for the fourth Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14a, 36-41 - 1 Pt 2:20-25 - Jn 10:1-10
by Canon Dr. Daniel Meynen
The Good Shepherd
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Acts 2:14, Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: 36, «Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.» 37, Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, «Brethren, what shall we do?» 38, And Peter said to them, «Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39, For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.» 40, And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, «Save yourselves from this crooked generation.» 41, So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
In this time of Easter, when we commemorate the sacrifice and resurrection of the Lamb of God, the opportunity to speak of Jesus the Good Shepherd immediately comes to mind. This is why the fourth Sunday of Easter is consecrated to this image of the Good Shepherd, the guide of faithful souls, just as a shepherd guides his sheep to the sheepfold after they have found fresh grass to eat in the various pastures...
The first two readings for this Sunday report the words of the Apostle Saint Peter, the first Pope, he to whom Jesus gave the charge of representing him on earth, not only in his function as the Good Shepherd of souls, but also in that of the gatekeeper who opens or closes the door of the sheepfold. The gospel relates a parable of Jesus in which he explains what his role as the Good Shepherd consists of: he is at once both the shepherd and the door of the sheepfold.
We see that Jesus and Peter have two functions: one with respect to the Good Shepherd, and the other with respect to the door of the sheepfold. With respect to the Good Shepherd, Peter must use the voice of Jesus if he wants the sheep to obey him, for the latter recognize only the voice of the Good Shepherd: "The sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers." (Jn 10:4-5)
With respect to the door, Jesus and the sheep cannot enter the sheepfold unless the gatekeeper, that is to say Peter or the Pope, opens the door, of which he holds the key: "But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens... " (Jn 10:2-3) Let us recall that Peter, and the Popes following him, received from Jesus the power of the keys: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 16:19)
If we consider this function of the Good Shepherd in its entirety, we see that Peter must submit himself to Jesus by using his voice, but that Jesus, as well as the sheep, must submit themselves to Peter by entering the sheepfold only if Peter opens the door. Everyone here must have an unequaled humility! A humility which translates into reality through a reciprocal obedience: how could Peter still speak in his own name when Jesus himself submits to his authority as gatekeeper? How could Jesus enter the sheepfold by a way other than the door, like a thief or a brigand, when all the sheep, including Peter, have placed all their trust in him as the Good Shepherd of souls?
Being the Good Shepherd is thus a task in which one is never alone: Jesus the Good Shepherd is never alone, for he is the Head of the Church, his Body, always united to him in the person of Peter and the Pope, his successor; Peter, and the Pope, is never alone, for he is the spokesman of Christ, being with him but a single Body.
1 Pt 2:20-25
1 Pt 2: 20, For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God's approval. 21, For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22, He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. 23, When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. 24, He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25, For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.
In his epistle, before speaking of the "straying sheep" and the "shepherd", Saint Peter cites the Prophet Isaiah, and thus the Old Testament. In Biblical tradition, the image of the sheep and the shepherd occurs frequently. Let us note above all that several great personages who prefigure the Messiah were shepherds. For instance, the first immolated lamb, Abel, was a "shepherd" (Gen 4:2). Abram made his living mainly by raising cattle, being "very rich in cattle" (Gen 13:2). Jacob had his "flock" pastured by his sons, among whom was Joseph (Gen 37:12). "Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro." (Ex. 3:1) David himself, before reigning for forty years over Israel, occupied himself with "keeping the sheep" (1 Sam 16:11).
Jn 10:1, «Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber; 2, but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3, To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4, When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5, A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.» 6, This figure Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7, So Jesus again said to them, «Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8, All who came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them. 9, I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10, The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.»
The gospel passage read today is completed by a few additional verses, which follow immediately afterwards: verses 11 to 18 of chapter 10. But we can also complete this reading with the parable of the Good Shepherd and the Lost Sheep (Lk 15:1-7). Finally, let us remember this well: Jesus is the door! "I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture." (Jn 10:9) If the sheep enter by the door, they will not go astray!
If there is but one mediator, Jesus, who is the door of the sheepfold, let us also think of that other door, Mary, the Door of Heaven, "Janua Coeli"! When Jesus, who bears the Holy Spirit, is there, then Mary is not far... When Peter, the gatekeeper, is there, then Mary, She who provides access to Jesus, the Shepherd and the Door of the sheepfold, is not far... Under the gaze of the Father, let us be faithful and docile sheep, in humility and trust!