SCRIPTURE: Promising Fullness of Life — John 10:1-10.
Once again, Jesus comes up to Jerusalem as a pilgrim for the Festival of Booths. Against this background, John 10 follows the story of the beggar born blind (Jn 9:1–41). There is no mention of a change of place, time or introduction of characters. The words of Jesus about his being the Good Shepherd had been acted out in his words and actions with the beggar and contrast with the religious leaders’ treatment of this outcast.
The reading (John 10:1-10) has two parts: the parable of the sheepfold (Jn 10:1-6) and Jesus’s statement: “I am the gate” (Jn 10:7-10). They give us a new set of images — the shepherd, the gate, the thief, the gatekeeper and the sheep.
Parable of the Sheepfold — John 10:1-5
Jesus draws on the daily life of shepherds — each morning they go to their sheepfold and call their sheep to follow them out through the gate for grazing. They protect the sheep from wandering off and from predators and thieves. They give the ewes special care at lambing time, shear their flocks and take measures to protect them from disease and injury. The sheep were important — they gave milk and were killed for food. Their skins were used for clothing and footwear.
The story tells of two different ways to enter the sheepfold — the sheep respond differently to each. “Anyone” who climbs over the wall instead of through the gate is a thief and bandit. The real shepherd goes to the gate which the gatekeeper will open. The sheep recognise the shepherd's voice and follows the person through the gate. However, the sheep will not follow a stranger whose voice they do not know.
I Am the Gate
Jesus will not lead the sheep through the gate as, surprisingly, he declares: “I am the gate." Sheepfolds in the time of Jesus were different from what we might imagine. Archaeologists have identified them as circular in shape with narrow entrances and funnel-shaped approaches into which several shepherds would lead their flocks for protection at night. A shepherd would lie across the narrow entrance becoming a human gate to protect the sheep from intruders. Jesus identifies himself with “the gate”.
Like two earlier claims Jesus made, “I am the bread of life” and “I am the light of the world”, the two claims in this parable, “I am the gate” and “I am the good shepherd”, are made during the festival of Booths with the temple in the background. The temple, entered through its gates, was the symbolic gathering place for Israel and the nations. However, by the time this Gospel was written, the temple had been destroyed. And Jesus is the new temple.
At the end of the reading Jesus promises: “I have come that they [the sheep] have life and have it abundantly.” The hope and energy offered in this promise speaks to us in new ways when life for the Earth community is being threatened and changed forever by COVID-19. The promise of abundant life reaches our deepest desires. And, it is a promise of abundant life for all creation especially the most vulnerable people, the other-than-human and Earth.
The extended season of the Paschal mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus prepares us to face aspects of life which will return to "normal" after lockdown and especially for the areas where we want to change for the sustainability and common good of all life.
Kathleen Rushton is a Scripture scholar and Mercy Sister in Canterbury.
The Gospel reading for the 4th Sunday of Easter: 3 May 2020