Fr. Manuel João, comboni missionary
Sunday Reflection
from the womb of my whale, ALS
Our cross is the pulpit of the Word

An Open Door to Freedom and Life!

Year A – Easter – 4th Sunday
Gospel – John 10:1-10

I am the door: if anyone enters through me, he will be saved; he will go in and out and find pasture … I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Where do we go from here?

We are on the fourth Sunday of Easter, the so-called Good Shepherd Sunday, halfway through the fifty-day Easter season. After the three Sundays of the apparitions of the Risen Lord, we are now in danger of losing sight of the main thread of our journey. I think it is useful to remember that we are moving towards the Lord’s Ascension and Pentecost, the culmination of the Easter journey. The Sunday readings aim to prepare us for these two great feasts. They do so through three themes, with the help of three New Testament writings:

1. in the first reading, the theme of the CHURCH, with the reading from the book of the Acts of the Apostles: we will retrace the first steps of the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit;
2. in the second reading, the theme of CHRISTIAN LIFE, with the reading of the first letter of St Peter: on how to live as Christians in a hostile world;
3. in the Gospel, a great catechesis on the person of JESUS, through some passages from John’s Gospel.

Let us try not to lose sight of the unity and harmony of the readings that the liturgy offers us for these Sundays.

Truly, truly I say to you!

Today’s gospel begins with this introduction by Jesus: “Truly, truly I say to you!”; or rather: “Amen, amen, I say to you”. It is an affirmation that should arouse our attention. It is an expression that introduces a revelation, to which the believer responds with his assent: Amen!
This locution introduces the words of Jesus in 49 passages in the synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) and in 25 passages in the Gospel of John.
Let us prepare to say our AMEN with our lips and our hearts!

I am the door!

“Truly, truly I say to you!, I am the door of the sheep”. After the first statements in verses 1-5, we would have expected Jesus to say: I am the shepherd of the sheep! and all would have been clear at once. The theme of God as Shepherd of His people is well present in Scripture (in the psalms and prophets: see Jeremiah 23:1-6; Ezekiel 34:1-31; Isaiah 40:10). Thus, the Messiah was expected to be the Great Shepherd. Instead, in the enigmatic style typical of John’s gospel, Jesus says: “I am the door of the sheep”! Only later does he say: “I am the good shepherd” (verses 11-18). We wonder why.

Actually, in order to follow the Shepherd, the ‘sheep’ had to be freed from the enclosures that kept them in captivity! The first enclosure in which we were held captive was that of death. Christ by his death and resurrection threw open the gates of hell and became the Door to life. And Christ wants to take on this role of being the door to protect his flock, but above all to guarantee its freedom of movement: ‘If anyone enters through me, he will be saved; he will go in and out and find pasture’. He watches over his people so that laws or institutions do not turn their ‘fold’ into a place of captivity or a forced domicile, for he came that we might have life and have it in abundance. We could ask ourselves how we live, in the Church, the freedom and sense of responsibility that God wants for his children. And whether we manage our relationships in freedom, with the door of the heart open to welcome, yes, but without imprisoning anyone.

The Lord is my shepherd!… Really?

The psalm in response to the first reading is Psalm 22, perhaps the best known and best loved of the Psalter (the collection of 150 psalms): “The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want”. A good opportunity to pray it, enjoying it. But we might ask ourselves how true it is in our lives. Won’t it happen to us to recite a sad parody of this psalm with our lives? Like that junkie in Harlem (New York) who wrote on the wall of his cell:
“Heroin is my shepherd, / I will always need it. / It leads me to a sweet dementia, / it destroys my soul. / It leads me down the road to hell / for the sake of its name. / Yes, even if I walk / through the valley of the shadow of death, / I will fear no evil / for the drug is with me, / my syringe and needle bring me comfort.”

Sometimes there are ‘drugs’ that keep us chained. And there are many “thieves and robbers” who claim to be shepherds. There are many sirens capable of seducing us hopelessly, if we are not well attached, like Ulysses, to the mast of the cross!

Shepherds and flock

The images of today’s gospel, shepherd and sheep, flock and fold, so dear to the early Christians (just look at the paints of Christ the Good Shepherd in the catacombs), are rather foreign and unpalatable to us today. And with some reason, for the use that has been made of them in the past, a massifying and instrumental use, by shepherds without ‘the smell of the sheep’ (Pope Francis), unable to call every one by name, to walk before their flock, to sacrifice their lives! The times are not far off when it was written: “The Church by its nature is an unequal society, that is, a society made up of two categories of persons: the shepherds and the flock … Only in the pastoral body reside right and authority … the multitude has only the duty to allow itself to be led and to follow its shepherds as a docile flock” (Pius X, Vehementer nos). Despite efforts to change this mentality (of the shepherds and of the flock!), clericalism does not seem to be disappearing.

Today, World Day of Prayer for Vocations, we are invited to pray, more assiduously and with more conviction, to the Lord of the harvest so that he may give us shepherds with the sentiments of Christ the Good Shepherd!

Fr. Manuel João, comboni missionary
Castel d’Azzano (Verona) 28th April 2023