The Fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday every year. Our collect and readings remind us that in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the New Testament, the middle eastern shepherd is a metaphor for the divine nature.
Like the flocks they tended, the shepherds of the Bible were often dirty and woolly, enduring sun and rain for days or weeks on end. But unlike their flocks, they were vigilant and uncomplaining, watching for danger and trouble, providing pasture and allaying thirst. The shepherd knew his flock as no one else. And the sheep followed him “because they know his voice.”
Jesus says, "I lay down my life for the sheep." A little earlier in the Gospel of John, he speaks of himself as “the gate for the sheep.” Some scholars contend that shepherds of the period would often place their own bodies across the small opening of the sheep enclosure at night and during times of danger, risking their lives for the sake of their flock. Perhaps it is this image of the shepherd as human gate that Jesus has in mind with this metaphor, his own presence stretched out and bridging our insecurities. "I lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10:15b). "I am the gate. Whoever enters by me," he assures us, "will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture" (John 10:9).
Sometimes we are like lost sheep. We live in a world where it is easy to lose direction, to lose our bearings, and to lose a sense of who we are and where we are going. It is easy to go astray. It is then that we are most vulnerable to the “thieves and bandits” of the world. We are also most vulnerable to the more destructive animal instincts that lurk in every human heart, such as hatred, anger, and violence.
Week by week, we come to the Paschal Banquet ready to keep the feast, eager to partake of God's abundance, and to be nourished for the journey ahead. But the world is still a dangerous place. The human heart listens for the voice of the Shepherd who brings peace and God’s reconciling love. He is the Living Gate through whom we pass as we come to be fed and as we go back out to feed others in his Name.
I'll see you in Church!
The Very Reverend Ronald D. Pogue
St. Andrew’s Cathedral