May 7, 2017

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 7, 2017, Year A

Christ as Good Shepherd

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America
Hartford, Connecticut

(Click here for today’s readings)

In John’s Gospel, Jesus describes or, better, defines himself a number of times, in a variety of ways: “I am the bread of life... I am the light of the world... I am the resurrection and the life... I am the way, and the truth, and the life... I am the true vine.” Today we encountered another such saying. Without looking at it again, do you remember what it is?

If you thought, “I am the good shepherd,” you are close, but that saying comes in the first verse after today’s Gospel. We will hear it next year. The correct response is, “I am the gate,” and Jesus says it twice.

At first this might appear to be the least interesting of the whole list, the least illuminating. We are told he said this because “the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them” when he spoke about shepherds and sheep and thieves and robbers and gatekeepers and strangers. “I am the gate for the sheep” really doesn’t seem a lot clearer or simpler.

If you go to any website looking for pictures of Jesus as Shepherd, you will find them by the hundreds. Look for Jesus as Gate, and you will find none. Not one. It’s not surprising that this is the least quoted of all of Jesus’ “I am” sayings.

And yet, in many respects, it is more accessible to us today than the image of shepherd. Few of us have direct experience of sheep, but we all know gates.

Jesus describes his “gateness” this way: “Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”

Gates—and doors, I guess—serve a double purpose. First, they keep us inside and others outside, they create a barrier that gives us a certain sense of safety, even of control. Secondly, they open to let us come and go as we please, so we can go about the business of our life.

This past week, my sister and brother-in-law had their yard fenced in so that the grandchildren will have a place to play outside. Naturally there’s a gate, and the children won’t have a care in the world. And when they are tired, someone will open the gate for them. They will “come in and go out” in perfect safety.

A “gated” community usually implies security based on exclusion. Only residents and their announced guests have access.

Based on today’s Gospel, however, we might say that the Church founded by Jesus is a “gated” community, but of a different kind, because he is the gate, and says, “whoever enters through me will be saved.”

In one of the most famous passages in his Inferno, Dante quotes the inscription he saw over the gate of hell. It ends with the words, “Abandon every hope, O you that enter.”

Jesus is our Gate: Discover every hope, O you that enter!  Or, as Jesus puts it: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

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