Jesus, the caring Shepherd and the gate of the Sheepfold

Jesus, the caring Shepherd and the gate  of the Sheepfold

4th Sunday of Easter, A, (John 10:1-10)
Good Shepherd Sunday, May 7, 2017

By Fr. Sal Putzu, SDB

WE are familiar with many beautiful titles of Jesus, such as “The Good Shepherd,” “The Light of the World,” “The Resurrection and the Life,” “The Way, the Truth, and the Life,” and others that sound so rich in meaning and inspiring. We are much less impressed, it seems, when we hear him say that he is “The Gate of the Sheepfold,” or simply “The Gate.” Somehow, this title sounds rather “static” and not as rich in meaning as the other ones.

And yet, Jesus himself introduced it with the statement: “My solemn word is this . . .” or (in other translations) “Amen, amen I say to you . . .” which he uses only when he is about to say something very important. This fact alone should bring us to conclude that his role as “The Gate of the Sheepfold” is indeed a vital one. Our difficulty in appreciating this may come from the fact that both flocks of sheep and sheepfolds are not part of the environment in which we live and, therefore, of our experience and our culture.

Things were very different from those who were listening to Jesus. Sheep and sheepfolds could be seen everywhere in the countryside. Every sheepfold had only one gate, and everyone knew that it was only through that gate that the sheep could enter the sheepfold inside which they could find protection from ravenous beasts and thieves during the night. Likewise, it was only by exiting from that gate that the sheep could be led by their shepherd to green pastures and the refreshing streams of water. The closed gate, then, was an indispensable means for the sheep to feel safe while the open gate was the way to reach the sources of their nourishment.

All this is Jesus for us and all the other members of his flock, the Church. It is through him that we enter the sheepfold of the Church within which we have so many means to protect ourselves from the constant attacks of the devil. Likewise, it is through Jesus that we have access to the sources of spiritual nourishment such as the Holy Scriptures, the Sacraments and the enlightened leadership of the pastors of the Church who guide us in his name and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In other words, it is only through Jesus that we are saved from sin, and it is through him that we can attain the holiness required to enjoy everlasting happiness, the very purpose for which we were created. Speaking defiantly to the religious leaders of Israel, Peter restated the same truth when he proclaimed, “There is no salvation in anyone else, for there is no other name in the world . . . by which we are to be saved” (Acts 4:12).

What will our response be to the awareness of the role of Jesus in our life? There is only one intelligent response: to FOLLOW HIM, as today’s Gospel passage suggests. (See Jn 10:4.) We are under no compulsion to do so, of course, for God does not impose His gifts, but only offers them. On the other hand, we should also remember that Jesus is not just one of several possible saviors/options. He is the only one. He is THE ONLY GATE to eternal life; the ONLY SHEPHERD that knows and gives what the sheep need for their safety and happiness. Away from him or without him, we would be at the mercy of thieves, murderers and ravenous beasts.