4th SUNDAY OF EASTER (A)
Sunday 30 April 2023
“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”
The ‘shepherd of the flock’ imagery is a familiar one in the biblical context. Some of the psalms identify God as the Shepherd who guides His people, the flock (Ps 79:13; 95:7; 100:3). In John’s Gospel, Jesus represents Himself using this very common rural image.
In verses 3-4 we note two verbs that are important revelations for each of us, in order to understand and test if we are sheep and truly part of Jesus’ flock.
- “The sheep listen to his voice”: Listening is the fundamental attitude for belonging to the flock of Jesus. In the Bible, seeing is nowhere near as important as listening. This is why, for Jewish people, and the disciples in the New Testament, the ‘Shema Israel’, (meaning ‘Listen [or Hear], Israel’) is so central. The Greek verb used here in John’s Gospel doesn’t only mean merely listening, but requires a step further: putting in to practice what we have heard. This, in essence, is the concept of ‘obedience’. This image of the sheep is helpful for us, as it provides an icon of docility and meekness.
- “The sheep follow him” Following is an indispensable condition, so that the flock doesn’t remain still, but is itinerant and keeps moving. It is interesting to note that the expression, “leads them out” (the Greek verb exàgo) calls to mind the exodus of the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. The Shepherd leads the flock out of slavery to sin, and walks ahead of His flock, giving example to each of the sheep.
Salvation is definitely a fact or event that applies to the individual person, but also an event that is intrinsically communitarian. We are part of a flock to which we are called and with whom we are called to live our trusting faith in Jesus the Shepherd every day. We are called to live our faith in an intimate and personal way, but at the same time sharing it with other brothers and sisters. We have the freedom to belong to that flock or not!
So, let’s fine-tune our listening skills, so that we can clearly distinguish the voice of the Good Shepherd from other voices. Let’s keep our eyes fixed on Him who walks in front, guiding and opening the path for the flock. In fact, in the spiritual life what matters most is listening/obedience and following. All the rest comes as a consequence of this.