Year A: Fourth Sunday of Easter
The Good Shepherd
“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.” Although Jesus used this figure of speech, they did not realize what he was trying to tell them.
So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came [before me] are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.
- How do you understand Jesus’ words “Whoever enters through me will be saved”? What does it mean for you to enter “through Jesus” during this lifetime?
- Who are the people in your life who have acted as a shepherd by pointing you toward the Gatekeeper-Jesus? Are there people in your life who may need shepherding from you?
- What is your understanding of the “abundance of life” Jesus is speaking of and how are you doing at participating in His reality? Are you experiencing life more abundantly?
Dr Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD
John is writing his Gospel at the end of the century. In John’s community those Jews who believe in Jesus’ divinity are being expelled from the synagogue by those Jews who do not believe. This is a very serious problem for those expelled because they are no longer exempt from participating in emperor worship. If a Christian Jew, expelled the synagogue, refused to participate in emperor worship, that person was subject to persecution, even death.
It is important to keep this social setting in mind as we read today’s Gospel because otherwise we might misunderstand John’s animosity toward “the Jews.” Readers throughout the centuries who have failed to remember this context have sometimes used the Gospel to support anti-Semitism. When John pictures “the Jews” as Jesus’ adversaries and when John pictures Jesus saying harsh things about them, the phrase the Jews does not refer to all Jews, even all Jews of John’s time. Jesus, the apostles, the author of John’s Gospel, and much of John’s Christian audience were all Jews. We will discuss further exactly which Jews John is talking about after we look at the passage.
In the context of John’s Gospel, the story we read today comes immediately after the story of Jesus healing the man born blind. In that story John has reminded us about his contemporary Jews being expelled from the synagogue by saying: “[the blind man’s] parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone acknowledged him as the Messiah, he would be expelled from the synagogue” (John 9:22-23). Jews were not being expelled from the synagogue because of their belief in Jesus during Jesus’ public ministry, but when John was writing his Gospel. By making this statement John is conflating the times of the two stories. John is teaching that what Jesus says to the Jewish leaders in the story, the risen Christ is saying to the Jewish leaders of John’s own time.
After Jesus healed the man born blind, neither Jesus nor the man born blind were accepted by the Jewish leaders. These leaders called the man in to explain how he could now see, they refused to believe what he said, and then they threw him out (John 9). Jesus corrected the leaders for their treatment of this man. As we read today’s Gospel we are reading part of what Jesus says when he corrects them.
In today’s passage Jesus presents himself as both the good shepherd and the gate for the sheep. John is teaching his audience that Jesus is God and is the only way to the Father. Jesus says, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved” This statement, like other “I AM” statements in John’s Gospel, is an allusion to the story of Moses and the burning bush when God reveals God’s name as “I AM.” Jesus is claiming his own union with the Father and stating that he is the only source of salvation. He is also accusing those Jewish leaders who do not recognize him as being “thieves and robbers.” Rather than caring for the flock, they are harming the flock.
The words that John has placed on Jesus’ lips are directed at the Jewish leaders of his own day who are “throwing out” their fellow Jews who believe in Jesus’ divinity. Instead of caring for the flock they are endangering the lives of the flock. Instead of recognizing Jesus’ role in their salvation they are rejecting him. Jesus did not come to “throw out” but to care for the sheep. Jesus came “so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
By Ted Wolgamot
The famous comedian George Carlin used to do a routine called “stuff” — referring to all the possessions we accumulate and cling to so dearly. Here are some things he said about “stuff”:
“The whole meaning of life is trying to find a place for our stuff. That’s what your house is — a place to put all your stuff. Your house is really just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. It’s a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff. You then have to buy a bigger house because you’ve run out of room for all your stuff, and you have to have more space for more stuff.”
He pointed out how addicted we can become to our possessions, leading to the simple yet profound question: “Do you own your stuff or does your stuff own you?”
In contrast to all this fascination with “stuff,” today’s Gospel of John ends with these striking, hope-filled words: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” But what does Jesus mean by the word “abundantly”? Is he referring to the acquisition of more stuff, more possessions, more things, more gadgets?
Quite the contrary. What Jesus is really talking about is our openness to receiving a gift, a grace. It is the grace we find when we believe that only God can fill the hole in our soul. And, it comes precisely when we abandon the incessant acquisition of more and more stuff.
Jesus is talking today about that down-deep emptiness in our lives — an emptiness that all the “stuff” in the world just doesn’t seem to fill up. He’s talking about our most fundamental need to feel that our lives are ultimately about something far richer and deeper than the stuff we so crave.
Ultimately, Jesus is talking about developing an “abundance mentality,” a way of thinking and acting that says: “There is enough for everyone, more than enough food, love … everything!” When we live with this mind-set, we begin to see the miracle of what we give away multiplying to the point of having plenty left over.
“Abundance mentality” is the opposite of a “scarcity mentality” that wants to hold back, refuse to share, and keep only for ourselves.
Almost one in six people in the United States live in poverty. Experts say that social service agencies, such as food banks and organizations that assist with housing, utilities and transportation costs, report an increasing need for assistance from people who made donations in the past but now come seeking aid for themselves!
Globally, the numbers are even more alarming: Nearly half of all children live in poverty and far too many die of easily preventable diseases. It’s estimated that 80 percent of all people on the planet live on less than ten dollars a day; even worse, many work in abysmal conditions for almost no pay. Abundance is a word most people throughout the world wouldn’t even understand or comprehend. Yet, we do — because material abundance is all around us.
The problem for many of us, is that too often we think it refers only to the garnering of more stuff. Jesus is trying to help us understand in today’s Gospel, and throughout his whole ministry, that true abundance comes not from what we possess, but from how deeply we love, how generously we share.
Jesus sends each of us an invitation: Spend less time acquiring more stuff and more time developing a mind-set of abundance, an abundance mentality.
“I came so that you might have life and have it more abundantly.”
Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle A, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2007 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc. www.paulistpress.com.