The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II Fourth Sunday in Easter-A, Good Shepherd Sunday, 30 April 2023 Acts 2:14, 36-41 ><}}}*> 1 Peter 2:20-25 ><}}}*> John 10:1-10
Beginning this Sunday, all our gospel readings will be about the major teachings of Jesus before his arrest that led to his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Like the Apostles, we are reviewing the Lord’s final teachings in the light of Easter to fully appreciates its meaning and significance.
First of these teachings is the Lord’s declaration, “I am the good shepherd” (Jn. 10:11).
This is very significant in the fourth gospel where we find Jesus using the phrase I AM. It was not just reminiscent of God identifying himself as I AM WHO AM to Moses in the Old Testament but most of all, for Jesus it is his self-identification as the Christ, the Son of God whom his enemies refused to accept nor recognize.
More interesting in our gospel this Sunday is how the Good Shepherd discourse of Jesus actually began with his claim as being the gate or door through whom the sheep enter and pass through.
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 enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go our and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”John 10:1-2, 9-10
Jesus spoke twice “I am the gate” in vv. 7 and 9 to emphasize and clarify that flock belongs to him, never to us. That is why Jesus is the gate, the only way through whom the sheep pass through. Hence, the true mark of a good shepherd is one who passes in Jesus as the gate, the owner of the sheep. Whoever does not pass through Jesus is a thief, a robber. A fake shepherd.
Nobody else could ever replace Jesus as Shepherd of the flock but he wants us all to be shepherds like him, passing in him our gate. This we can understand when we fast-forward to his third and final appearance to the seven disciples at Lake Tiberias after Easter. After their breakfast at the lakeshore, Jesus asked Simon Peter thrice, “Do you love me?” In every question, Peter professed his love for Jesus who asked him only for one thing, “feed my sheep” until finally adding at the end, “follow me” (cf. Jn. 21: 15-19). His call to follow him came after describing to Peter how he would suffer and die for him.
To pass in Jesus as the door to the sheep is first of all to love Jesus.
We all have experienced that loving calls for nearness which Nat King Cole described perfectly in his hit “The Nearness of You”. Whenever we love somebody, we want to be always near our beloved. The same desire we must possess if we truly love God. Furthermore, being near demands that we share feelings with the one we love – his/her joy is our joy, his/her pain is our pain. No wonder when we love somebody, we are willing to suffer. That is the first true mark of our love for Christ – we are willing to suffer for him and with him on the Cross!
That is the first meaning of Jesus is the gate of the sheep as the Good Shepherd: his Cross is our path to fulfillment, to true joy in this life and to eternal life eventually. We can only have a true relationship with him through others when we are willing to share in others’ sufferings like Jesus. Because of his Passion, Death and Resurrection, Jesus has turned suffering into a grace itself and a source of grace too because to suffer with somebody else is love. Anyone who avoids suffering does not love at all and can never be a shepherd like Jesus.
The second meaning of Jesus is the gate flows from that nearness with him – it is not enough to be close but most of all, to be obedient, submitting our total self to him in the same manner he obeyed the Father as expressed in St. Paul’s beautiful hymn found in Philippians 2:6-11.
How close can we come to Jesus is the sum of our obedience to him. Or to anyone we love. It is only in being obedient can we truly follow Christ and those we love. When we love, we are not presented right away with everything that could happen in our relationship and journey in life. Love is a wholesale, a package deal always without ifs nor buts. Nobody knows to where our lives would lead to as most couples could attest. That is why, more than being close and near to Jesus or our beloved, we need to be obedient too because that is the mark of true love when we humbly submit ourselves to the one we love.
Obedience calls us to go down to our lowest level because that is the highest mark of our love too. Recall how Jesus at their last supper “loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end” (Jn.13:1) by washing their feet. See how the Son of God went so low, lower than what slaves were not supposed to do, that is, wash feet of others. Jesus showed this in no uncertain terms the following Good Friday by dying on the Cross, of literally going under earth at his burial that led to his highest glory, his Resurrection.
That is why Jesus is the Good Shepherd by first being the gate because in him, we have shared in his pasch to share in his glory. As the gate or door, we enter in Jesus by sharing in his paschal mystery of loving, suffering, and following.
Today we are reminded that our being the flock of Jesus, a sheep of the Good Shepherd is not our choice but a gift of God himself.
Our coming together in the church, in our celebrations and sacraments is not a mere social function out of our own volition. It is a gift and a call from Jesus. That is why it is very important to celebrate the Sunday Mass.
It is Christ himself we refuse and turn down when we skip Sunday Masses because when we love somebody, we show it by being present, being near, ready to suffer and obey to show our love.
Jesus is not asking us too much except an hour each week to immerse ourselves in his life giving words, to find him with others we meet and live with.
Peter said something still very true especially in our time, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation” (Acts 2:41) where God is totally disregarded as if we can live without him, without loving like him. Let us return to Jesus, pass in him our door to life and fulfillment by loving, suffering and following him our Good Shepherd. Amen. Have a blessed week and month of May ahead!