Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
In the tradition of church liturgy, the gospel reading on the fourth Sunday of Easter is about Jesus being the good shepherd. And the theme of chapter 10 of the Gospel according to St. John the Evangelist is good shepherd. There are several sections about good shepherd in this Gospel and one section is read on this Sunday of each year of the three year circle. This year we read the first movement.
There are two images of today’s gospel: shepherds and the gate. Jesus tells us that here are two kinds of shepherds: one is good and other is bad. We can easily identify Jesus as the good shepherd. About the latter, Jesus describes them as thieves and bandits. If we have to know the difference between the good and bad shepherds, we must understand the image of the gate mentioned by Jesus.
In fact, apart from the image of the good shepherd, Jesus also refers himself as the gate. The image of gate is a gentle protection. Jesus keeps us in a safe place. We all need the kind of security that Jesus gives to us. However, here in this image, he is passive and allow us the freedom to decide whether we would like to be under his protection. He is gentle and humble that he never force us to follow him or be protected by him.
When we understand these images, it would be much easier for us to understand the several messages about discernment that Jesus would like to forward in today’s gospel.
First message is about how to distinguish the good shepherd from the bad. Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.” As we now know that Jesus is not only the good shepherd but also the gate, we understand that anyone who in the authority to teach us he or she must first come through Jesus. Because Jesus is “the way and the truth and life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Thus the benchmark of knowing whether the authoritative figures is doing us good or harm is to notice whether he or she is speaking about God or about themselves.
Only those who come through Jesus, the gate, is the shepherd of the flock because the gatekeeper allows him or her to get closer to the flock and to bring them out.
Even if someone is cunning enough to pass of as a good shepherd, we, the flock, can still find out their true identity. First, how does he/she call us? Jesus tells us that the good shepherd would call his own sheep one by one. The good shepherd never uses group or peer pressure to force his flock. He is always gentle and speaks to us individually because each of us is unique and different and we will follow him because we recognize his voice.
How can we recognize the voice of the good shepherd? We will know if we spend some time between half an hour and an hour with God in our prayer every day. Gradually, we will know how God speaks to us.
Once, we leave the sheepfold led by the good shepherd, Jesus tells us that the good shepherd will go ahead of us. That is why St Paul calls Jesus the new Adam. His humbleness is for us. His Passion is for us. His suffering and dying on the cross is for us. His resurrection is for us. So that we will be risen after our death.
In addition, Jesus used the rich images from the daily life of the then Israelis to illustrate the depth of his desired relationship with us. He spoke of shepherd and sheep, gatekeeper and gate, pasture and life, recognition and salvation. How do these words relate to my life in this place and time?
On the other hand, Jesus also used the contrasting images: strangers, thieves and bandits, killing and stealing, running away in fear instead of following, climbing in rather than walking through the open gate. Can I identify the thieves, those intent on destroying me rather than caring for me? And don’t forget to pray to Jesus to enlighten me as I ask myself, am I one of them who do not give life to others in my position as an authoritative figure at home, at work, at my parish, in the church, etc.? Amen.