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AHC A I Am the Gate 4th Sunday After Easter - Hebrew Catholics

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Hebrew Catholics

New Zealand Branch

I Am The Gate

4th Sunday of Easter     Year A

Hebrew Catholic Perspective
www.hebrewcatholic.org.nz

Click here for a printable copy of this paper

St. John 10: 1 — 10

 

Introduction   

Our text for reflection is the first half of the familiar “Good Shepherd” lesson given by our Lord.  In verses 1 — 9, Jesus talks about the sheepfold and especially the door or gateway into it. Our final verse, 10, is a transition from the “gate” image to the lesson which follows. In that next reading, Jesus claims to be the model of a true, caring shepherd (Latin, pastor). i.e., the Good Shepherd. That is for another occasion.

To help us understand precisely what our Lord is teaching us in this passage, we will divide our text into sections and walk slowly through each.

The scholars tell us that the location is probably at Bethany, looking down over the desert of Judea. This is a land of shepherds, and so our Lord speaks their language; whereas in Galilee He spoke of crops and fishing.

We should note that the situation is a little tense. Our Lord has just cured a blind man who was pestered for hours by some leading Pharisee authorities, demanding to know who cured him and how. They challenged Jesus who told them what they needed to hear: “You are spiritually blind and deaf!” The Lord continues to address them, genuinely trying to break through their cold arrogance. And so He works really hard to enlighten them, and turn their self-righteousness into a warm, passionate response, and open their eyes to see that what the Prophets had foretold was unfolding before their eyes. He was straining to win their hearts and include them in the fulfilment of the teaching of the Prophets.

Click here for a printable copy of our text

 

Section 1    

Verses 1 — 5     Illustration one: Shepherd, Sheep and Sheepfold.

Verse 1

“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.

Our Lord opens with a typical formula He often employs:

Amen, amen“, which has the double meaning:

•    Referring back  to our previous discussion;
 
•    I am adding this really important illustration.

The sheepfold Jesus is referring to is the usual pen enclosed by rock walls with a gate to keep the animals in. The shepherds using the closed-in yard took turns to guard the gate, for the safety of the sheep inside.
 
Our Lord distinguishes between, first, the shepherd who owns the sheep in the pen, and who goes in and out as he chooses, and, secondly, the unauthorised person who finds it necessary to gain entry by improper means. The unauthorised He calls by the name thief or robber. These terms refer to two different modes of immoral conduct:

•    thief — implying secret fraud, stealth, deception, dishonesty:

•    robber — implying open, unrestrained violence.

Verses 2 and 3

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 he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

The true shepherd uses the gate responsibly with full authority; taking care to respect the gatekeeper who keeps the sheep in and dangerous animals or other people out.

Verse 3 introduces the idea of the shepherd speaking and calling each one by name. It also talks of the sheep listening for their master to call them individually. So, Jesus skilfully builds into His illustration, the special place speaking and listening hold. Just as the shepherd knows his own sheep, so the sheep know their own shepherd; they listen for his voice and learn to ignore the voices of others. In fact they flee from anyone but their own shepherd.

The words, leads them out, have a very special significance. The Greek version of the Scriptures (called the “Septuagint”) — which we now call the Old Testament, was the version in use in Jesus’ time, and became the Church’s normal text.

The verb, “leads them out” is used in Numbers 27: 17 where Moses is pleading to God:

“Will you not find this people a ruler, who shall lead them to and fro,
marching at their head? Must the people of the Lord go untended,
like sheep without a shepherd?”

When Moses finished his prayer God told him to choose Joshua.

 The scholars point out that Jesus, is the Greek form of the Hebrew Yeshua or Yoshua; and that our Lord is establishing a link between Himself and the fulfilment of this Scripture. Later the Prophet Ezekiel (chapter 34) used the same verb, “lead them out”, or “lead them to and fro” (same meaning, different translations).

“Yes, I will lead them out into fair pastures, the high mountains of Israel
shall be their feeding grounds, the mountains of Israel, with soft grass
for them to rest on, rich feed for them to graze.”

Jesus, the new Joshua, is intentionally leading his listeners towards one of the most beautiful truths in all of Sacred Scripture.

[We attach a portion of this very special prophetic teaching by Ezekiel for your reflection in association with this, and any other text relating to our Messiah as Shepherd.]
 
Verses 4 and 5

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.”

Our text talks of the shepherd driving out his own sheep. The same word was used in the story of the blind man in Chapter 9, who was “put out” of the Synagogue. Here the term suggests that actually separating the sheep and ensuring no one else’s sheep take an unintended walk out through the gate, requires some firm handling. Our Lord is a realist: although the sheep will follow their shepherd once they are out of the pen, getting them organised is a different matter. Accounts depicting dreamy sheep compliantly following their shepherd’s every move are written by people who know little about sheep. Even “good sheep” sometimes need a little gentle persuasion!

Nevertheless, when the sheep are free to roam, the shepherd leads them from the front and continues to call them. The shepherd speaks, the sheep listen: they recognise his voice and therefore follow him.

Jesus points out that when sheep remained focused on listening for the voice of their own  shepherd, then, first they stay close to him and secondly, they have no trouble recognising the voice of a stranger. Not only will they not listen to the stranger or follow his commands, but they remove themselves from him and whatever he is saying. Their action is distinct and positive: they run away. Note the Biblical emphasis on moving with alacrity. Our Lord often builds this into His teaching: don’t dally with danger of any kind: take decisive action.

Section 2    

Verse 6     A pause to assess understanding.

Although Jesus used this figure of speech, they did not realize
what he was trying to tell them.

Remember our Lord has been talking to the senior authorities among the Pharisees. These were powerful men who controlled the synagogues; they could also be very jealous of anyone besides themselves, who could challenge their carefully protected privileges. They had callously expelled the young blind man whom Jesus had just healed earlier in the day. Our Lord was struggling to help them see, how blind they were! They, the scholars, the interpreters of the Torah and Prophets (i.e. the Scriptures), ought to be listening to hear His message. But they were not listening, to hear His unpacking of Biblical prophecy which they should have recognised. They were not watching, to see and identify the person in front of them, who fulfilled perfectly the lessons from the Sacred Scriptures.

They fail to listen to this man, who is unfolding Scripture for them. They are not the sheep who listen for the voice of their Shepherd.

Jesus gave them all they needed to identify Him as the true shepherd of God’s sheep. He gave an unmistakable link to Ezekiel’s prophecy where He upholds the Prophet’s description of what the true Shepherd of Israel will do. He has therefore reminded them of God’s promise made through Ezekiel: “They shall have a true shepherd at last.” He has implied, therefore, to these Biblical scholars that He is indeed, that Shepherd! Despite the emphasis He gave, they miss the point, as they have not really listened to Him.

Section 3    

Verses 7 — 9     The Second attempt by Jesus.

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.

Our Lord appears to be talking to a brick wall! He changes tack a little, determined to try His utmost to include these leading scholars among the sheep who gladly turn to Him and trust in Him. Sadly, they will have none of it.

In what amounts to a bold and solemn proclamation, our Lord declares His position. First, the “Amen, amen”, repeating His opening words to them (verse 1). Then, He “lets them have it”.

“I am telling you, here and now — Let there be no misunderstanding
about what I mean — I am the gate for the sheep!”

Why this emphasis on the gate? The authorities didn’t get the message. Why does He go back to His opening reference to “the gate?”

In a few minutes, Jesus will declare, in fact proclaim openly what they should have understood by now — that He fits the criteria which the Prophet Ezekiel had implied. But before He does that, He drives home a critically essential factor: the true shepherd must be clearly distinguishable from false shepherds — from those who enter as (a) thieves (secretly stealthily, deceptively, dishonestly), or (b) robbers (aggressively, openly, violently).

These are clearly, the dangers Jesus sees as confronting His flock as they follow Him. His concern has proved fully justified when we see how the Church over the centuries, including our own day, has been successively battered and pillaged both from within and beyond its boundaries.

Our Lord takes up, again, the issue of false shepherds — but true sheep, i.e., sheep who keep listening to the real shepherd while taking care not to listen to false leaders.

Verse 8 is sometimes misunderstood to refer to the opponents of Jesus, here, the senior Pharisees. But our Lord never condemns any who were or are legitimately appointed as per God’s instructions in the Torah, the Books of Moses, unless they have abandoned God’s principles. Basically Jesus condemns all who have come pretending to take care of the sheep. Thus He is referring to:

•    any leaders, including prophets, priests, or kings who had taken
      advantage of the people God placed in their care;

•    false messianic pretenders, self-appointed and without true
      authorisation;

•    some (and only some it should be emphasised) of the Pharisees and
      Sadducees of our Lord’s own day;

•    all, in every age, who have been duly authorised to lead and teach,
      but have lost the true, vibrant spirit of our Lord’s doctrine.

The condemnation of our Lord remains active throughout the life of the Church until He returns. It is a warning for us, at all times, not just to read this Gospel account and classify others as false shepherds, but to ensure we, ourselves, maintain the true, vibrant spirit of our Lord’s doctrine. The teaching of Jesus is not just lovely intimations about heavenly things. In Hebraic custom, it is clear, forthright instruction: what to believe, think, say and do.

In verse 9, Jesus repeats the critically essential belief:

“I Am the gate!”

He then makes an emphatic statement which, when correctly translated, reflects His teaching that He alone is the means by which both shepherds, (teachers) and sheep enter His fold. He is, of course, talking of life in His Kingdom. Those who listen to His teaching and obey His call will belong to His Household, and enjoy freedom to “come in and go out” as they choose. This is a Hebraism for treating a place as their true home.

Thus Jesus again draws a link to the prophecy of Ezekiel, which depicts the life of the members of God’s Household.

 

Ezekiel 34: 13 — 16     They Shall Have A True Shepherd

Rescued from every kingdom, recovered from every land, I will bring them
back to their own country; they shall have pasture on the hill-sides of Israel,
by its watercourses, in the resting-places of their home. Yes, I will lead them
out into fair pastures, the high mountains of Israel, with soft grass for them
to rest on, rich feed for them to graze. Food and rest, says the Lord God,
both these I will give to my flock. The lost sheep I will find, the strayed
sheep I will bring home again; bind up the broken limb, nourish the wasted
frame, keep the well-fed and the sturdy free from harm; they shall have a
true Shepherd at last.                  (Knox translation)

 

In the parables our Lord told depicting Himself as the Good Shepherd — the
True Shepherd, He draws on all the Old Testament accounts of the love and protection shown by the “Shepherd of Israel”. When Jesus reached the time
to declare Himself to be this great shepherd, even the most intuitive person, possessing gifts of profound insight would be straining to catch the whole
scope of our Saviour’s precious disclosure. In drawing from the prophecy of
Ezekiel, our Lord proclaims that He Himself is:—

•    “their own country”;
•    “pasture on the hillsides of Israel”;
•    “the resting-places”;
•    “the high mountains of Israel”;
•    “soft grass for them”;
•    “rich feed for them”;
•    “the true Shepherd”.

All of these they are now to seek in Him, and nowhere else. All of the
former symbols and pre-figurements are now precipitating into the realities
for which they were a preparation — a foundation — what they pointed
towards, is now in their presence.

These things Jesus says, “I AM“.

 

Section 4    

Verse 10      To sum up.

A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so
that they might have life and have it more abundantly.

Our Lord now boldly compares the false shepherds, who are really “wolves in sheep’s clothing”, with the True Shepherd of Israel.

First, He calls the first leaders (whether thieves (a) or robbers (b)) by the single term thieves who are hell-bent on:—

•    diverting people, by any means, from hearing and following
      the True Shepherd;

•    openly killing them;

•    destroying the whole of their culture, so that they and their
      teaching are lost.

Secondly, “Jesus declares His hand,” so to speak, and proclaims some of the most beautiful (and most quoted) words in all Sacred Scripture:

“I came so that they might have life and have it more
abundantly.”

Finally, Jesus thereby shifts the emphasis from the corrupt leaders to His faithful flock, and in a few words sums up their inheritance. True, it is imperfect in this world, but is absolutely guaranteed upon the Return of the Lord at the end of time, for those who keep listening to Him, believe in His teaching, grow in love for Him, and obey His commands.

 

Conclusion

Our reading follows a drawn-out account in the previous chapter of St. John’s Gospel, in which Jesus is maligned by some senior Pharisees because He healed a blind man on the Sabbath. Our Lord could have condemned them for their hypocrisy, and walked away. But He didn’t. He made every effort in a thoroughly energetic display to win the hearts of His opponents. No shepherd worthy of his role and humble dignity would give up at the first wisp of resistance. This is the model for us in our vocation to take the Gospel to every creature: and accept the challenges along the way which our Christian vocation brings.

Ultimately, Jesus conveys, here, a powerful declaration that He has come to restore God’s people to their birthright: to their membership of God’s Household and all that this implies. Fullness of life and personal fulfilment — these are the gifts which are ours for the taking provided we seek to enter Christ’s fold through Him — that is by listening to His teaching and obseving all He commands. There is no other way to enter this very special Household, and enjoy living the life He created for us.

Blessed be Jesus Christ, true God and true man.

 

Shalom!

 

Further Reading

For those who would like a detailed study resource
on the readings for Sunday, please visit:

Agape Bible Study — 4th Sunday of Easter Day ― Year A

If you require only the section on the Gospel reading,
just scroll down the page.

To view all the material on the Agape website please visit:
www.agapebiblestudy.com

This website is highly recommended:

 

Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature

(Mark 16: 15)

The real Jesus is the real answer to the real needs of the world.

    Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so,
    remain close to Him. The following are only examples illustrating how you can
    note the gems the Holy Spirit highlights for your on-going reflection.

I Am the Gate

4th Sunday of Easter      Year A           St. John 10: 1 — 10

1.  It is interesting how Jesus describes the relationship of the shepherd and the sheep.
     First, it is the shepherds who must be open and honest and enter the sheepfold
     through the designated gate. Then it is sheep who must be listening for his voice as
     he calls them out for feeding, one name at a time. It is each individual sheep’s
     responsibility to be listening and to obey.

     The lesson is well laid out for us. We know who our Shepherd is: it is for us to keep 
     close to Him and keep within our minds all He has made plain to us. That requires
     a discipline which is not always easy!

2.  Our Lord warns us that there are people about who are always looking to destroy.
     The only way to avoid them is by applying ourselves to following Him and leave all
     else to God.

3.  The “stakes are high”. With our Lord it is all or nothing. The reward, becoming
     members of the Household of God, is great. We were made for the Abundant Life
     He
seeks to pass on. In fact it is to be ours for eternity.

Let us pray for one another to help keep up our practice of LISTENING MEDITATION on the Good Shepherd’s teaching. He said (John 4: 34), “My food is to do the will of the One who sent me and to finish His work.” Likewise, the True Shepherd calls us by name to listen to His teaching and put it into action — i.e. to finish His work in ways which are appropriate for us in our personal circumstances.

Shalom!

Click here for a printable copy of these Reflections

 

 John 10: 1 — 10

4th Sunday After Easter     Year A

NEW AMERICAN BIBLE

 

1     1 2  “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.

2     But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.

3     The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice,
       as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

4     3  When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and
       the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.

5     But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him,
       because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.”

6     Although Jesus used this figure of speech, 4  they did not realize
       what he was trying to tell them.

7     So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for
       the sheep.

8     All who came [before me] are thieves and robbers, but the sheep
       did not listen to them.

9     I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will
       come in and go out and find pasture.

10   A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so
       that they might have life and have it more abundantly.

 

 

1       [1-21] The good shepherd discourse continues the theme of attack on the Pharisees that ends John 9. The figure is allegorical: the hired hands are the Pharisees who excommunicated the cured blind man. It serves as a commentary on John 9. For the shepherd motif, used of Yahweh in the Old Testament, cf Exodus 34; Genesis 48:15; 49:24; Micah 7:14; Psalm 23:1-4; 80:1.

2       [1] Sheepfold: a low stone wall open to the sky.

 

3       [4] Recognize his voice: the Pharisees do not recognize Jesus, but the people of God, symbolized by the blind man, do.

 

4       [6] Figure of speech: John uses a different word for illustrative speech than the “parable” of the synoptics, but the idea is similar.

 

5       [7-10] In John 10:7-8, the figure is of a gate for the shepherd to come to the sheep; in John 10:9-10, the figure is of a gate for the sheep to come in and go out.

 

6       [8] [Before me]: these words are omitted in many good early manuscripts and versions.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible,
revised edition (c) 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian
Doctrine, Washington D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright
owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may
be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the
copyright owner.


 

 

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