The Fourth Sunday of Easter – 3 May 2020
Lectionary Readings: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Ps 23:1-6; 1 Pet 2:20b-25; John 10:1-10
Theme: They did not understand what he was saying to them
It is indeed difficult for us to appreciate the images of sheepfold, sheep and shepherd because most of us live in the city or places where these are not commonplace! It would be interesting to know if there is really a practice of naming a sheep. What happens if two flocks came together? Is it really possible that the sheep would recognize their own shepherd?
In the Old Testament context, shepherds do not necessarily mean “poor” or those living at the periphery especially if they own the flock. If we recall Hamor, trying to convince the men of Shechem to be circumcised, saying, “Will not their livestock, their property, and all their animals be ours?” (Gen 34:23). Kings were also associated with shepherds. There were kings and leaders who were regarded as terrible and the images were shepherds slaughtering their own sheep and benefitting from their wool yet not caring for them (Ezekiel 34:1-4). Shepherds are expected to take care of their sheep and nurture them. In Psalm 23, the Lord is presented as a shepherd who abundantly satisfies. Chae posits that, “In Israel, the title squarely belongs to [Hashem], and thus indicates his particular rulership. The OT tends to reserve shepherd imagery for [Hashem] and, significantly extends its use only for [Hashem’s] Davidic Appointee.” (Chae, 26) In the Gospel, Jesus is presented as a trustworthy and legitimate shepherd of the flock. He is confident of his relationship with his “sheep.” It would take a thief to separate the flock from him. Like in Psalm 23, he claims to offer abundance of life.
The Gospel of John, in its usual fashion deepens the reflection into Jesus further as the “gate.” The transition is marked by verse 6, when the people did not understand the figure of speech that Jesus used. The Jewish Annotated New Testament observes, “the figure changes from the one who calls to his sheep to the one who is the means by which they are brought in” (Levine and Brettler, 179).
An internet search reveals two actual images that were associated with gate and sheep: the “Sheep Gate” which is actually located in the Old City and is still in existence and the “Sheep Chamber” in the temple area where sheep offered for daily sacrifices were kept and inspected for blemishes and imperfections. One more image that was offered is the shepherd in the fields putting the flock in a natural enclosed space and sleeps at the “entrance” to block it with his body so that the sheep do not go astray and are protected (cf. Rosica).
The images of shepherd and gate as symbols for Jesus are truly powerful. However, great care must be exercised in our interpretation of salvation through Jesus. Regarding preaching salvation and condemnation, a wry and powerful comment comes from Brown: “Nevertheless, to preach in our times this statement which dualistically equates belief in Christ with salvation and disbelief with condemnation requires caution. Today disbelief flows from many factors including unconvincing signs, e.g. the proclamation of Christ by some who scarcely resemble him.” (Brown, 21) This is relevant as we continue to enter into interreligious dialogue as Christians. The Christ that we preach must truly be the one who gives life abundantly for all and that Christ is seen in us. Otherwise, we, too, do not understand.
For Reflection and Discussion: In the images presented in today’s readings, what resonates with you the most and why?
Bibliography: Chae, Jesus as the Eschatological Davidic Shepherd (Tübingen, 2006); Levine and Brettler, The Jewish Annotated New Testament (New York, 2011); Rosica, Jesus Never Ceases To Be The Sheep Gate (2011), https://zenit.org/articles/jesus-never-ceases-to-be-the-sheep-gate/; Brown, A Risen Christ in Eastertime: Essays on the Gospel Narratives of the Resurrection (Quezon City: 1991)