4th Sunday of Easter, cycle A

sheepgate

1st Reading:  The Acts of the Apostles: 2: 14a, 36-41

Peter’s listeners “were deeply shaken” – literally translated:

“cut, or pierced to the heart.” This is what repentance or conversion is all about. Peter’s message was urgent.  Repentance was not understood just as the turning away from a laundry list of sins.  For Peter’s crowd it meant a radical reassessment of who Jesus was really was-what his significance was  (W&W, Birmingham, p. 300).  Who is Jesus to you?  Right now?

Ronald Rolheiser in his book The Holy Longing says that when we love people and “hold him or her in union and forgiveness’ we are holding them to the Body of Christ as we live as part of that ‘body.’ As Jesus loved and forgave, so we by our baptism are empowered to do likewise. “The incredible graciousness. power, and mercy that came into our world in Jesus is still . . . in our world in us, the Body of Christ. What Jesus did we too can do; in fact, that is precisely what we are asked to do.” (p. 89-90)

2nd Reading: I Peter 20 – 25

Remember that Jesus’ wounds became his identification marks after resurrection. As ‘wounded healers’, we can let the Spirit of Jesus help us to bring life out of the good and the bad times of our lives. This letter is written to a people –many of whom were slaves — who were being persecuted for their faith under the Roman Emperor Domitian at the end of the first century. Their endurance in the face of suffering helped the church to survive even to this day. May we trust in this same Spirit when we face difficulties.  (Celebration, April 2005). How do you think we are ‘healed’ by the wounds of Christ?

The Hebrew Scripture’s background for this reading is probably Isaiah 53: 4 – 12 – a Suffering Servant song.  “By his wounds we are healed . . .” — Jesus and we are bound together by the chafing rope of pain. There is something about suffering that longs to be shared. But with Jesus suffering can become a blessing. What if in Jesus we find a way to trust in that love despite whatever happens?  What if we actually believe that in Jesus we are guaranteed a happy-ending? Love can become the oil for the wounds of suffering, and suffering can become the oil for the fire of love. Let us rely on our Risen Lord, our Good Shepherd. (Celebration, April 2005)

“Happy are they who have reached the end of the road we seek to tread, who are astonished to discover the by no means self-evident truth that grace is costly just because it is the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  Happy are the simple followers of Jesus Christ who have been overcome by his grace, and are able to sing the praises of the all-sufficient grace of Christ with humbleness of heart.  Happy are they who, knowing that grace, can live in the world without being of it, who, by following Jesus Christ, are so assured of their heavenly citizenship that they are truly free to live their lives in the world.  Happy are they who know that discipleship simply means the life which springs from grace, and that grace simply means discipleship.  For them the word grace has proved a fount of mercy,”  (Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, p. 60).

The Gospel: John 10: 1-10

Three important Hebrew Scripture readings serve as background for this passage:

Ezekiel 34+: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel . . . who have been pasturing themselves! Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep? . . . I am coming against these shepherds . . . I will save my sheep . . . I myself will look after and tend my sheep . . . The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal [but the sleek and strong I will destroy], shepherding them rightly.

Jeremiah 23+:  “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter . . . I myself will gather the remnant of my flock . . . and bring them back to their meadow . . . so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none will be missing, says the Lord.

Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd” . . .

Some ideas and facts concerning shepherds:

In Palestine sheep were kept mostly for their wool – not for their meat only.  The sheep were often with the shepherd for many years; they were called by descriptive ‘pet’ names. A shepherd had to be a vigilant and fearless guide for his sheep. (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of John, Vol.II, p.56)

In this land of winding paths and rock cliffs with thin pastures surrounded by desert and wild animals, an alert and wise shepherd was indispensable to the survival of the sheep. At the end of the day, the shepherd would hold out his rod, close to the ground, having each sheep pass under it as the shepherd would examine it to see if it needed any care. Wounded ones would be ‘cleaned’ and anointed with oil; thirsty ones would be given water.  When all had been cared for, the shepherd would lie down and sleep across the entrance to the sheepfold. He was the safe ‘gate’ by which the sheep could come and go. In this way, the shepherd became the source of life and goodness [salvation].  The gate did not ‘confine’ the sheep, but provided a “spaciousness of security, peace, and protection.”

In the morning when it was time to take the sheep to pasture, the shepherds would call to their sheep by a special sound or whistle, laugh or strange type of noise or song. Each sheep recognized the voice of their own shepherd. They followed that voice for it meant food, protection, warmth, healing and safety.  This sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, armed shepherd was the source of life and protection, strength and guidance for the sheep.  (Celebration, April 1999 & 2005, as well as John Pilch, http://liturgy.slu.edu/4EasterA041308/theword_cultural.html).

Sheep are naturally very vulnerable animals. If one gets lost, it will fall to the ground and ‘bleat’ loudly until the shepherd finds it. We can learn a lot from sheep!(The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A, John Pilch, p.77)

The image of being sheep can make us a bit uncomfortable – it can imply we are just part of a ‘flock’ – sort of stupid and dependent.  It seems to imply that we need to be ‘blindly’ obedient. But remember that obedience first means to listen. When we listen to our Shepherd Jesus, we find insight, truth, vision, understanding. He accompanies us through dark valleys and shows where to find life and real safety. (Living Liturgy, Year A, 2002, p.131)

William Barclay tells us of an interesting Jewish legend that was used to explain why God chose Moses to be leader of his people. “When Moses was feeding the sheep of his father-in-law in the wilderness, a young sheep ran away. Moses followed it until it reached a ravine, where it found a well to drink from. When Moses got up to it, he said: ‘I did not know that you ran away because you were thirsty. Now you must be weary.’ He took the sheep on his shoulders and carried it back.  Then God said: “Because you have shown pity in leading back one of a flock belonging to a man, you shall lead my flock Israel.’” It is good to recall that the word pastor comes from a Latin word for shepherd.  (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of John, Vol. II, p.54-55)

In today’s world we encounter many gates. There are gated communities, gates of entry into theaters and sporting events, toll gates. Each gate represents both a dividing line and a means of entry. What does Jesus divide? What does Jesus open up?

In John’s gospel, there is a series of solemn statements that identifies aspects of Jesus’ identity. These are called the “I am” statements, such as “I am . . . the bread of life (6:48); the Good Shepherd (10:11, 14), the way, the truth, and the life (14:6), the light of the world (8:12; 9:5), the resurrection and the life (11:25). In this week’s gospel, Jesus asserts, “I am the gate” (10:7, 9). This gate opens up to abundant life . . .

Pray about which image seems most meaningful to you.

(“Working with the Word” http://liturgy.slu.edu/4EasterA041308/theword_working.html)

Going through the gate instead of hopping the fence…reminds us that there is no easy way out of our difficult times.  We can’t skip steps.  We have to go THROUGH, and a pasture will await us there.  From Riding the Dragon (R. Wicks, p. 150, quoting The Alchemistby P. Coelho), “Once you get into the desert, there’s no going back,” said the camel driver.  “And when you can’t go back, you have to worry only about moving forward.  The rest is up to Allah, including the danger.”

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