The theme of the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Easter is the relationship between a good shepherd and his flock. In the metaphor Jesus uses for this theme he contrasts between a good shepherd and thieves and robbers. The latter have no interest in the welfare of the sheep but their own. The latter will use deceit and force to harm the sheep and achieve their ends.
The Good Shepherd on the other hand is prepared to lose him life to protect the sheep.
This theme of a Shepherd and sheep is prominent in the Hebrew Bible – or Old Testament – where God is the Shepherd of God’s people, Israel. Indeed, most people know by heart the words of Psalm 23, the Psalm for the Fourth Sunday of Easter,
Furthermore, the imagery of a shepherd and his sheep was familiar to the people Jesus was addressing. It was not uncommon for shepherds to name their sheep and when they entered the pen at the end of the day, they inspected each sheep individually and nursed the injured. Shepherds too kept sentry at the only entrance into the pen, at the gate thus keeping the sheep inside and intruders – thieves, robbers and predators – outside.
The sheep too, recognized the shepherd’s voice and could even detect an impostor’s voice.
The picture in this metaphor is one of very close relationship between the shepherd and the sheep. In this close relationship the sheep found pastures and nourishment – they found life. As Jesus puts it, “whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and fine pasture” (John 10:9). This idea of coming in and going out depicts abundance of nourishment. There is abundance of life in Jesus, limitless access to life in all its abundance. Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
Now, let’s put these readings together as we look at the Epistle Reading from 1 Peter 2:19-25 especially the final verse where Peter writes: “For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls”. Now there is a new life, in the Risen Jesus.
In this new life we are bound together in our experience of the Risen Christ, in fellowship with one another, in our proclamation of what salvation in Jesus Christ means to us as a community and individually, and in our prayers, both communal and individual. Indeed, in our prayer on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, in the Collect, we pray, “that when we hear Jesus’ voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads”.
We certainly need that in this hectic life we live in with so many voices vying for our attention.