FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER–4/25/10
by Msgr. Eric R. Barr, STL
READING: JN 10:27-30
I. The Shepherd Who Keeps the Gate
A. Shepherding in Palestine is not like raising beef cattle. In Palestine, the Holy Land, you raise sheep for wool, not food. Therefore, the sheep are born, grow up, grow old, and finally die. The shepherd is close to them and each one of them has a name.
B. In the Gospel today Jesus says, "My sheep hear my voice: I know them, and they follow me. The sheep hear the shepherd's voice as he calls them by name..he walks in front of them, and the sheep follow him because they recognize his voice. They will not follow a stranger, such a one they will flee, because they do not recognize a stranger's voice." Jesus is simply telling the truth of shepherding in Palestine. The shepherd's voice is listened to and no one else has the power to direct the sheep.
C. I've used the image before, but let me use my example again. One evening, I was at the foot of Mt. Sinai, and out of the hills came this beautiful music; it was the music of pipes playing. And then a rumble of tiny hooves and from a gap in the hills streamed a herd of sheep. Behind them was the Bedouin piper, dressed in his colorful red and black clothes. As he piped the sheep trotted. When he stopped and spoke, they did as he asked. He led them to water and they drank. He spoke and they lifted up their heads. He piped and they went back into the hills to the sheepfold. There was no harsh authority there; no hint of tyranny or any idea of superiority of the human over the animal. There was a care and compassion that shown across the valley to where I sat--this was a shepherd who loved his sheep.
D. Out in open air pastures like that shepherd was, the sheep would be guided into an open air pen walled in by brush. One opening, no door, for the shepherd is the gate--he lies down in front of the opening. All this is really important to remember when we try to make sense out of this Gospel.
II. Choosing Christ Means Allowing Him To Shepherd Our Lives
A. Like the shepherd in the little story I told, Christ knows our name--he guides us. Through our troubles, through our trials, through our struggles, he guides us. A lot of times, though, we aren't as smart as the sheep are. Their ears are tuned to hear the voice of the shepherd. Ours often are not. We hear many other voices calling us to do this or do that, and sometimes we just don't hear the voice of Christ the Good Shepherd.
B. But Christ never gives up. He knows our name and he challenges us when we try to stray. When we try to leave him, like some wayward sheep in the night tries to step over the shepherd who lies across the only opening in the pen, when we try to go out into the night, Christ asks us, "Where are you going?" When we get lost, he comes after us. When evil takes hold of us and enters our lives because we have been careless or deliberately choose to leave the Good Shepherd, Christ is the strong protector who drives away all that would harm us.
III. But We Must Remember We Belong To Him
A. We are his--we belong to Christ--he pipes the tune. He is not controlling us, but leading us to pastures of freedom. But there are boundaries. We have to walk a certain way. Just like the sheep want certain plants the shepherd won't let them eat--because they are poison, just like the sheep want water from certain streams the shepherd won't let them drink from--because they are tainted, so we often want certain things that Christ says no too because they poison our souls--like revenge whenever we want, lust whenever we want, drugs and alcohol as much of whenever we want. And Christ says, "No, do not do this; I can't let you go; you will get hurt." Sometimes enemies that want to devour the sheep jump over the walls and start terrorizing the sheep. Then the shepherd has to get up and swing that staff and drive away the wolves who seek to steal the sheep. So too, Christ recognizes that sometimes enemies come within the Church telling people it's ok not to go to Church, or follow the marriage laws or the sexual ethics of the Church, or it's ok to be for abortion or mercy killing, and Christ the Good Shepherd tells his priests and deacons and religious teachers and parents to speak out strongly and protect the people, protect the children, stand up for Christ's teaching.
B. But Christ is a Good Shepherd. He doesn't pen his people in. His boundaries that he sets keep the people safe, but he expects them to go out into the world, to live, to grow, to enjoy life. But he wants his people to listen to his voice. As we approach the warmer weather--as our thoughts turn to the coming summer remember the four points of this Gospel:
1. We belong to Christ, he protects us and cares for us.
2. We must walk as he has asked us to.
3. We can't do certain things–there are sinful actions to avoid.
4. But with him to guide us, we will live, love and grow in joy and happiness--we will truly be alive.