The 4th Sunday of Easter, the day we are invited to pray for vocations, we meditate on the parable of the Good Shepherd according to the Gospel of John. We pray not only for vocations out there, but rather, that we ourselves may be men and women who, like Jesus the good shepherd, facilitate entry through the gate of life.
Bible readings Acts 2: 14-41 Psalms 23 1 Peter 2: 20-25 John 10: 1-10
Jesus the Good Shepherd
In chapter 10 of this Sunday’s Gospel we have John’s presentation of the parable of Jesus as Good Shepherd. In Mathew 18 and Luke 15 we have the image of the shepherd who’s concerned about the lost one. He leaves the 99 sheep in order to go and seek the one that’s missing. In this image, not only does Jesus reveal the image of God the Father, but he is also the fulfilment of the promise made long ago to Israel. Seeing the way the leaders of Israel abused their power to enrich themselves and failed to care for the people, God said he will come down and he himself will shepherd his people Israel (Ezekiel 34). And so, when Jesus says I’m a Good Shepherd, that’s already familiar to the people who have been waiting for the fulfilment of the promise.
This text invites each person to check oneself: in my family, among friends, in my professional life; in short, in whatever position of responsibility I hold before others, what kind of shepherd am I?
Jesus, the gate way
Indeed, when we think of chapter 10 of the Gospel of John what comes immediately in our mind is the image of the Good Shepherd. That means we know the text more or less by heart. It’s an advantage. Yet, it can also be a danger. Such general knowledge can be a distraction, preventing us from discovering with newness of the text we have been given.
Well, though it’s the same chapter in which Jesus affirms himself as Good Shepherd, as matter of fact, the text of this Sunday does not talk about Jesus the Good Shepherd, but rather, Jesus as gate. What does that mean?
The gate or the door is the opening through which we can enter or go out. Through this gate, pass both the sheep and the shepherd. That’s clear, whatever responsibility we may have before others; Christ remains our common centre. It’s not just the sheep to pass through the gate but also the shepherd. With Jesus as gate, we are assured of security and access to life; there’s liberty of entering and going out; security is guaranteed for those inside and the door is open for those who want to enter or come out. With Jesus as gate, no one is refused entry; access is open to all. Each person has a place and is known by name. He enters as he is.
What’s my vision of gate?
I find this image of Jesus as gate an invitation to evaluate how I live my faith in relation to others. The shepherd who also passes by the gate has also the responsibility of a gate-keeper.
The temptation is high to think of shepherds or door keepers narrowly in terms of church leaders or ordained ministers. It’s not wrong to think that way, yet, we can widen it. Through our baptism, especially by our different engagements in the world, we are also doorkeepers. But what kind of door keeper am I?
For some people, instead of the gate being an entry point it becomes a point for moral scrutiny. That can be a danger for those who think of being a Christian in terms of moral rectitude. It’s true, the response of faith to the love of God transforms us. Nevertheless, we can’t define ourselves as Christians basing on moral standing. Jesus, the gate that opens to life, mingles with sinners: he invites himself to Zacchaeus and he doesn’t ask him convert (Lk 19) –it’s a free response (Homily for 31st Sunday C. Zacchaeus come down, beloved son); Jesus calls Levi a tax collector to become his disciple (Mt 9) –no condition is imposed on him; Jesus welcomes the sinful woman with a bad reputation in her town (Lk 7). That’s the attitude of Jesus the gate. He’s a gate, not for shutting people out but for facilitating entry.
Moral arrogance as obstacle
Sometimes we speak of Christians in “irregular situations” when we refer to persons who for one reason or another can’t receive sacraments. On the other hand, we have those Christians whom we refer to as being in “regular situation.” You find them in a line for communion, for example. The fact that I have access to all the sacraments I may risk falling in some vanity to the point that I look at others with an eye of judgement. I place myself at the gate with wings in a peacock style –see how good I’m! Pope Francis exhorts the Church to keep its doors open and not act as a “customs post” otherwise we risk becoming «…controllers of faith rather than facilitators.”
Called to be ushers
In society today, before Jesus as gate, we find different persons who are considering entering: some find themselves in some moral fragility, others are haunted by doubt, and still others they fear or experience the feeling of guilty and shame. The christian community has an important role to play. If these people find door bouncers at the gate it’s very unlikely that they will desire to enter. But if they find ushers, most probably they will feel encouraged to enter and see what’s happening inside. As Christians our vocation is to be ushers. We care called to encourage and facilitate their entry. It’s only by entering inside that they can discover and experience the gratuitous love of God. Unconditional love is the sure motivation of conversion.
Hence, on this Sunday for vocations, let’s pray that as Christians we may be true ushers who encourage others to enter the gate of faith.
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