April 13, 2008
Fourth Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

First Reading: Acts 2: 14, 36-41
Psalm 23
Second Reading:
1 Peter 2: 20-25
Gospel: John 10: 1-10

We, living in Saskatchewan, in fact, we who live in North America,
are not accustomed of seeing shepherds tending sheep. When it comes
to Saskatchewan, very seldom do we find farmers who even raise
sheep. And if they do, they do not have shepherds tending the sheep
as they do in the Holy Land. Farmers here will have a large pasture with
a good page wire or electric fence that will keep the sheep in. Then they
will have a trained donkey, or even better, a trained lama, caring for
them, defending the sheep from wild animals such as coyotes or fox.

The imagery that Jesus uses when he says, “I am the gate for the
sheep” is very a strange one to us. In the Holy Land, even today as it
was in the days of our Lord, the shepherds care for their sheep day and
night. During the day a shepherd is constantly with his sheep, bringing
them to areas where there is green grass and leading them to places
where they can drink water. At night he puts them into an enclosure or
field pen and he watches over them.

In his book, “The Holy Land,” John Kellmen describes one of these
enclosures or field pens that the shepherd keeps his sheep in at night.
It consists of a circular stone wall about four or five feet high, with a
narrow opening to let the sheep in and out of the enclosure.

Kellman says that one day a tourist saw such a field pen near
Hebron and asked the shepherd sitting near by, “where’s the gate to the
small opening of your pen.” The shepherd replied, “I am the gate.” The
shepherd then explained to the tourist how each evening after he herded
his flock into the pen, he would then lay down in the narrow entrance
and he became the gate. No sheep could leave the pen without
stepping on him, nor could any wild animal enter the pen except over his
body.

Two things stand out in this beautiful story. The first thing is the
oneness developed between the shepherd and his sheep. In taking
them to pasture and water during the day and watching over them at
night meant that the shepherd was with his flock 24 hours a day, 365
days of the year. The shepherd got to know his sheep well. He knew
which ones had tender feet, which ones got sick when they ate certain
things, and which ones had a tendency to stray from the others.

However, a second thing that stands out is the deep dedication of
the shepherd for his sheep. It extended even to risking his life for them,
protecting them from wild animals and predators.

Now with this background, we can better understand what Jesus
had in mind when he said, “I am the Good Shepherd.” Jesus is saying
that his relationship and dedication to us is as close as that of a
shepherd to his sheep. Like the shepherd, Jesus is always with us, 24
hours a day, 365 days of the year. Like the shepherd, Jesus knows
each one of us in a deep personal way. He knows which of us has a
weak faith, which of us is apt to become discouraged, and which of us
is prone to stray from the flock.

Jesus never deserts us. He is always there to help us. And should
we stray from the flock, Jesus will leave the other 99 sheep and go in
search of us. What God said to his chosen people through the prophet
Isaiah, Jesus says to each one of us personally: “do not be afraid . . .
I have called you by name . . . You are precious to me . . . I am with
you! (Is 43:1,4-5).

In what way is Jesus being the Good Shepherd to his people
today? How does he shepherd us? Through you and through me. We
must never forget that all Christians, through our baptism, have a
fundamental vocation to be loving and caring people to one another.
Each and every one of us must extend to others the love of Jesus, the
Good Shepherd.

In our homes, we need parents who really care for their children
with love, who spend time with them, and who still care for them even
when their children disappoint them. In our schools, we need teachers
who know their pupils and take a personal interest in their well-being.
In our hospitals, we need doctors and nurses who care about their
patients and who do not treat them as mere objects. And of course, in
the Church, we need priest and other parish ministers and leaders, who
are willing to give loving service to all their brothers and sisters, helping
to strengthen their faith.

Today, Good Shepherd Sunday, we are asked to pray for vocations
to the priesthood and the religious life. The need is evident and those
who answer this call will become shepherds to the flock of Christ in a
very special way. It is a vocation which is very rewarding, for it is sharing
in a special way, the work of Christ the Good Shepherd. I would
personally give my word to the fact that to be a priest is the most fulfilling
vocation a person could possibly choose. Always pray for an increase
in vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. And always pray for
your priest who serves and cares for you.


Father Art Vandendriessche
Guest Celebrant
St. Cecilia Parish, Regina SK Canada

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