May 14, 2011

4th Easter: "I am the gate for the sheep"

Catacombs: The Good Shepherd

Sunday readings:

Acts 2: 14a, 36-41
1 Pt 2: 20-25
Jn 10: 1-10

The Canadian educator and philosopher, Marshall McLuhen, is known for a phrase which I think is appropriate for our readings today on this Good Shepherd Sunday. McLuhen observed, “The medium is the message.”

He explained further: “At first we shape our tools and then our tools shape us.” For example, the voice which speak to us through the medium of our computers and every other electronic device we use has changed our expectations of how life should be: quick, easy, convenient, efficient and with a minimum of troubles. It is a very loud voice that bombards us each day.

This Sunday, we hear another voice. That of the risen Christ who speaks to us through a very ancient image – that of the Good Shepherd. This message is delivered through a different means of communication – the written word of Scripture. It isn’t fast or given in sound bites.It comes to us through the faith of those who were convinced that Jesus had truly risen from the dead.

We may envy the Apostles and those who lived during the time of Jesus’ resurrection. Wouldn’t it have been amazing to have experienced a vision of the risen Lord? The wonderful Easter season Gospel stories relate some of those events in ways that are meant both to confirm our own faith and to describe for us the experience of those who had been scattered and were hiding in fear after the crucifixion.

There is no doubt that if Jesus had not risen from the dead, we would have read instead about a strange false prophet named Jesus from a tiny backwater hamlet in the north of Israel who claimed to be the Son of God. Without the resurrection Jesus would have been one of the most brilliant deceivers the world has ever seen. But, the opposite has happened.

It is precisely because of this potential danger that the Gospel writers took the grand effort to describe as best they could how the presence of the risen Christ transformed all who “ate and drank with him.” As technology continues to transform our society and our personal lives and expectations, the resurrection event has had a far more profound effect on human history. In essence, the resurrection of Christ changed everything – everything was touched by this astounding event and we view our lives, our relationship to each other and to God through new eyes.

Jesus reassembled the scattered sheep of his Apostles – from fear, trembling, confusion and disillusionment, he created unity and fellowship among them. He united them in a common mission to preach, teach and witness to his work of salvation.

Our experience of the risen Jesus today is the way in which Christians have always recognized his presence - through sign and symbol. These signs and symbols are not electronic and they are not high-speed. They are ordinary and very low-tech.

Jesus is the Vine, the Bread of Life, and today he is for us the Good Shepherd and “the gate for the sheep.” He states clearly in our Gospel: “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved.” (Jn 10: 9).

Jesus as the Good Shepherd was a familiar image of Christ to the early Christians. It was far less scandalous than the tortuous punishment of crucifixion. In this gentle image we can see ourselves as scattered sheep; listening to other voices rather than that of the Divine Shepherd. Putting our faith and energy in signs that are only temporary. As St. Peter reminds us today in the second reading: “For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” (1 Pt 2: 25).

But this sheep gate and Shepherd is not here to destroy or to pick and choose who are members of his flock. This shepherd invites and leads. He calls to us and leads us to “find pasture” and one who came, “. . . so that they may have life and have it more abundantly.” (Jn 10: 10).

Our experience today of the risen Christ is primarily in and through his body, the Church. Here we are supported in our faith and encounter the life of the risen Christ through signs of water, bread, wine, oil, fire, holy Scripture and the fellowship we enjoy with one another. This shepherd has a vision and intention far beyond our own. His desire is a world-wide flock in which all of humanity is gathered. This is a voice we can listen to and follow with confidence and hope for Christ himself is both medium and message. 

If the “medium is the message” then the Gospel and the lives of countless Christians before ourselves is that medium. The message is the good news which we hear in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. As Peter “stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed: ‘Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus . . . For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2: 14, 36-41).

"In our sickness we need a savior, in our wanderings a guide, in our blindness someone to show us the light, in our thirst the fountain of living water which quenches for ever the thirst of those who drink from it. We dead people need life, we sheep need a shepherd, we children need a teacher, the whole world needs Jesus!" (Clement of Alexandria: 150-215)

God has delivered his promise in Christ who is risen indeed, Alleluia!