks his own glory, but whoever seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is truthful and there is no wrong in Him. (John 7: 16-19)
Notice then the great freedom of God’s flock in Christ: ‘I am the gate. Anyone who enters through Me’ -- that is, whosoever enters God’s sheepfold through faith in and love for, Christ – ‘will go freely in and out and be sure of finding pasture.’ The flock do indeed see, hear, and confidently follow their true shepherds going before them to some future, as yet unseen, destination; but, though still on the way, they are also at times strengthened and even thrilled to recognize God Himself -- the great theme, final destination, and ultimate reason for all that is beautiful and harmonious in their lives – with them, and even Personally present to them in the secret shrine of their own hearts and minds.
This has most important consequences for us.
First of all, the People of God, as a whole, can never be led astray by false teachers, for they are able to recognize the divine truth of Christian teaching causing peace and hope to rise up within their own God-seeking hearts; for Jesus, Head of the Church which is His Body, and the Spirit, the Father-given and Jesus-sent ‘Helper’, are inseparably with and for the Church in all her trials.
As individuals, however, we have the obligation so to live that our God-given ability to respond to divine truth is never obscured, let alone vitiated, at its source in the spontaneous appreciation of our hearts. Sinful living, pride, indulgence, worldly cares and preoccupations can turn us aside from our Christian commitment and ideals, and gradually lead us to mistake error for truth and to follow false prophets and hirelings instead of good shepherds and even Christ Himself.
Above all, however, through positive endeavours to ‘put on Christ’ by following the teaching of God proclaimed in Mother Church in all its fullness, depth, and amplitude, we can gradually experience a clear and loving response to God’s truth in our souls; and that response can come to mean more and more to us because God has indeed most truly given us an inner divine life which, when fully developed, pulsates in rhyme and rhythm with, and positively thrills in response to, His teaching. If, therefore, the truths of faith, the life and promises of Jesus in the Scriptures, the Christian vocation of loving obedience to God and service of our neighbour, seem cold, impersonal, and fruitless to us, then it is, perhaps, a fact that God is testing us for our greater good – as He did even with Jesus Himself – or else maybe it is a fault in our way of living the Christian life: perhaps we have been only existing, not really living in Christ: neither loving His Person sincerely nor committing ourselves sufficiently to His Providence. Whatever be the cause of any such lassitude, we do know most certainly that He has come, as He said, for that one supreme purpose: that we might have life in all its fullness:
I have come so that (you) may have life and have it to the full.
Therefore, as we proceed in our celebration of this Mass, the great sacrament of Jesus’ life and death for us, let us beg Him for a deeper -- oh so much deeper! -- share in His life and love so that we may truly, fully, realize and know that dwelling of God in our hearts and be enabled thereby to respond with all the love and devotion of which we are capable to His divine truth in all the myriad forms in which we can encounter it here below. Such is the whole purpose and aim of our new life in Christ Jesus: learning to respond to and vibrate in harmony with the meaning, the purpose, and the music of God’s self-revelation in Mother Church and in creation.