Jesus, Savior is the gate of salvation
By Father Paul Turner
The Good News for the 4th Sunday of Easter, April 21, 2002
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
1 Peter 2:20b-25
The Fourth Sunday of Easter car-ries the unofficial designation of Good Shepherd Sunday. Each year the Gospel presents several verses from the 10th chapter of John. There we hear Jesus' famous line, "I am the Good Shepherd."
But not this year. The most famous part of this chapter appears in next year's Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Easter. Prior to the revision of the lectionary, we always heard verses 11-16 on Good Shepherd Sunday. Now those verses are read only in Year B of the three-year cycle. So next Sunday - which some people still call Good Shepherd Sunday - we do not hear Jesus call himself the shepherd.
He calls himself the gate instead (John 10:1-10). The first part of chapter ten explores other metaphors: the gate, the voice and the thief.
The opening verses contrast true and false leaders. The false leaders are thieves and robbers who do not enter the sheepfold through the gate. The good leader is the shepherd who does enter through the gate. The false leaders may be the Pharisees with whom Jesus has just sparred over his cure of the man born blind in chapter nine. Or the false leaders may be the generations of false prophets who have failed to deliver God's message faithfully.
The next verses explain the relationship between the sheep and the shepherd. The sheep recognize the voice of the shepherd and they heed that voice. A community will listen to its true leader and follow only that voice.
In the final section of next Sunday's Gospel, Jesus calls himself the gate. He is the way to salvation. Those who enter the sheepfold through the gate find safety. Those who pass through Jesus the gate will find salvation and life. Jesus offers abundant life.
With next Sunday's text, the sequence of Easter Gospel readings shifts chronology. On the first three Sundays of the season we heard events that took place on or after the resurrection. For the next four Sundays we hear excerpts from discourses before Jesus' death.
Throughout the Easter season the newly baptized experience mystagogy with the whole community. Having celebrated baptism and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil, neophytes now go more deeply into the meaning of these rites by hearing special Scriptures, recalling their experience of initiation and examining their moral life as Christians.
Next Sunday's Gospel offers several themes for mystagogy:
The Catholic Church uses its hierarchy of leaders and a vast array of other professionals and volunteers who bring charisms into their ministry and fulfill diverse responsibilities.
- Savior: Jesus is the gate, and those who enter through him will be saved. Jesus is the only source of salvation. At the Easter Vigil, we renounce Satan and profess our faith in the Father, Son and Spirit. In saying yes to Christ, we accept him as the gate of salvation.
- Eternal life: Jesus came that his followers might have life and have it more abundantly. What Jesus the Savior promises is eternal life.
- Divinity: When Jesus says, "I am the gate," he says more than a metaphor about a door. He says he is God. In John's Gospel Jesus makes several statements beginning with "I am." The light of the world, the bread of life, the resurrection and the life, the good shepherd - many times Jesus says, "I am" to tell people he shares the name that the voice in the burning bush revealed to Moses. Jesus is God's son.
- Evil: The problem of evil is represented in the warnings about false leaders. Christians will always hear competing voices in the world. The newly baptized will want to keep their ears tuned to the voice of Christ the shepherd, to follow him and to avoid those who lead them astray.
- Leadership: Jesus has entrusted the ministry of the church to various leaders. In the Catholic Church, this ministry falls primarily to bishops, the shepherds of the flock. The pastoral staff they carry resembles a shepherd's crook, a sign that they continue the shepherding ministry of Jesus.
At the Easter Vigil, the newly baptized witnessed a range of ministries at work. The bishop is the primary minister of baptism for the diocese, but because of the expanse of his territory, we rarely witness him performing this ministry. If the bishop was not present personally at one's baptism, he is present in the priest or deacon he appoints to the parish and in the chrism that the bishop alone may consecrate.
Father Paul Turner is the pastor of St. Munchin Parish, Cameron.