Fourth Sunday of Easter
First reading: Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 23: 1-3a, 3b4, 5, 6
Second reading: 1 Pt 2:20b-25
Gospel: Jn 10:1-10
By Deacon Greg Kandra | OSV News
Most of us would probably admit: we don’t know a lot of shepherds. (Where I live, in Queens, they are pretty scarce.)
But I met one a few years ago, during a trip to Jordan. He was tending a flock by the side of a road, and the people on our tour bus wanted to stop and chat with him. Our guide saw an opportunity for an interesting experience, so the bus pulled over and we stepped out.
The shepherd was young, bearded, wrapped in scarves to protect him from the sun and sand. He was in his early 20s, but polite and a little shy. (I’d almost say “sheepish.”) He spoke no English, but that didn’t stop our group from peppering him with questions that our guide patiently translated. Where did he live? Were his days long? Did he have a family? (Answers: Nearby. Yes. Yes.)
I had just one thing to ask him: “Do you like being a shepherd?”
He shrugged and replied with a few words in Arabic. “He says it’s okay,” our guide explained. “But it’s boring.”
I laughed. I could understand how tending sheep might not be the most thrilling profession. But encountering this Gospel for this Sunday, I wonder if shepherds felt the same way during the time of Christ.
The world of the shepherd Jesus describes in this Gospel is hardly boring. It’s a place of thieves and robbers, fraught with danger, where the innocent are slaughtered and the helpless are destroyed.
But into this, steps the Good Shepherd, “the gate” who protects and defends them — the guardian who helps his sheep find pasture, security and shelter.
Here is the one who guides those who are easily lost and who feeds those who hunger. The message is clear. In a world of turmoil and uncertainty, danger and risk, we find solace, comfort and direction by following the ultimate shepherd, Jesus Christ.
How we need that message today, just as the first Christians needed it 20 centuries ago. We need someone to lead us on the right path. Significantly, we need to know we are not alone.
This Sunday, the scriptures tell us that. In an insecure world, Christ is our security. When times are hard, and threats of every kind loom, Jesus is with us. It’s a message both calming and hopeful.
But why are we hearing this message now?
Every year on this 4th Sunday of Easter, we encounter Gospel readings that cite Jesus as our shepherd, and we hear once again one of the most familiar passages in all of scripture, the 21st Psalm. In these first weeks after the Resurrection, we are reminded not only that Jesus rose from the dead, but that we who follow him may face difficulties of our own — thieves, threats, violence, wolves.
In the afterglow of Easter, we’re busy chanting “Alleluia.” But that doesn’t mean this is a time to take it easy and finish the rest of the chocolate Easter eggs. Clearly, the first followers of Jesus didn’t.
The tone this Sunday, in fact, is foreboding. The letter from Peter calls on the early Christians to be “patient when you suffer for doing what is good,” and mentions insults, wounds and hardships of all kinds.
And in the first reading from Acts, Peter calls for repentance and baptism as the way to be saved “from this corrupt generation.” You don’t hear a lot of Alleluias there.
No wonder. His was a time of persecution, imprisonment, and martyrdom. But is there any time for Christians when that hasn’t been the case? Despite all that, whatever challenges each of us may face, these readings assure us that we aren’t left to face them alone.
This Sunday, in the midst of whatever we are living through, whatever struggles we’re enduring, whatever headaches and heartaches are weighing us down — whether it’s anxiety at work, stress at home, sickness and suffering, or even discrimination and persecution and pain — there is this simple truth: Emmanuel. God with us.
Take heart. Jesus leads us where we need to be. To him, shepherding isn’t remotely boring. It is, in fact, a great act of love.
Look up. Look around. The Lord is our shepherd. No matter what, he doesn’t abandon us.
The first Christians understood that. Do we?
Deacon Greg Kandra is an award-winning author and journalist, and creator of the blog, “The Deacon’s Bench.” He serves in the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York.