The Good Shepherd is calling — will we hear and accept his invitation?
By Tim Irwin
Fourth Sunday of Easter/May 7
Acts 2:14a,36-41; Psalm 34:1-3a,3b-4,5,6; 1 Peter 2:20b-25; John 10:1-10
The readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter feature an allegory from the Gospel according to John contrasting the sacrifice of the Good Shepherd with the treachery of the bad shepherds.
The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles is set shortly after Pentecost. It presents Peter proclaiming the Lordship of Jesus and the invitation to convert: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.” About 3,000 were baptized that day.
The second reading from the First Letter of St. Peter succinctly explains Jesus’ sacrifice for us and why we should accept baptism: “He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds, you have been healed.” Jesus suffered though he was sinless. We are not sinless, so it follows that we, too, may suffer. If and when that happens, Peter implores us to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and accept the condemnation of the world with a stout and noble heart.
The reading concludes, “For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.”
Returning to the Good Shepherd means living the Holy Faith. This calls for prayer and meditation — a single-minded commitment to trust in and follow the Good Shepherd. Prayer and meditation form the bedrock of the Catholic life and the Gospel according to John invites meditation as none of the other Gospels do.
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This week’s Gospel seems to be a meditation on the difference between those who hear that proclamation, as described by St. Peter in the second reading, and repent, and those who reject the invitation.
Jesus says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate, but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber.” It’s a clear reference to the Pharisees who are not converting to Christ and encouraging others to follow their lead. John continues, “But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”
John’s meditation then considers the lives of the Christians moving into the future: “When he has driven out all his own, he 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.”
As is often the case in this Gospel, John then slightly shifts the focus of the meditation: “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. . . . A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
We do not face the challenge of the Pharisees, but other thieves and robbers abound. Do we hear the stranger’s voice, or do we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd? If we hear the Good Shepherd, then the single-minded simplicity so well illustrated by the sheep will make perfect sense to us. If we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, we will want to accept his invitation, trust in him, and live the Holy Faith.
Tim Irwin teaches at Peoria Notre Dame High School, where he chairs the Theology Department. He is a member of St. Mark Parish in Peoria.