Franciscan Friar Fr. Paul Gallagher reflects on the Gospel for Good Shepherd Sunday. Have there been people who have helped you discern the voice of God from the many voices you hear each day?
The content is edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here Franciscan Gospel Reflection April 30 2023. Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Photo: Nheyob, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons (St. Peter Catholic Church, Millersburg, Ohio)
Jesus said: “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.
The fourth Sunday after Easter is traditionally Good Shepherd Sunday. On the Fourth Sunday of Easter in all three cycles of the year, the Gospel is taken from the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel, known as the Good Shepherd Discourse. Often communities of ancient Israel would have had enclosures at the perimeters of the villages where the community’s sheep were kept and protected. One person would guard this common pen until each shepherd would arrive to gather his flock.
Because the experience of shepherding was so common in ancient Israel, it became a common tool for understanding God’s relationship to the people. The good shepherd, like Moses and David, is described as one who is faithful to his duty of protecting his flock. Israel also had bad leaders and prophets who led the people into false worship or exploited the people; these were described as false shepherds (Ezekiel 34). This familiar image is used by John in the tenth chapter of his Gospel to help describe Jesus’ relationship, in contrast to the Scribes and Pharisees’ relationship to the people.
The Gospel text is composed of two parables and an interpretation of those parables that identifies Jesus as the gate and the shepherd. The text itself follows John’s account of Jesus’ cure of the man who was born blind (John 9:1-41). As John unfolds Jesus’ cure of the blind man, the relationships between the Pharisees and both Jesus and the blind man deteriorate. Toward the end of that passage, Jesus says that he came into the world so that those who were blind might see and those who see might become blind. The Pharisees confront Jesus’ suggestion that they are blind. He responds, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.” (John 9:41)
In the Gospel Jesus draws on two familiar roles of the day–that of shepherd and that of the keeper of the sheep gate. In Jesus’ day, most often sheep were kept in a common pen at the edge of the village. The gatekeeper knew which sheep were part of each family’s flock. It was the responsibility of the gatekeeper to protect the flock at night from those who might steal or harm the sheep.
The second parable draws on the role of the shepherd as the one who leads and protects the sheep while they are in the pasture. The description is not of a shepherd who comes behind the sheep and drives them to right pasture, but one who leads them and calls to them. The sheep know the sound of his voice and they willingly follow. This style of leadership implies a more intimate relationship between the shepherd and the sheep.
Jesus uses these two everyday experiences of people of his day to teach about the quality of care they should expect for themselves. John portrays Jesus as the good shepherd and likens the Pharisees to those who do not have a compassionate relationship with the sheep and might even take advantage of them. The Pharisees were unable to help the man born blind, and went so far as to ostracize him from the community when he did not conform to expectations. Jesus, on the other hand, first responds to the man’s need, and then he seeks him out when he is left to live a life isolated from the community. Jesus tends to his disciples like a good shepherd who even lays down his life in order that they may be kept from all who would cause them death or harm. (Photo: Holy Family Convent painting, Fransican Sisters of Christian Charity Motherhouse, Manitowoc, Wisconsin)
- What are some of the things that come to mind when you think of sheep?
- Who are the people whose voice you recognize even without seeing them? What are some of the qualities of the relationships you have with those people?
- Who are the voices competing for your attention in your everyday world? How do those people treat the blind, the misfit, and lost sheep of your community?
- What do you look for in leaders–in religious, political, and organizational leaders?
- How familiar are you with the voice of God in your life? In what ways does God speak to you?
- Have there been people who have helped you discern the voice of God from the many voices you hear each day?
- Can you take some time now to talk with God honestly about what is going on within you during the pandemic, the different voices that seem to be calling to you, and how you would like to respond to those different voices? Or maybe you would like to talk to God about the kind of voice you would like to be during these days and ask for guidance or assistance?