Sunday, May 3, 2020
My Dear Friends, here is my homily for the Fourth Sunday in the Easter Season. Jesus is the Good Shepherd; Jesus is the Gate of the Sheepfold. --
This Sunday is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Every year on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, the Gospel that is proclaimed always contains one of the statements of Jesus that he is the Good Shepherd.
I think it would be closer, though, to label this Sunday “Sheep” Sunday from our point of view, since we are the ones whom Jesus shepherds.
You have heard this characterization before: sheep are dumb. But ask any herder in Wyoming or the western Dakotas, and the first word he’ll use about his sheep is “self-destructive.”
Those fluffy critters will run off cliffs, costing the rancher a thousand dollars a head as they plunge out of sight.
Sheep don’t graze; they gnaw. If their gluttony leads them to thick grass, they usually get sick from over-indulgence. Bloated, they topple over on each other, smothering the young or their relatives.
Sheep have no sense. They will think nothing of trying to jump a barbed wire fence, often damaging their profitable coat, sometimes ripping fatal wounds in their underbelly. Those who know consider sheep the most maddening mammal afoot, afloat, or aflop.
Jesus of Nazareth was no romantic in matters of sheep. He knew the tools of carpentry, he knew fishermen and the habits of their trade, he knew farmers, and he knew shepherds and sheep.
He knew that sheep could go astray and tear themselves beyond healing in tangled brush. He knew that their wool was their worst enemy in sun and rain and around gnats, and sheep always find gnats to be around.
But this vulnerable animal develops loyalty, and it is that quality that shines through Jesus’ major teaching about his people. We still show our biblical roots each time we call ourselves a “flock.” When we call a priest “pastor” or describe a document as “pastoral,” we are invoking the Latin word for “shepherd”--“pastor.”
In Jesus’ time, the sheep in the flock were more like part of the shepherd’s family. The animals were almost treated like pets and were even given individual names. Living their days together, the sheep and the shepherd bonded. They became one. The sheep came to know only the voice of their shepherd. They would follow no other.
Jesus is the faithful shepherd whom we can trust, because he has given his life for us. We are a people; we are a flock who has already conquered death. All we have to do is stick close to our shepherd.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls himself the “gate.” At the time of Jesus, the shepherd was also the gate to the sheepfold.
Sheepfolds were enclosures. Their borders were constructed of stones or branches or a combination of both.
Each evening, after a long day of tending to the needs of the sheep, the shepherd would call out their names and, going before them, would lead them to the sheepfold where they would be protected during the night.
Under the shepherd’s watchful eye, each sheep would enter the enclosure one at a time.
In this way, he would check for any injuries, and also make sure he had all his flock.
And when all were present and accounted for, the shepherd would lie down in the entrance of the fold.
The shepherd now became the gate of the sheepfold. If anyone tried to gain entrance, they would need the shepherd’s clearance.
Every Sunday is “Good Shepherd” Sunday and “Sheep” Sunday. Here we learn why our shepherd thinks it was all a very profitable enterprise--this business of giving his life for his sheep.
God knows how destructive we are and can be. God gave us Jesus, the Good Shepherd to guide us and lead us away from our self-destruction, to save us from ourselves.
As we continue to walk our way through this pandemic, let us be mindful that we are now in the sheepfold, Jesus is at the gate, and he is not just at the gate, he
He is keeping us safe…we are huddled together in the sheepfold, waiting for the healing from this virus…waiting for him to call each of us by name, saying that it is now okay to come out…
In this in-between time, we surrender, we pray, we hope, we trust, and we wait in the safety of the sheepfold to hear our name…Mary, John, Alberto, Joe, Ron, Valerie, Michael, Cynthia, Rocco, Juanita, Javier, Susan, Isaac, Holly, Brian, Jill, Ray, Elizabeth, Tom, Danielle, Walter, Katie, Phillip, Kathleen, Matthew, Lorraine, Steve, Patricia, Jane, Andrew, Jennifer, Adam, Diego, Louise, Richard, Regina, Jim, Jamie, Sterling, Heather, Peter, Kim, Gavin, Theresa, Thanh, Bill, Mai, Antonio, Lisa, Brandon, Emily, Rory, Stacey, Kyle, Shirley, David, Maureen, Ruben, Madeline, Don, Jan, Bob, Anne, Jody, Todd, Gail, Douglas, Laura, Ralph, Flora, Fred, Alyssa, Gregory, Celeste, Dominic, Christy, Josh, Alexis, Mario, Stephanie, George, Barbara, Kelly, Lan, Edith, Jerry, Consuelo, Dean, Christian, Timothy, Lia, Alan, Harriet, Leo, Pauline, Eric, Nicholas, Elena, Frank, Lourdes, Herman, Bonnie…
Come out…it is safe…it is safe to come out of the sheepfold, and return to the fields…and I will continue to watch over you, I will continue to take care of you, and I will continue to shepherd you home to my Father, the Eternal Good Shepherd, one day…