Our shepherd protector

30 April, 2023 4th Sunday Easter, Year A

Listen to reflection

I was once driven by a farmer named John to his farm in country Victoria. It was winter and rather cold. He drove an old farm truck and I was seated on the front passenger side. Our journey took us through green, undulating countryside and through many pastures.


As I was the front seat passenger it was my duty to hop in and out of the truck and open and close every gate we encountered. I had to get out of our cosy and warm truck to open and close between 13 and 15 swing gates in a freezing wind. It was not much fun.


On the way back from John’s farm, it was the same ritual. I was puzzled why there were so many gates on the one property. With a broad smile John explained,” I think it deters criminals, knowing they have to stop and get out to open the gates.”


Jesus uses two ‘shepherding’ images in today’s gospel. He describes himself as a shepherd of his flock of sheep and as a gate to protect the sheep. He teaches, “I am the gate of the sheepfold. Anyone who enters rightly through this gate will be safe. Anyone who does not enter through the gate but gets in some other way is a criminal.”


The image of God as a shepherd also features in the Old Testament, where God’s relationship with the people of Israel is compared to a shepherd and his sheep. The prophet Isaiah says that God is like “a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms.” God says to the prophet Ezekiel, “I myself will pasture my sheep … I shall be a true shepherd to them.”


In biblical lands of old, sheep were an important part of the economy. The shepherd stayed very close to his sheep, by day and by night. So close and so caring that, as Pope Francis says, the good shepherd “smells the sheep.”


A shepherd would risk his life for his flock. He slept with the sheep and looked after them, knowing them individually and calling them using a unique whistle or call. The sheep heard the familiar call and followed the sound. They knew their welfare depended on staying close to the shepherd and responding to his call.


The concept of God as shepherd is fulfilled in Jesus, our true shepherd, our gate and our protector. He is the good shepherd, who calls his sheep individually by name. The sheep follow him because they know his voice and trust in his care. He is also the “gate of the sheepfold,” as it is through him the sheep are sure of finding pasture and safety. So it is through Christ that the people of God, called by name and responding to his voice, enter into the pasture of eternal life.


Anthony Tran CSsR

© Majellan Media 2023

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