|Our shepherd and sheepgate
|Mary Jo Tully|
Chancellor, Archdiocese of Portland
Sunday, May 11, 2014
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Acts of the Apostles 2:14a, 36-41
1 Peter 2:20b-25
Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus is both the Sheepgate and Good Shepherd. Our familiarity with today’s Psalm makes the notion of the Good Shepherd a comforting thought. Jesus is the one who will seek us out if we are lost, who will provide an eternal home for us and an everlasting banquet. The sheepgate is more problematic for us. During the time of Jesus, shepherds would bring their sheep to a large enclosed sheep-pen for the night. A man who guarded a single gate cared for them. The only way for a thief to enter was to break down the pen. When the shepherds would return in the morning, the gate was opened and they called their sheep. The sheep knew the shepherd and his voice. The Gospel tells us that Jesus is the gate of entry—the only one who can give entry to the pasture. He is also the only one who can delegate the care of thesheep. Jesus is telling us that only through him do we have access to the Father.
Christ’s pasture is the world with all its crags and crannies, with its arid deserts and rocky plains. It is a pasture in which wolves lurk and there are dangers on all sides. The road the Shepherd takes is not the “safe” one that avoids pitfalls and has been trod by countless others. It is a road filled with risk and uncertainty.
Yet, the Shepherd asks his sheep to follow him — to see where he has been and walk in his footsteps. When all goes well, we Christians do just that. We follow behind, taking time to enjoy the streams and to graze in the green. Sometimes, though, the Shepherd seems to diverge from what appears the straight and narrow. He takes time out to refresh a fellow traveler and the sheep must wait when waiting is unpleasant. Or, the Shepherd hurries to help the oppressed. To remain with him, the sheep must hurry too. At times like these, being sheep--no matter who the Shepherd--is unpleasant. Such is life in the Christian community. When all is pleasant, we have little difficulty following Jesus. All is resurrection! All is life! All is glory! But the way to resurrection is strewn with countless deaths. To avoid these, we stray from the path. We become “lost” and the Shepherd must seek us out. Christ must find those who have promised to follow close upon his heels. He seems never to tire of doing this. The history of his people is a story of those who are always being sought and found. It is the story of persons who lose sight of their goal and then are lead to it.
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