• Rev. Lawrence E. Polansky

4th Sunday of Easter (A)

"I am the gate for the sheep."

Entrance Antiphon: Ps 33(32):5-6 — “The merciful love of the Lord fills the earth; by the word of the Lord the heavens were made, alleluia.”

First Reading: Acts 2:14a, 36-41 — “God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ.”

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6 — “The Lord is my Shepherd; there is nothing I shall want..”

Second Reading: 1 Pet 2:20b-25 — “You have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.”

Alleluia: Jn 10:14 — “Alleluia, alleluia. I am the Good Shepherd, says the Lord; I know My sheep and Mine know Me.! Alleluia, alleluia.”

Gospel: Jn 10:1-10 — I am the gate for the sheep.”

Communion Antiphon: “The Good Shepherd has risen, who laid down His life for His sheep and willingly died for His flock, alleluia.”

Have you ever felt completely secure? Is there a moment in your life that comes to mind in which, even in the midst of distress, you were certain that all would be well? The experience might have been fleeting – just a few minutes, perhaps – but those minutes made an impression on you. You will never forget that sense of security. Or, maybe, when I asked the question, the first thing that came to your mind was, “I am not sure that I have ever really felt that way,” and you know in your heart that the possibility to feel that way is always dimly present.

Our lives are often filled with anxiety, anxiousness, and concern, especially now in our COVID-19 world. It is estimated that over 40 million people in the United States alone suffer from anxiety disorder … again in the face of COVID-19 over the last few weeks, probably even more than that. We experience illness – our own or that of a loved one … job loss or insecurity, grief, anger, and loneliness. All of these very real human experiences may leave us overwhelmed, tired, and stressed. Some of us are teased or misunderstood on account of our commitment to Jesus Christ. Sometimes our determination to live as Christians may put us at odds with coworkers, family members, or friends who wish that we would ignore injustice, unethical behavior, or inappropriate conduct. We may not face outright persecution, but many of us have felt the impact of trying to remain faithful to Christ and to do as the Church teaches in today’s world.

In this weekend’s Gospel, Jesus describes Himself as the gate for the sheep, the shepherd who calls to the sheep who recognize his voice and follow him. In the shepherd’s care, the sheep will be fed, protected, and secure, knowing someone is watching out for them. Like sheep under the watchful care of the shepherd, we are assured that, whether in the circumstances of our lives, dealing with the restrictions of COVID-19, coping with the impact of illness physical or mental, or bearing the weight of discipleship, we should all know that we are not alone. We are never alone. The Lord is with us in the daily circumstances of our lives and knows the toll that pain, grief, and sorrow can take. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, lays down His life so that we might all live in the abundance of God’s grace.

There is another dimension to the Gospel, though, that we also need to acknowledge. Sheep do not always follow the shepherd as they should. They sometimes wander away. They fail to listen to the shepherd, even though they know that they never lack what they need when they are in his care. So, unfortunately, do we. We fail to live in right relationship with God and with others. We wander away from what we know is just and right, lured by worldly things, by the promise of material wealth and social status, knowing in our hearts that real and lasting security is only possible through our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.

Pope Francis often uses the image of the shepherd when he talks to Priests and other pastoral workers. He has said that those who are charged with the pastoral care of others should smell like the sheep who have been entrusted to them. In other words, those who are pastoral leaders cannot be remote and aloof, separated from the people, but rather they are to share in life and walk with others on the journey of faith, even when – especially when – it is difficult to do so.

But this does not apply only to Priests and Parish leaders. Each of us, by virtue of our Baptism, as people who are secure in the care of the Good Shepherd, Jesus, are also to share this care with others. We cannot simply write an occasional check or mumble a few words of prayer during times of crisis and consider ourselves good. We are called to be near to those who need to know and embrace God’s love through us. Like the shepherd who is especially attentive to the weakest ones, those who are hungry or thirsty, those who are most vulnerable, we, too, must seek out the lost, the lonely, the poor, and the hurting.

Just a few weeks ago, during Holy Week, we heard (or read) during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper of the experience of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. We are called by Jesus to do that as well – we are called to wash feet – we are called to give ourselves in humble service. In His Passion and Crucifixion, Jesus showed us the extent of God’s great love for us, and calls us to follow His lead, to lay down our lives for the sake of others.

So we are, simultaneously, sheep and shepherds. This week, let’s reflect on this call and ask ourselves, do we follow the Good Shepherd faithfully, secure in His life and care? Do we lead others to Him by what we say and what we do and who we are? Do we serve in His name?

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