4th Sunday of Easter B
Readings: Acts 4:8-12 1 John 3:1-2 John 10:11-18
The fourth Sunday of Easter is often called Good Shepherd Sunday because the gospel readings are taken from John 10, Jesus’ discourse proclaiming: “I am the good shepherd.” This Sunday’s readings also provide a good opportunity for reflection on Church leadership, modeled on Jesus, the shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:15). This act of self-emptying love in obedience to the Father becomes the source of life and unity in the Church. In the words of the first reading and our responsorial psalm, Jesus is “the stone rejected by the builders, which has become the cornerstone” (Ps 118:22).
The first reading from Acts presents us with Peter’s fearless leadership of the apostolic witnesses in Jerusalem. He and John have been arrested by the priests and temple leaders for proclaiming that their healing of a crippled beggar was done in the name of Jesus, whom God had resurrected, although they had rejected him (see Acts 3:1-4:4). Remember that Peter had denied Jesus three times before the people in the courtyard during his master’s arrest and trial (see Luke 22:54-62). But now, transformed by the Holy Spirit into a courageous witness, Peter proclaims before a hostile Sanhedrin the resurrected Jesus as the source of salvation for the whole world. “. . . you and all the people of Israel must realize that it (the cure) was done in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean whom you crucified and whom God raised from the dead. In the power of that name this man stands before you perfectly sound.This Jesus is ‘the stone rejected by you the builders which has become the cornerstone.’ There is no salvation in anyone else, for there is not other name in the whole world given to men by which we are to be saved.”
The second reading from 1 John graphically illustrates the tension that marks the life of the Church. On the one hand, in Jesus the Father has bestowed his love on us so that we are, in John’s language, “children of God.” But on the other hand, the Church finds itself, like the Son, at odds with the world (the evil forces who refuse to recognize God’s love manifest in Jesus). The author of 1 John assures his readers in tender language that finally their resemblance to the Son will culminate in union with God. “Dearly beloved, we are God’s children now;what we shall later be has yet to come to light.We know that when it comes to light we shall be like him. For we shall see him as he is.”
The background for today’s Gospel reading is the Old Testament image of God and the kings of Israel as shepherds (see Ps 23; Jeremiah 23; Ezekiel 34). Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel criticized the kings who have fleeced the flock of God’s people and caused them to be scattered in exile. They looked forward to God’s tending the flock, gathering the scattered exiles and bringing them back to the land where they would be tended by a good shepherd king in the Davidic line.
The Gospel presents Jesus as the good shepherd in two ways that even go beyond the images in the prophets. First of all, he “lays down his life for the sheep,” in contrast to “the hired hand,” who works only for pay and abandons the flock when he catches sight of the wolf coming. Secondly, Jesus “knows” his sheep, that is, he loves them with the same love that the Father has for him. The reason the Father loves Jesus is precisely because he will freely lay down his life for his sheep. The result of this act of love will be that other sheep will be led into the one flock under the one shepherd.
Although John understood the image of the good shepherd as uniquely applicable to Jesus, in the Church’s tradition the self-sacrificing love of the Good Shepherd has also become a model for human pastors (see Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Rule). One of the most memorable images of the faithful pastor is that provided by Chaucer in his description of the Poor Parson in “The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales.” “Wide was his parish, with houses far asunder,/ But he would not be kept by rain or thunder,/ If any had suffered a sickness of a blow,/ From visiting the farthest, high or low/ plodding his way on foot, his staff in hand./ He was a model his flock could understand,/ for first he did and afterward he taught./ That precept from the Gospel he had caught. . .”