One Shepherd, One Gatekeeper
User's Guide to Sunday, May 11
Sunday, May 11, is the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year A, Cycle II).
Acts 2:14, 36-41; Psalms 23:1-6; 1 Peter 2:20-25; John 10:1-10
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, the day we remember that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.
But the readings for Mass also remind us that this Shepherd has deputies.
Jesus uses a reference to sheep-herding that would still make sense, even very recently, to Palestinian shepherds.
One’s sheep are often kept together with those belonging to others in a common pen. All the shepherd needs to do is stand at the gate and call out the names of his sheep. They know his voice and their names, so they separate themselves from the others and follow him, eager for food.
The shepherd "walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers," he says.
When we follow Jesus, it’s because we hear his voice — even when we hear it through his deputies.
The early Church saw Christ’s ministers as shepherds — Paul calls them "guardians" of the sheep (Acts 20:28) and "pastors" (Ephesians 4:11), another name for shepherds. To use Christ’s metaphor, when we hear these shepherds, we follow because we hear Jesus’ voice in them.
But then Jesus changes his metaphor. He is not just the shepherd — he is also the gate. In this, he is unique. Jesus doesn’t just guard and direct the community like his "pastors" do; he defines the community.
Even here, he makes use of some help: a "gatekeeper."
"I am the gate," says Jesus. "Whoever enters through me will be saved." He also says: "The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice."
It’s hard not to think here of the Chief Shepherd of Christ’s pastors — Peter, to whom Christ has said, "Feed my sheep."
Peter is at the top of the Gospels’ lists of the apostles. He arranged for a replacement for Judas. He summed up the teaching at the Council of Jerusalem.
He is also featured in both readings on Good Shepherd Sunday. In the first reading from Acts, he preached the first Christian homily, directing people to Jesus Christ and calling them to baptism. In the second reading, we hear St. Peter’s letter preaching the same message:
"By his wounds, you have been healed," he says. "For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the Shepherd and guardian of your souls."
Christ is the gate, and Peter is the gatekeeper — the guy with the keys to God’s kingdom. And we are the sheep. We should wait and pray such that we’re ready to recognize the Master’s voice when he calls us by name.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.
- May 4-17, 2014