Behind and before you encircle me.
|Good Shepherd fresco |
from the catacombs of Callixtus in Rome.
From the mid-3rd Century, it is the
earliest known image of Christ
portrayed as Shepherd.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Fourth Sunday of Easter —A
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
How can the shepherd also be a gate?
Today’s Gospel passage introduces John’s well-known “Good Shepherd” discourse. The image of Jesus (and God) as shepherd has deep roots throughout Scripture and has provided comfort and assurance for many believers. However, a closer look at the passage reveals that the focus is on a gate. “I am the gate for the sheep,” Jesus says. “Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”
How are we to reconcile these two images? After all, Psalm 23 begins with the words, “The Lord is my shepherd”—not, “The Lord is my gate.”
Perhaps we interpret the word shepherd too narrowly—as someone who only guides, comforts, and provides for his flock. That is all certainly true. But a shepherd also protects, defends, and rescues the flock, even at the risk of his own life.
Recall that Christ is prefigured by David, a shepherd in his youth who, before going off to fight Goliath, pointed out to King Saul that he had slain lions and bears to save his father’s sheep (1Samuel 17:34-37). In a fuller way, Jesus does the same for us, the sheep of his pasture. He defeats the power of sin and death by giving up his own life so that we “might have life and have it more abundantly.” By his wounds, we have been healed.
And there is this: In Jesus’ time, the shepherd would protect his flock at night by herding the sheep into an enclosure with rock walls (a sheepfold) and then positioning his own body across the entrance to prevent the sheep from straying out into harm’s way and to keep preying beasts and marauders out—unless they came through him first. He became the gate. In this way, the shepherd laid down his life for the sheep, just as Jesus does for us through the cross.
This is a striking image to consider on this Good Shepherd Sunday. Jesus is our gateway to salvation and eternal life. He is shepherd and guardian, and through him we find pasture and repose for our souls.