Pastor’s Corner for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A, by Rev. Fr. Nobert Munekani SJ
The fourth Sunday after Easter is traditionally Good Shepherd Sunday. On the Fourth Sunday of Easter in all three cycles of the year, the Gospel is taken from the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel, known as the Good Shepherd Discourse. Often communities of ancient Israel would have had enclosures at the perimeters of the villages where the community’s sheep were kept and protected. One person would guard this common pen until each shepherd would arrive to gather his flock.
Because the experience of shepherding was so common in ancient Israel, it became a common tool for understanding God’s relationship to the people. The good shepherd, like Moses and David, is described as one who is faithful to his duty of protecting his flock. Israel also had bad leaders and prophets who led the people into false worship or exploited the people; these were described as false shepherds (Ezekiel 34). This familiar image is used by John in the tenth chapter of his Gospel to help describe Jesus’ relationship, in contrast to the Scribes and Pharisees’ relationship to the people.
The Gospel text is composed of two parables and an interpretation of those parables that identifies Jesus as the gate and the shepherd. The text itself follows John’s account of Jesus’ cure of the man who was born blind (John 9:1-41). In the Gospel Jesus draws on two familiar roles of the day–that of shepherd and that of the keeper of the sheep gate. In Jesus’ day, most often sheep were kept in a common pen at the edge of the village. The gatekeeper knew which sheep were part of each family’s flock. It was the responsibility of the gatekeeper to protect the flock at night from those who might steal or harm the sheep.
The second parable draws on the role of the shepherd as the one who leads and protects the sheep while they are in the pasture. The description is not of a shepherd who comes behind the sheep and drives them to the right pasture, but one who leads them and calls to them. The sheep know the sound of his voice and they willingly follow. This style of leadership implies a more intimate relationship between the shepherd and the sheep.
Jesus uses these two everyday experiences of people of his day to teach about the quality of care they should expect for themselves. John portrays Jesus as the good shepherd and likens the Pharisees to those who do not have a compassionate relationship with the sheep and might even take advantage of them. The Pharisees were unable to help the man born blind and went so far as to ostracize him from the community when he did not conform to expectations. Jesus, on the other hand, first responds to the man’s need, and then he seeks him out when he is left to live a life isolated from the community. Jesus tends to his disciples like a good shepherd who even lays down his life in order that they may be kept from all who would cause them death or harm.
Let us continue to pray for the sick members of our parish especially Benedicta Ngwebelele and Andrew Ledwaba.
Fr. N. Munekani SJ