Fourth Sunday of Easter • May 3, 2020
First Reading: Acts 2:14a, 36–41
Psalm: Psalm 23:1–3a, 3b-4, 5, 6 (1)
Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:20b-25
Gospel Acclamation: John 10:14
Gospel: John 10:1–10
The readings for this Sunday are about the importance and benefits of staying connected with our Shepherd. If we have wandered away, He wants us to come home. We need to return because we really do need a shepherd. We really are sheep and really don’t know what’s best for us.
If there is growing distance in our relationship with Him, we need to address it and draw near again. During this time of isolation due to the pandemic, let’s use this time to take stock of where we really are with our Shepherd and make the life course corrections needed. Saint James said, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8 RSVCE). That’s a promise.
The First Reading takes place at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell upon the Apostles and the other disciples who were waiting for Him. Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, is in the midst of proclaiming a powerful message to a large crowd of Jews gathered from all over the Roman Empire for Pentecost. Peter is telling them that they have corporately crucified their Christ, their Messiah, their Shepherd, Jesus.
The Holy Spirit enabled many of them to receive that devastating news, and they were cut to the heart. They cried out in contrition, “What are we to do, my brothers?!”
And Peter told them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38–39 NABRE) In other words, return to the shepherd and guardian of your souls, Israel! God still wants you back despite what you did to His Son. And the Son, the crucified one, wants you back.
We should also note the linkage between repentance, baptism, the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit in Peter’s response.
The Responsorial Psalm is perhaps the most famous, comforting and well-known Psalm of all times, Psalm 23. Many have it memorized and can recite it. My son recommended it on Facebook to his family and friends on the night before his 2nd transplant surgery, during which his Shepherd called him home. Please spend some time reflecting on it this week. It is much loved because it is tested and true. We really do have a shepherd who loves us, is attentive to our real needs and who will accompany us through the dark valleys of this life. And He has set a table before us in the presence of our enemies.
We hear from Saint Peter again in the Second Reading, where he exhorts us to follow in the footsteps of our Shepherd, the way of the Cross. It is a hard path, but one which brings healing. And Jesus leads the way as the Good Shepherd that He is. Peter also reveals how Jesus accomplished it. He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly, that is, His Father and ours.
I am the good shepherd, says the Lord; I know my sheep and mine know me.
For an exposition of the Gospel reading, I will defer to St. John Chrysostom from the 4th Century. His comments are from the Catena Aurea, by Saint Thomas Aquinas, a compilation of the thoughts of the Church Fathers on the four Gospels.
Comments on John 10, Verses 1–10, according to St. John Chrysostom, from the Catena Aurea
Our Lord having reproached the Jews with blindness, they might have said, We are not blind, but we avoid you as a deceiver. Our Lord therefore gives the marks which distinguish a robber and deceiver from a true shepherd. First come those of the deceiver and robber: Verily, verily, I say to you, He that enters not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.
There is an allusion here to Antichrist, and to certain false Christs who had been, and were to be. The Scriptures He calls the door. They admit us to the knowledge of God, they protect the sheep, they shut out the wolves, they bar the entrance to heretics. He that uses not the Scriptures, but climbs up some other way, i.e. some self-chosen, some unlawful way, is a thief. Climbs up, He says, not, enters, as if it were a thief getting over a wall, and running all risks.
Some other way, may refer too to the commandments and traditions of men which the Scribes taught, to the neglect of the Law. When our Lord further on calls Himself the Door, we need not be surprised. According to the office which He bears, He is in one place the Shepherd, in another the Sheep. In that He introduces us to the Father, He is the Door, in that He takes care of us, He is the Shepherd.
You have seen His description of a robber, now see that of the Shepherd: But he that enters in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.
The porter perhaps is Moses; for to him the oracles of God were committed.
As they had called Him a deceiver, and appealed to their own unbelief as the proof of it; (Which of the rulers believes in Him?) He shows here that it was because they refused to hear Him, that they were put out of His flock. The sheep hear His voice. The Shepherd enters by the lawful door; and they who follow Him are His sheep; they who do not, voluntarily put themselves out of His flock.
And He calls His own sheep by name.
He led out the sheep, when He sent them not out of the reach of, but into the midst of, the wolves. There seems to he a secret allusion to the blind man. He called him out of the midst of the Jews; and he heard His voice.
Shepherds always go behind their sheep; but He, on the contrary, goes before, to show that He would lead all to the truth.
The strangers are Theudas, and Judas, and the false apostles who came after Christ. That He might not appear one of this number, He gives many marks of difference between Him and them. First, Christ brought men to Him by teaching them out of the Scriptures; they drew men from; the Scriptures. Secondly, the obedience of the sheep; for men believed on Him, not only during His life, but after death: their followers ceased, as soon as they were gone.
Our Lord, to waken the attention of the Jews, unfolds the meaning of what He has said; Then said Jesus to them again, Verily, verily, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.
He said not this of the Prophets, as the heretics think, but of Theudas, and Judas, and other agitators. So he adds in praise of the sheep, The sheep heard them not; but he no where praises those who disobeyed the prophets, but condemns them severely.
Or, He refers to the Apostles who went in and out boldly; for they became the masters of the world, none could turn them out of their kingdom, and they found pasture.
The thief comes not but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy; this was literally fulfilled in the case of those movers of sedition, whose followers were nearly all destroyed; deprived by the thief even of this present life. But came, He said, for the salvation of the sheep; That they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly, in the kingdom of heaven. This is the third mark of difference between Himself, and the false prophets.
May God bless the reading of His word, and may the Holy Spirit apply it to our lives. In the Holy Name of Jesus. Amen.