Sunday Scripture Readings

fourth sunday of easter,

April 21

Acts 2:14, 36-41; Psalm 23;

1 Peter 2:20-25; John 10:1-10 OUR GOOD NEWS: Watched over by the Good Shepherd, we are called to joy and trust. Today is our annual "Good Shepherd Sunday." Both Old and New Testaments use the image of shepherd and flock to describe the unique relation of Israel to God and of us as Church to Jesus. A more apt comparison can scarcely be imagined. Ages-long breeding resulted in over-domesticated sheep needing constant care, unable to survive on their own. Especially in traditional societies, sheep and shepherd bonded in an intimate relationship of lifelong mutual dependency. In exchange for diligent oversight, the flock provided from their extras - surplus milk after the lambs had nursed; wool in springtime when no longer needed for warmth. Thus, the shepherd in no way exploited or deprived his sheep, for his well-being flowed from their contented lives. In today's Gospel, two brief parables about sheep kept in a pen reveal Jesus as a unique means to salvation ("sheepgate") and as a selfless, caring leader who provides protection and life itself ("shepherd"). The passage deliberately imitates Ezekiel 34, where God condemned Israel's false shepherds and promised to take personal charge, leading the people back from exile into his kingdom. How a person enters a sheepfold indicates his or her relationship with the sheep (first parable). Shepherds often left their small flocks in a common corral guarded by a night watchman ("keeper"). In the morning the shepherd "called out his own," addressing each by pet name. Continuing to talk (or sing) as he strode ahead, the shepherd kept his sheep from going off with another flock, thus uniting behind himself otherwise aimless and disorganized individuals. Rustlers got into the corral by stealth ("thief") or force ("marauder"). But attempts to cajole the sheep into following them frighten rather than reassure, scattering instead of uniting. Jesus is the Good (efficient, dedicated) Shepherd, but the remaining verses of interpretation focus on him as "gate" who screens out false shepherds, and through whom we must pass to safety and life-sustaining "pasture." His person provides exclusive access to the promised kingdom. He is sole source of empowering grace leading to "life in all its fullness" - living completely and wonderfully, with nothing lacking. Applications of this passage come easily. Jesus' love and concern for each of us must be accepted with trust and serenity, for he alone is our "shepherd" and no one else deserves our undivided commitment. Only he provides, protects and leads us to true happiness. But Jesus also warns and keeps us from false shepherds whose uncaring seductions destroy us. Like Peter's audience (second reading), at times we can live hopeless lives doomed to destruction and alienated from God - "straying like sheep." The power of Jesus' death effects a miracle of transformation and reconciliation, so that now we enjoy ongoing protection and the rewarding company of the Good Shepherd and Guardian.

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