Good Shepherd Sunday

Posted by Thaddaeus

John 10: 1-10

Jesus said: “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.”

Background:  The fourth Sunday of Easter is given the name “Good Shepherd Sunday” because the litanies of all three-year cycles of Sunday readings for Catholics and Protestants are taken from the tenth chapter of John where Jesus identifies himself as the Good Shepherd and the Gate.  The fourth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is dalet (lit. “gate”).  The Old Testament is said to contain four levels of knowledge: literal, allegory, application and mystery.  Allegorically, dalet means the gateway to God’s house.  There are four Hebrew letters in God’s name (“YHWH”).  The Hebrew name for Judah contains every letter of the name of God, except delat, leading ancient rabbis to conclude that the gateway to God comes through Judah.   The Church Fathers teach that Scripture admits us to the knowledge of God.  Knowledge leads to love.  Love leads to mercy.  The numeral four is symbolic of the universality of worship.

 Good Shepherd Sunday:  The sheepfold is a low stone wall corral open to the sky.  It is symbolic of God’s kingdom.  Jesus speaks of himself as the Good Shepherd and the Sheep-gate.  In the Psalms and elsewhere, God is called the Shepherd, but it is hidden to the Israelites that the Shepherd would be God, himself, in the form of a man.  Thus, Jesus’ assertion as the Good Shepherd is a claim of divinity, which would not have been lost of the Pharisees.  The Sheep-gate in Jerusalem was on the south side of the city in the priest quarters near the Pool of Bethesda where the sacrificial sheep and lambs were washed before being brought through it.  There were no locks on the Sheep-gate symbolizing the gate of repentance is open to all.  Jesus is taken out through the Sheep-gate on his way to being crucified outside the city.  They martyr St. Stephen at the Sheep-gate.  The Sheep-gate symbolizes atonement.