click here for teachings on the daily Gospel readings   

Other Sunday and Holy Day Readings

4TH SUNDAY IN EASTER (Cycle A)

Readings:
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 23:1-6
1 Peter 2:20b-25
John 10:1-10

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation). CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God revealed His divine plan for humanity in the two Testaments, and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy. The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: The Good Shepherd
The faithful "shepherd" is a consistent Biblical metaphor for Israel's religious, military, civil leaders and kings. It was also a metaphor for the rulers of ancient pagan Near Eastern kingdoms, the ruler/king who was a "shepherd" of his people. It was a fitting image because both civil and religious leaders were responsible for guiding and protecting their people like a shepherd cares for his flock. In the Old Testament Bible texts, "shepherd" imagery is used when Moses petitions God to give Israel an ideal leader to serve as a "shepherd" to the people (cf. Num 27:17). The same imagery is in the story of David, the shepherd boy who became Israel's great king (cf. 2 Sam 5:2; 7:8). The same imagery is also used in the negative in the books of the Prophets where God condemns the "failed shepherds who are Israel's religious and civil leaders who "scatter the sheep" of God's flock (cf. Ez 34:2-10; Zec 10:2; 11:15-17). And finally, it is a metaphor applied to God who is Israel's Divine Shepherd (cf. Ps 23:1; 80:1; Is 40:11; Ez 34:11-22) and for the Redeemer-Messiah who the prophets promised would one day come to "shepherd" God's covenant people (cf. Ez 34:23; 37:24-28). Jesus will use the same metaphor to describe His relationship with the "flock" of His people in our Gospel Reading from the "Good Shepherd Discourse." He is the "good shepherd" who is willing "to lay down His life for His sheep" (Jn 10:11).

In the First Reading, St. Peter takes up his role as the "shepherd" of Christ's New Covenant people, telling the crowd on the Jewish Feast of Pentecost that repentance of sin followed by baptism in the name of Jesus the Messiah is the only way to eternal salvation.

The Responsorial Psalm is from the 23rd Psalm, probably the best loved of all the 150 psalms. Attributed to the shepherd-king David, the psalm expresses a personal reflection of the relationship between the psalmist and the nearness of his God. The psalm is framed around two metaphors: The Lord as the Divine Shepherd and the Lord as Divine Host of the sacred meal.

In the Second Reading, St. Peter applies the familiar shepherd metaphor to the guidance Jesus offers to those who suffer. There is the promise of God's grace and salvation for those who endure unjust suffering for having done what is good. Peter continues the shepherd and sheep metaphors by quoting from Isaiah 53:5-6 concerning those who are "gone astray like sheep." Jesus is the "Good Shepherd" (Jn 10:11) of Christians who have been lost but are now found and have returned to Him. The returning does not refer to Christians who have fallen away from Jesus but refers instead to the fundamental act of conversion in accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior. The Christian journey of faith is one of continual conversion in "returning" to holiness and living in the image of Christ.

The Gospels apply the same shepherd imagery to Jesus (Mt 9:36; 10:6; 15:24; 26:31; Mk 6:34; 14:27; Jn 10:11-18). The imagery is also used for the leadership of the Christian community (cf 1 Pt 5-3) who "shepherd" Jesus' flock and "feed" them spiritually through Jesus' teachings and the Sacrament of the Eucharist, as Jesus commanded Peter when He said, "Feed my sheep" (Jn 21:15-17). In the Gospel Reading, Jesus uses the same shepherd and sheep imagery to identify Himself as the "Good Shepherd and the "sheepfold" that is the Church, the community of God's re-born New Covenant people. It is the Church as the sheepfold that brings the covenant people together and through the Sacraments into union with Christ. The gate to the "sheepfold" is Jesus Christ, the only one through whom believers have access to the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, the Church that administers the Sacraments of Jesus Christ and prepares the faithful for the journey to Heave and eternal life.

Are you experiencing all the fullness of the graces that Jesus promised? Have you surrendered your life to the Divine Shepherd of your soul? Will you be able to discern the "voice of the stranger" if he calls to you, and will you recognize the teaching of false doctrines from false "shepherds"? Will you turn away from what is false because you only respond to the voice of Good Shepherd who promises you eternal life? Make the commitment to walk in your Divine Shepherd's footsteps. Learn to recognize His voice in the words of Sacred Scripture and through the teachings of Mother Church.

The First Reading Acts 2:14a, 36-41 ~ Jesus is both Lord and Messiah
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them, "You who are Jews, indeed all of you staying in Jerusalem.  Let this be known to you, and listen to my words. 
36 Therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified." 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, "What are we to do, my brothers?"  38 Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ [Messiah] for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  39 For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call."  40 He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them, "Save yourselves [be saved] from this corrupt generation."  41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.  [...] literal translation IBGE, vol. IV, page 326 (passive tense "be saved" and not "save yourselves"; Johnson, the Acts of the Apostles, page 58).

After the miracle at Pentecost when the Apostles and other disciples emerged from the Upper Room after the filling and indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-13), they all began to joyfully profess Jesus' Gospel of salvation.  The people in the crowd, Jews from provinces across the Roman Empire who had traveled to Jerusalem to attend the pilgrim feast of Weeks, known in Greek as Pentecost (Dt 16:16; 1 Chr 8:13), all heard the message of the Gospel preached in their various languages and dialects.  Then, St. Peter, Christ's Vicar of the Kingdom on earth, addressed the crowd, proclaiming that Jesus of Nazareth is the Promised Messiah.

36Therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified (underlining added)
This verse is the conclusion of Peter's argument from Scripture (see Acts 2:14-35 from last Sunday's First Reading).  It is by the proof of His Resurrection that Jesus can be declared the "Lord" of whom Psalms 109:1 LXX (110:1 NAB) speaks and the Messiah referred to in Psalms 15:7-11 LXX (16:7-11 NAB) whom God did not abandon to Sheol/the grave!

37Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, "What are we to do, my brothers?"
Moved by the force of the arguments offered in St. Peter's homily, the Jews accept the proofs that Peter has offered from Scripture concerning the messiahship of Jesus of Nazareth.   Realizing that they have indeed crucified their Messiah, the crowd cries out in horror "What are we to do, my brothers?" It is the same question the crowd asked St. John the Baptist in Luke 3:10

38Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ [Messiah] for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  39 For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call."
"Christ" is the English translation of "christos," the Greek word for the Hebrew mashiach, "anointed/consecrated one," in English "messiah."  In verse 37, the crowd asked what they must do to be saved.  To be saved from a larger part of the generation means to become a select group of a remnant people.  Peter's quote from the prophet Joel in Acts 2:17-21 left out the last line of the prophecy, that the plea of the crowd fulfills.  Joel 3:5 in the Hebrew text of the NAB reads: Then everyone shall be rescued who calls on the name of the LORD; for on Mount Zion there shall be a remnant, as the LORD has said, and in Jerusalem survivors whom the LORD shall call.  But the Septuagint [LXX] translation of Joel 2:32 (in other translations 3:5) is even more appropriate to the event and reads: Then everyone shall be rescued who calls on the name of the Lord.  For it will be in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem that there will be a remnant [estai anasozomenos], just as the Lord said, and they will be preached the good news [gospel = euangelizomenoi], those whom the Lord summons (Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles, page 61). The Upper Room, if it was indeed above King David's tomb, is located in what was called the "city of David" on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem.

Peter tells those who have responded positively to his Gospel message to repent and be baptized "in the name of Jesus."  Through the Sacrament of Baptism by water and the Spirit they will be separated from their "corrupt generation" and become part of the "faithful remnant" of Israel that is ready to carry the Gospel message of the Messiah to the ends of the earth.  Repentance leads to baptism and baptism in the "name of Jesus" results in the forgiveness of sins (personal sin and original sin) and the gift of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  The command to baptize "in the name of Jesus" is not in contradiction to the Trinitarian baptismal formula Jesus gave the Apostles in Matthew 28:19 but is a summation; in the "name of Jesus" implies baptism as Jesus' previously instructed.  The indwelling of the Holy Spirit generates new life in the believer who is no longer a child in the family of Adam but becomes a new creature and an adopted son or daughter of God.  It is the rebirth that Jesus spoke of in John 3:3-7, 16-18.  The Apostles and disciples, obedient to Jesus' command to baptize, will continue to make use of baptism by water and the Spirit as the sacred  ritual of initiation into Christ's Kingdom of the Church (Acts 2:41; 8:12, 38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:15, 33; 19:5).

39"For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call."
According to verse 39, this promise of forgiveness and new life extends to all generations of mankind:

  1. to the people listening to Peter,
  2. to their descendants, and
  3. to the Gentiles in distant lands. 

God extends this promise of salvation is extended to whoever hears the message of the Gospel and responds in faith.

40He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them, "Save yourselves [be saved] from this corrupt generation."  The literal translation in the passive "be saved" is a link to the "shall be saved" of Peter's quote from the book of the prophet Joel in Acts 2:21.
Why does Peter call his generation "corrupt"/ "perverse"?  The same harsh language is used to define Jesus' generation and the generation of the Exodus redemption (see Mt 17:17; Lk 9:41; Num 14:27, 35; Dt 32:5, 20).  Jesus judged His generation's failure in the same way God judged the Israelites of the Exodus generation.  No two generations in the history of mankind witnessed so many great works of God for His people, and yet many still failed to put their faith and trust in God.

41Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.
The Exodus generation was the first generation with whom God formed a corporate covenant.  All previous covenants were with individuals and their families.  At Mt. Sinai God make a covenant with an entire people who were united as one body (see Ex 19:5 in the singular).  The New Covenant in Christ is the second corporate covenant in which all who profess Christ as Lord and Savior are united in the Body of Christ which is the New Covenant Church (1 Cor 12:12, 27).

In the rebellion of the people of the Sinai Covenant that resulted in the communal sin of building and worshiping the Golden Calf, three thousand Israelites died and were lost to the Old Covenant Church (Ex 32:1-8, 15-20, 25-28).  However, on Pentecost Sunday that loss was reversed.  In response to St. Peter's homily, three thousand were added to the New Covenant people of God, restoring what had been lost in the first corporate covenant at Sinai to the New Covenant in Christ Jesus.

Responsorial Psalm 23:1-6 ~ The Divine Shepherd
The response is: "The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want."

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.  2 In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful [still] waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul.
Response
3 He guides me in right paths for his name's sake.  4 Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage.
5 You spread a table before me in the sight of my foes; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Response
6 Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come.
Response

The 23rd Psalm is probably the best loved of all the 150 psalms.  Attributed to David, it expresses a personal reflection of the relationship between the psalmist and the nearness of his God.  The psalm uses two metaphors: The Lord as the Divine Shepherd (verses 1-4), and the Lord as the Divine Host of the sacred meal (verses 5-6).  In the Bible and in the ancient Near East, the role of a shepherd was metaphor for the king (2 Sam 5:2; Is 44:28; etc.).  It is the same metaphor used to express the role of God the Divine King who is the protector and judge of His covenant people (Ps 28:9; Is 40:11; Ez 34:11-16). 

Describing the aspects of shepherding, probably from David's perspective as a shepherd in his youth, the inspired writer provides a picture of his relationship with God as he seeks to live a life of holiness (verses 2-3).  Under the Divine Shepherd's constant guidance, the psalmist and his people, who are the sheep of God's flock, are led with tenderness and compassion.  The Divine Shepherd takes into consideration the fears and weakness of His people, leading them not by the fearful raging rivers but by the quiet waters (sheep have a fear of drowning and will only drink from still waters).  His tender care gives the psalmist confidence that with God's shepherding he will reach the green pastures of God's heavenly kingdom (1 Pt 5:4; Rev 7:17).  Even in the midst of trials and sufferings, the psalmist feels a sense of security as he trusts in God to lead and protect him because, despite his enemies, God the Divine Host has prepared a table for him when the time comes for him to enter into God's eternal rest.  The psalmist is overwhelmed by the abundance of God's mercy and covenant love.

For Christians, this psalm takes on its full meaning in Jesus' statement "I am the Good Shepherd" (Jn 10:11, 14; Heb 13:20).  The fulfillment of the host metaphor of the psalm is at the table of the Last Supper where Jesus, the host of the sacred meal, offered His disciples the banquet of the Eucharist for the first time. Jesus continues His role as the Divine Host as He offers His faithful the Eucharist on the altar table at every celebration of the Mass.  It is a banquet that looks back in time to the Last Supper and forward in time to the heavenly banquet in God's eternal kingdom (Rev 19:5-9).

The Second Reading 1 Peter 2:20b-25 ~ Christ our Savior
20b If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God.  21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps. 22 "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth."
23 When he was insulted, he returned no insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten; instead, he handed himself over to the one who judges justly.   24 He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness.  By his wounds you have been healed.  25 For you had "gone astray like sheep," but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

The fundamental principles for Christian life in the world that Peter addressed earlier (1 Pt 2:11-17) now apply to specific roles of Christians within the community.  St. Peter addresses all Christians using the example of obedient household slaves, in the beginning of this passage in 1 Peter 2:18.  Christians are servants/slaves in Christ's household of the Church. 

 In verses 20-25, Peter applies the familiar shepherd metaphor to the guidance Jesus offers to those who suffer.  There is no glory for those who suffer from temporal judgments due to sin, but there is the promise of God's grace and salvation for those who endure unjust suffering for having done what is good.  This form of suffering is "a grace from God" (charis para theo in verse 20).  He presents the teaching of Christian life as a calling to follow the pattern of Christ's life in His suffering as well as in His glory (also see Rom 12:1).  The phrase "follow closely in his footsteps" turns from the idea of imitating Jesus' life pattern to the more dynamic metaphor of following so closely as to walk in His "footsteps." 

In verse 22, Peter quotes from the prophet Isaiah in 53:9b from the LXX: He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.  Then in verses 22-25, continuing to be inspired by Isaiah chapter 53, he alludes to the plight of Isaiah's "Suffering Servant, applying the passage to Christ's Passion.  In verse 24, he merges phrases and images from Isaiah 53:4, 7 and 11-12 and unites the key words from those verses to the curse for one "hung on a tree" from Deuteronomy 22:22 (see the same allusion by Peter in Acts 5:30; 10:39 and by St. Paul in Gal 3:13).  "By his wounds you have been healed" is a direct quote from Isaiah 53:5b LXX except for changing "we" to "you" to fit the quotation into the context of his exhortation in 2:24.

In verse 25, Peter now shifts his imagery to the "shepherd and sheep" metaphors from Isaiah 53:5-6 and "gone astray like sheep" in verse 25 is a direct quote from Isaiah 53:6a.  Jesus is the "Good Shepherd" (Jn 10:11) of Christians who have "now returned" to Him (verse 25).  The returning does not refer to Christians who have fallen away from Jesus but refers instead to the fundamental conversion Peter spoke of in 1 Peter 1:14-16, 22 and 23.  The Christian journey of faith is one of continual conversion in "returning" to holiness and living in the image of Christ. 

The Gospels alpply the same shepherd metaphor St. Peter used in this passage is applied to Jesus in the Gospels (Mt 9:36; 10:6; 15:24; 26:31; Mk 6:34; 14:27; Jn 10:11-18). Peter uses the same metaphor for Jesus in 1 Peter 5:4 where he calls Jesus the "chief Shepherd."  Peter also uses the shepherd imagery for leadership of the Christian community (cf 1 Pt 5:3) who shepherd Jesus' flock and "feed" them spiritually through Jesus' teachings and the Sacrament of the Eucharist, as Jesus commanded Peter, "Feed my sheep" (Jn 21:15-17).

The Gospel of John 10:1-11 ~ Parables of the Sheep and the Shepherd
Jesus said: 1"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.  2 But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  3 The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  4 When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.  5 But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers."  6 Although Jesus used this figure of speech, the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them.  7 So Jesus said again, "Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.  8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.  9 I am the gate.  Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.  10 A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly."

1 "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. 
The sheepfold is the Church, the community of God's re-born New Covenant people.  It is the Church as the sheepfold who brings the covenant people together and through the Sacraments into union with Christ.  The gate is Jesus Christ, the one through whom believers have access to the community which is Christ's Kingdom of Heaven on earth.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: The Church is, accordingly, a sheepfold, the sole and necessary gateway to which is Christ.  It is also the flock of which God himself foretold that he would be the shepherd, and whose sheep, even though governed by human shepherds, are unfailingly nourished and led by Christ himself, the Good Shepherd and Prince of Shepherds, who gave his life for his sheep (CCC 754).

Entering through Christ is the only way into the New Covenant He is establishing in fulfillment of the prophecies of the prophets Jeremiah (31:31), Ezekiel (Chapters 34-37), and Zechariah (Chapters 9-14).  Jesus is the fulfillment of Yahweh's promise when He said "I myself" will shepherd my sheep in Ezekiel 34:11, 15, and 20.  Jesus is the one promised in Ezekiel 34:23 when God said:  I shall raise up one shepherd, my servant David, and put him in charge of them, to pasture them; he will pasture them and be their shepherd.

There are no other ways to enter the sheepfold/ Covenant; the one way is through the gate.  There is only one gate, and the gate is Christ. St. Augustine wrote of his role as a shepherd of Jesus' flock: I seeking to enter in among you, that is, into your heart, to preach Christ: if I were to preach other than that, I should be trying to enter by some other way.  Through Christ I enter in, not to your houses but to your hearts.  Through him I enter and you have willingly heard me speak of him.  Why?  Because you are Christ's sheep and you have been purchased with Christ's blood  (St. Augustine, In Ioannis Evangelium  [The Gospel of John] 47, 2-3).

... whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber.  Those who try to enter the Church other than through Christ Jesus are not legitimate members of the Covenant and do harm to the Church through their cunning [thieves] by deceiving the people and violence [robbers] when they separate people from the Covenant in Christ through false teaching.  They enter "elsewhere" on a road or agenda of their own instead of through Christ.  This "other way" is an important difference.  In three previous discourses, Jesus laid great stress on the source from which He comes.  His origin is from God the Father and the major difference between Himself and His opponents who are the thieves and robbers.  Thieves and robbers do not come from a known location or origin like a home or the pasture, but instead they come from some unknown, unfamiliar direction and by an origin and authority of their own.

2 But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  3 The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 
The flock represents the "chosen people"; the people called to be part of God's holy Covenant (see Ez 34:6).  Jesus is both the "gate" and the "gatekeeper" (see verses 7 and 9).  It is only through Him that the shepherds/ministerial priesthood can enter in to shepherd the Covenant people.  In the Old Testament, God gave His people prophets like Moses and Jeremiah, priests and prophets like Aaron and Samuel, and kings like David and Solomon to "shepherd" them.  Jesus of Nazareth fulfils all these offices of leadership. He is the Messiah the prophets promised was coming as prophet, priest, and king of Israel (CCC 436, 1547).

Jesus identifies Himself as the "shepherd" and the "gate" as well as the "gatekeeper."  The community of the faithful (the Church) is both the sheepfold and the flock in this parable.   Jesus applies to Himself the image of the gate or door with the understanding that He is the only legitimate way into the "sheepfold" which is the Church and those who shepherd His flock only do so under His, "the gatekeeper's," authority.  Citing this passage, the Magisterium teaches: "The Church is a sheepfold, the sole and necessary gateway to which is Christ (cf. Jn. 10:1-10).  It is also a flock, of which God foretold that He himself would be the shepherd (cf. Is. 40:11; Ez 34:11ff), and whose sheep, although watched over by human shepherds, are nevertheless at all times led and brought to pastor by Christ himself, the Good Shepherd and Prince of Shepherds (cf. Jn 10:11, 1 Pet 5:4) who gave his life for his sheep (cf. Jn 10:11-15)"  (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 6).

4 When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.  5 But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers." 
In Jesus' time, villages had a communal sheepfold where the various shepherds brought their sheep for protection during the night.  In the morning, each shepherd called his sheep and they followed him out of the gate of the sheepfold.  In Wendell Keller's book A Shepherd Looks at the 23 Psalms, Keller speaks of this phenomenon.  The sheep that have been raised by one shepherd will indeed run from the unfamiliar voice of a stranger.  Since His ministry is only to the Jews and Israelites of the Galilee at this time, Christ is leading those who recognize Him through the writings of the prophets as the Messiah to follow him out of the Old Covenant and into the NewThis action is fulfilling the prophecy of God's holy prophet Micah: I shall assemble the whole of Jacob, I shall gather the remnant of Israel, I shall gather them together like sheep in an enclosure.  And like a flock within the fold, they will bleat far away from anyone, their leader will break out first, then all break out through the gate and escape, with their king leading the way and with Yahweh at their head (Mic 2:12-13 NJB; emphasis added).

 the sheep hear his voice: There are dangers for the sheep if they do not recognize the shepherd's voice.  The flock or individual sheep can be deceived and misled, just as those within the Church can be deceived and led astray by following the voice of a false teacher.  Since there are "thieves" and "robbers/bandits" who may be calling to us, we must know the voice of Christ so that we are not misled.  To study Sacred Scripture through the teaching authority of the Church (the Magisterium), and to faithfully receive the Sacraments is the best way to become familiar with our Shepherd's voice.  The Apostles' successors, the Bishops along with Peter's successor, the Pope, help to guide the faithful people of the Holy Catholic Church.  St. Jose Maria Escriva wrote: "Christ has given his Church sureness in doctrine and a fountain of grace in the Sacraments.  He has arranged things so that there will always be people to guide and lead us, to remind us constantly of our way.  There is an infinite treasure of knowledge available to us: the word of God kept safe by the Church, the grace of Christ administered in the Sacraments and also the witness and example of those who live by our side and have known how to build with their good lives on a road of faithfulness to God" (Christ is Passing By, page 34).

6 Although Jesus used this figure of speech, the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them.
The Pharisees do not understand, and so He patiently tries again in John 10:7-18 by extending the sheep/shepherd metaphor of verses 1-5 into another parable. 

7 So Jesus said again, "Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.  8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.  He begins both His explanation of the parable in verses 1-5 and a second parable with the solemn double "amen."  "I AM the gate" is the 3rd of the 7 "I AM" metaphors (without a predicate nominative) of John's Gospel.  Jesus is again stating that only those who "go in" through Him have the authority to guide the flock (the Church).  He is also the gate through which the flock must enter to come to salvation.  The imagery Jesus uses in this passage recalls Psalm 118:19-20: Open for me the gates of saving justice (salvation), I shall go in and thank Yahweh.  This is the gate of Yahweh, where the upright go in.  I thank you for hearing (answering) me, and making yourself my Savior. 

Jesus' reference to all who came before me in verse 8 does not refer to the prophets and men of God in the Old Testament.  There are two different ways to interpret this passage.  Jesus may be referring to the Pharisees who have come to challenge His authority and His origin in front of the people, or to the false messiahs who have preceded Him and will come after Him.  True believers who are within His flock do not heed the voices of those who oppose Him because they recognize His voice like the sheep who know the voice of their shepherd (Jn 5:45; 8:42, 46-47).

In 10:5 Jesus spoke of the "stranger" or false shepherds which the true sheep of the shepherd will run away from "because they do not recognize the voice of strangers."  In this passage He returns to the other threat to the flock that He spoke of in verse 1, the thieves and robbers/bandits, those who want to attack the Church lead the flock astray.  History has shown that enemies of the flock/Church have attacked the sheepfold in two ways in the attempt to deceive the faithful and to scatter the flock:

  1. Sometimes they enter the Church (as a member of the covenant people) and attack stealthily from within = thieves.
  2. Sometimes they attack openly from outside the Church = robbers/bandits. 

I am the gate.  Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.  10 A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly."
Explaining the meaning of His parable in verses 1-5, Jesus now identifies Himself as "the gate" to the sheepfold using the significant words "I AM" which recalls the Divine Name revealed to Moses in the experience of the burning bush. Jesus' discourse is a "burning bush" experience for these people but only a few will recognize the significance and come to belief.

In verse 9, Jesus speaks about finding "pasture."  He uses the word "pasture" as a metaphor for the abundant graces He provides for His flock.  These graces will flow from Christ to His Church through the Sacraments to enrich the lives of the faithful on their journey of salvation and the Church's journey through time to the final hour of mankind.  In verse 10b, Jesus states exactly why He has come to use: "I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly."

Are you experiencing all the fullness of the graces Christ promised? Have you had a "burning bush" experience recognizing the presense of God and in surrendering your life to Jesus Christ, the Shepherd of your soul?  Will you be able to discern the "voice of the stranger" if he calls to you and recognize the teaching of false doctrine?  Make the commitment to walk in your Divine Shepherd's footsteps, and learn his voice in the words of Sacred Scripture and through the teachings of Mother Church.

Catechism References:
Acts 2:36-38 (CCC 1433); 2:36 (CCC 440, 597, 695, 731, 746); 2:38 (CCC 1226, 1262, 1287, 1427); 2:41 (CCC 363, 1226)
Psalm 23:5 (CCC 1293)
1 Peter 2:21 (CCC 618); 2:24 (CCC 612)
John 10:1-10 (CCC 754); 10:3 (CCC 2158)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2014