Gospel Reflection May 3 – Fr. Morris
Sunday, May 3
Fourth Sunday of Easter
John 10: 1 – 10
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate
but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber.
But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.
The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice,
as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
When he has driven out all his own,
he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him,
because they recognize his voice.
But they will not follow a stranger;
they will run away from him,
because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.”
Although Jesus used this figure of speech,
the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them.
So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you,
I am the gate for the sheep.
All who came before me are thieves and robbers,
but the sheep did not listen to them.
I am the gate.
Whoever enters through me will be saved,
and will come in and go out and find pasture.
A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy;
I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
I am a visual learner, so I was sorta obtuse like the Pharisees about what Our Lord was trying to say—until I saw a picture of a primitive livestock pen. If we had sheepfolds in Dublin, I’m sure the building code would require that they look a lot like the above dry-stacked stone sheepfold in contemporary rural England. But like all truly great innovations, the simplicity and effectiveness of the sheepfold structure means that this contemporary British example and the structures the disciples saw in their walks from village to village are essentially the same.
A sheepfold is a secure enclosure, a livestock pen with one way in and out. The sheep are herded into it through the gap at nightfall, and let back out through the gap in the morning. Sheepfolds can be made from gathering surrounding loose rocks, or by incorporating a rock feature like a cave or sheer outcropping. In the nomadic shepherding culture of Jesus’ day, sheepfolds were communal affairs that slowly built up into impressive structures over the course of many years. Just imagine each wandering shepherd idly adding a rock or two to the walls while they used the sheepfold, and doing that over and over as they moved between grazing areas.
The dead-simple sheepfold structure could be easily improved upon by adding a simple wood gate to close the gap. But itinerant shepherds using communal sheepfolds hit upon a simpler solution requiring no wood or fasteners. They would funnel their flock into the safety of the enclosure, and then simply campout for the night in the opening itself. Wrapped up in their bedroll, they were literally “the gate” through which any predators or thieves would have to pass by to get to their defenseless flock.
Sheep are not exactly the brightest bulbs in the animal kingdom, but one would have to think that seeing their master wedged securely into the only entry point for their pen would reassure the sheep, allowing even the most skittish among them to lay down and sleep peacefully. They knew that no matter how dark the night became, the same person that defended them from predators in the bright sunshine was also going to defend them in the inky blackness.
Our Lord is the gatekeeper who is also the gate itself, the gentle shepherd who is also the fearless defender, the suffering Servant who is also the victorious Risen Son. He will defend us from not only the economic and viral dangers we can see in the harsh light of day, but also the hidden spiritual dangers that lie out there in the impenetrable darkness of human pride and sin.