A recent statistic claims that 56% of the world’s population now live in cities. Presumably, such people have little or no contact with sheep or shepherds. The fourth Sunday of Easter is traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday because the gospels for all three years of the liturgical cycle are taken from John 10, the chapter in which Jesus tells the Jerusalem crowd, I am the good shepherd (Jn 10:11). The pastoral metaphor is prominent in the Scriptures, and we continue to use it today (the Church’s “pastors”, “pastoral responsibility” etc). Probably, few of us feel or want to feel like sheep: it is important, therefore, that we enter into what lies behind the image, namely, the tremendous commitment of God to our total wellbeing.
Today’s short gospel comes from the second half of John 10. Before we look at it, however, let us recall the overall movement of Eastertide: we abandon Luke and walk with John in each of the Sundays. Someone called John “the mystagogic gospel”, that is, the one that leads us into the mystery of our life in Christ: relevant indeed for those newly baptised at Easter, but also for all of us who seek to deepen our knowledge and love of God.
The gospel of this fourth Sunday makes five points: the first talks about our response to Jesus, and the others about his relationship with us and with the Father.
Firstly, we listen to him (hear my voice) and follow him. The image is of sheep following the shepherd, but what is meant, in fact, is our pondering the word of God and putting it into practice in our daily lives.
Secondly, he knows us personally (I know them); we are not just a flock of nameless individuals. Just as he called Lazarus (Jn 11) and Mary Magdalene (Jn 20) by name, so he calls each one of us. Thirdly, he makes a promise or declaration: for us there is the guarantee of eternal life and the security of never being lost. We might recall here the happy fate of the lost sheep in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.
The fourth and fifth points that Jesus makes touch his relationship with the Father, a relationship we will come to share. There is the unsurpassable greatness of the Father that guarantees our safety, and, finally, the mysterious equality of the Father and the Son. The phrase I and the Father are one, with which today’s gospel concludes, was influential in the Christian tradition as it sought to elucidate the full divinity of the Son.
The mood of this fourth Sunday of Paschaltide is characterised by the joy of being loved and led by the one who is both the lamb of sacrifice and the Good Shepherd. In green pastures … beside still waters: an attractive image for those caught in the confusions of city life!
Fr Edmund Power, osb