‘I am the gate for the sheep’
by Fr. Vincent Hawkswell
4th Sunday of Easter, Year A
April 21, 2002
First Reading: Acts 2:14a, 36b-41
Second Reading: 1 Pet. 2:20b-25
Gospel Reading: Jn. 10:1-10
We often imagine Jesus as the Good Shepherd of this Sunday’s Psalm: “The
Lord is my Shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.... He leads me in right
paths for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I
fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and staff, they comfort me.”
Indeed, Jesus Himself said, in the passage which follows this Sunday’s
Gospel Reading: “I am the Good Shepherd, and I know mine and mine know Me,
just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father.”
However, I can sympathize with the Pharisees’ failure to understand the
“figure of speech” Jesus uses at the beginning of this Reading. Is Jesus the
gate, the gatekeeper, or the shepherd? In verses seven and eight, the figure
is of a gate by which the shepherd comes to the sheep, while in verses nine
and 10, the figure is of a gate by which the sheep come in and go out.
In His explanation, Jesus said explicitly, “I am the gate for the
sheep.... Whoever enters by Me will be saved, and will come in and go out
and find pasture.... I came that they may have life, and have it
This “life” He speaks of cannot be our merely human life, which lasts
only about 80 years, but must mean the life that is open to us because Jesus
came among us as a man; that is, divine life, God’s life, eternal life, the
kind of life lived by God in the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Jesus calls Himself the gate by which we pass from human life to divine
life, but without losing our human life: we will “come in and go out” by
this gate. The image reminds me of what cell biologists call “active
transport” across a cell membrane: the process by which molecules of a
chemical are carried into or out of a cell by becoming part of a carrier
molecule which is “recognized” by the cell membrane.
Grafted on to Christ
Jesus is the only Son God has begotten. Because He is begotten and not
made, He has the nature of God. However, by His conception in Mary’s womb
(an event we celebrated recently in the solemnity of the Annunciation, nine
months before Christmas), He also acquired our nature, human nature. Now He
offers us a chance to become what the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls
“divinized”; that is, to acquire the nature of God.
He does this initially through baptism, by which He adopts us as His
children, with all the privileges of a first-born son and heir. He continues
the process by feeding us with His Body and Blood. In Holy Communion we
become vitally attached to Him, one with Him like a molecule with its
carrier as it crosses a cell membrane, grafted onto Him like a branch onto a
vine so that the life of the vine flows into it and transforms it.
Only as a branch on the vine of Christ, only as a member of His Body, can
we cross the barrier between human life and divine life. Only in this way
can we enter the sheepfold, for it is only for His Son that God the Father,
the gatekeeper, opens the gate; “no one knows the Son except the Father, and
no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to
This union between us and Christ is so close that as soon as it had taken
place, as it did for the first time when Jesus distributed His Body and
Blood to the apostles during the Last Supper, Christ “deserved” to die,
since He now bore “our sins in His Body.” The Jewish authorities said that
Jesus deserved to die because He had claimed to be God’s Son; the truth is
that He deserved to die because He had taken on our fallen human nature.
Our true destiny
However, because He was God as well as Man, death could not hold Him: the
“divine Person of Christ” remained “united to His Soul and Body, even when
these were separated by death,” the Catechism says, and by “the unity of the
divine nature,” His Soul and Body were reunited.
Christ’s resurrection was not a return to earthly life, like the
resurrection of Lazarus. Lazarus returned to a normal earthly life and at
some point he had to die again.
In contrast, since His resurrection, Christ’s “humanity can no longer be
confined to earth,” the Catechism says; it is “not limited by space and
time,” but is “able to be present how and when” Christ wills. “The risen
Jesus enjoys the sovereign freedom of appearing as He wishes: in the guise
of a gardener or in other forms familiar to His disciples.”
This is what is in store for us. I recently heard of students asking
their teacher whether, by allowing their bodies to be frozen suddenly, they
could be put into cold storage until scientists had discovered how to
overcome death. In one sense, that is nonsense, but in another it is only a
faint, feeble image of our true destiny.
What must we do to achieve it? St. Peter tells us in this Sunday’s First
Reading: “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus
Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of
the Holy Spirit.”
This Sunday, let us praise God in the words of the Communion Antiphon:
“The Good Shepherd is risen! He Who laid down His life for His sheep, Who
died for His flock, He is risen, alleluia!”
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