Easter 4 “Shepherd Sunday”

Acts of the Apostles 2, 14, & ,36-41 + Psalm 23 + 1 Peter 2, 20-25 + John 10, 1-10

April 29 and 30, 2023 at Holy Spirit Parish in Mustang, Oklahoma

I have always found the “Shepherd / Sheep” image of the Gospel to be something of a challenge. Left on the shallowest level, this image in the church supports a kind of “clericalism” that I believe is not at all healthy for the us as a church in our age. It suggests that shepherds are in charge and that sheep are passive willing to fall in line at the shepherd’s orders. That sort of thinking creates a mindset that is not healthy for our church and a bit contrary to the meaning and consequences of our Baptism. I find it difficult to think that with these words Jesus was proposing a governance model for the church, and certainly this Gospel writer did not have that in mind as he preserved these words for posterity.

More likely what this Gospel proposes is that the whole Church is Shepherd, not just some members. Leaving others to be like sheep was is not very complimentary for those who know the behavior of sheep. In listening to and sitting with this text we might risk imagining that if Jesus is the Shepherd, then the Church, the Body of Christ is Shepherd, and what he describes as the behavior of the Shepherd is the behavior of a Church that carries on his mission and is his presence in this world. 

We are not being called sheep. A baptized, confirmed people filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not a running around in danger at every moment, having no idea where we are or where we are going. We are called to be this “Shepherd” and this “Gate” through which those seeking security, salvation, and hope might have access to peace that comes with hearing the Word of God, and being affirmed, respected, cared for, and called by name. That’s what Shepherds do.

This proposes a very important mind-set for us and a kind of behavior that is more in tune with the kind of Church John is writing for. It draws us more closely into the image of God as we were created. It means caring for others, seeking the lost, protecting the vulnerable, knowing people by name, and by our merciful kindness opening the way for those who are wandering, lost, and confused to find their way into the Kingdom of God.

We are the gate as well as the Shepherd. Through our patient mercy, our willing forgiveness, our generous service, our faithfulness to the Word of God, others can see through us the way to salvation, holiness, and peace.

My friends, what Jesus is we, the Church, must be; a source of reconciliation, of healing, and reason to hope when there seems to be none. This is not the responsibility of those entrusted with leadership. It the vocation of every one of us who have passed through the waters and risen to new life in and through Jesus Christ. Those entrusted with leadership came from among us. They are not called to do our work so that we may lie down in green pastures like a heard of lazy sheep. Those entrusted with leadership must stand among us to remind, encourage, support, and keep us focused on the one shepherd who has already laid down his life which is what we eventually must do if we are any good at all as shepherds. Lay down our lives in committed loving service to those who have not found the gate.

Father Tom Boyer