4th Sunday of Easter (Year A)

28 April 2023

Acts 2:14a, 36-41;
Ps 23;
1 Pt 2:20b-25;
Jn 10:1-10

The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want


Christ, the Good Shepherd, who is the door to the sheep

The fourth Sunday of Easter is also called “of the Good Shepherd”, and the readings and prayers of the liturgy are focused precisely on this beautiful image of Jesus. For this reason, since 1964 following a decision by Pope Saint Paul VI, this Sunday is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, for those who have received the call to follow Jesus, the High Priest and Good Shepherd. In this perspective, today many parishes and dioceses around the world organizes the collection for the universal solidarity fund of the Pontifical Society of St. Peter the Apostle (PSSPA) for the formation of priests and consecrated persons, through the support of seminaries and novitiates in the mission territories with their candidates and formators. Thus, every faithful participates actively, with prayer and concrete contribution, in the evangelization mission of the Church, concretely in caring for vocations and formation of new good priests - shepherds with the “odor of the sheep” in the footsteps of Christ the Good Shepherd (Pope Francis, Chrism Mass, Homily, Saint Peter’s Basilica, Holy Thursday, 28 March 2013).

In such a context, today’s Mass readings help us to reaffirm and deepen at least three important aspects of the mission of Christ the Shepherd, a model, according to God’s will and example, of all the shepherds of God’s people.

1. The Particular Relationship between Jesus and His Sheep

The Gospel passage today is very concise, but full of implications. It represents the beginning of Jesus’ discourse in the Fourth Gospel around his self-declaration “I am the good shepherd” (Jn 10:11, 14). Thus, right from the start, even before declaring that he is the Good Shepherd, he simply underlines a fundamental characteristic of the relationship between him and his sheep: “Amen, amen, I say to you, […] whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. […] the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize [lit. know] his voice.” The words here find their echo in what Jesus will say later in his self-declaration of being a good shepherd: “I am the good shepherd, [says the Lord,] and I know mine and mine know me” (Jn 10:14); as well as at the end of the speech, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (Jn 10:27).

Here, the verb “to know” in the Biblical-Jewish language denotes a knowledge that is not so much intellectual (to have information about something) as existential, as is the relationship between husband and wife. It is about intimate and integral mutual knowledge, a knowing that implies loving and belonging to one another. Precisely for this reason, when Jesus declared that he was a good shepherd, he explained further that “A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11b, 15b). He does this, because he knows his sheep, that is, he loves them deeply, more than his own life.

Furthermore, the knowledge between Jesus and his sheep is paralleled with that between Jesus and God the Father. He affirms, in fact, “I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father” (Jn 10:14b-15). The relationship between Jesus the Good Shepherd and his disciples is therefore placed in comparison with the mystical reality of intimate knowledge between the two divine Persons. So, on the one hand, here we can glimpse the depth of the knowledge-love Jesus has for his sheep, like that which Jesus has for the Father! Jesus actually states elsewhere, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love “(Jn 15: 9). On the other hand, when Jesus affirms that his sheep know him, we can ask ourselves whether our knowledge for Jesus is actually comparable to that between the Father and Jesus. The statement, therefore, can also be seen as an implicit invitation to Jesus’ “sheep” for a serious self-examination of whether and how much they know their Shepherd and recognize his voice in the midst of the noises all around. Since one never runs out of all the riches of the mystery of Christ, the commitment to grow more and more in the knowledge of the Shepherd, who knows and loves them to the point of giving his life for them, remains always relevant for the sheep of all times. (Significant in this regard is Jesus’ reproach to Philip, one of his close disciples: “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip?” (Jn 14: 9). These words are also valid for every disciple who follows him).

2. “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

Affirming the particular relationship with his sheep, Jesus states further his special care/mission which comes from such knowledge and love: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (Jn 10:10). This special mission/care of Jesus is reaffirmed again at the end of the discourse: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand” (Jn 10:28). Thus, the gift of life in abundance is identified with eternal life. The latter though does not designate a future reality only after death. It indicates life in communion with Jesus and with God, which begins already in the present and will continue into eternity. So much so that Jesus underlines, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.” (Jn 6:47). Similarly, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life” (Jn 5:24). Moreover, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (Jn 6:54).

From these quotations, especially the last one, we see another fundamental aspect of the eternal life Jesus gives to his sheep. That “eternal life” is exactly Jesus’ own life He offers, as made explicit in the declaration of the good shepherd mentioned above (“A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” [Jn 10:11b, 15b]). Therefore, Jesus also made himself a sacrificial lamb to give his life to his sheep and lead them “to springs of life-giving water” (Rev 7:17), as the second reading reminds us.

Jesus is the shepherd who not only knows the odor of the sheep, but has also made himself one of them, to share everything of life with them, everything including death! This is what is stated for the figure of Christ the high priest: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15).

This strong bond between Jesus the good shepherd and his sheep will be the reason why “no one can take them out” (Jn 10:28) of his hand and of Father’s hand. Just as Saint Paul the Apostle expresses the same concept with moving inspired words starting from a rhetorical question: “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:35, 37-39).

3. An Unusual Metaphor: I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture

In John’s Gospel, the original image of Jesus as the gate leading to life seems to emphasize His function as the exclusive mediator. The latter figure, for his part, is described with another image that is as enigmatic as it is original, which Jesus mentions in his discourse with Nathanael: the Son of Man will be like the stairway on which angels descend and ascend (Jn. 1:51). What is interesting is the fact that the image of the stairway has as its Old Testament background the passage from Jacob’s dream in Luz, later called Bethel (Gen 28:12ff) where, after the vision of the stairway connecting heaven and earth and after the struggle with God, the patriarch exclaims “How awesome this place is! This is nothing else but the house of God, the gateway to heaven!” (Gen 28:17). Therefore, the image of Jesus as “the gate of the sheep,” despite the slight difference in the term used in the original, may have some connection with the idea of the gate leading to heaven in Gen 28:12ff.

From this perspective, the dual statement of Jesus as the door and the shepherd of the sheep in his explanation has the theological elements very close to the declaration of Jesus as “the way, the truth and the life.” In both cases, the exclusivity of Jesus’ mediation for the salvation, that is, the life, of all people is emphasized. It also emphasizes the true, genuine character in his identity: the good shepherd is the ideal, perfect, beautiful one according to God’s plan. Moreover, the image of Jesus as the door of the sheep comes close to the metaphor of the way to life. It is no accident that He Himself concludes the discourse on the door with the Christological-soteriological statement: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (Jn 10:10b). Here appears the contact with Wisdom personified, whose “door” leads to life and communion with God (cf. Pro 8:34-35).

In conclusion, the declaration of Jesus as the “good shepherd” not only emphasizes his goodness but is intended to convey the idea of the ideal, genuine, perfect shepherd, that is, according to God’s will for Israel at the end of time. This perfection then consists among other things and perhaps above all in his quality of being wise in contrast to the senseless and wicked shepherds, as attested in the numerous Old Testament passages. Specifically, the text of John’s Gospel highlights the two basic characteristics of the perfect shepherd: giving or risking one’s life for the sheep and the intimate knowledge between the shepherd and the sheep. While the first aspect is shown to be rather Christological and alludes to the concrete fact of the cross, the second turns out to be highly sapiential, because even the followers of Wisdom herself hear her voice, ignored by the foolish and wicked. Thus, in Jesus we see not only the image of the wise shepherd but Shepherd-Wisdom; that is to say, He appears to be the Wisdom of God become Shepherd. We must then ask ourselves today: do we who are His sheep still try to listen and follow our good Shepherd and Wisdom?


Useful points to consider:

Pope FrancisMessage for the 2023 World Day of Prayer for Vocations, Rome, Saint John Lateran, 30 April 2023, Fourth Sunday of Easter.

Vocation: Grace and Mission

“I am a mission on this earth”

God’s call, we said, includes a “sending”. There is no vocation without mission. There is no happiness and full self-realization unless we offer others the new life that we have found. God’s call to love is an experience that does not allow us to remain silent. Saint Paul says, “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16). And the First Letter of John begins with the words, “What we have heard and seen, looked at and touched – the Word made flesh – we declare also to you, so that our joy may be complete” (cf. 1:1-4).

Five years ago, in the Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, I spoke to every baptized person, saying, “You need to see the entirety of your life as a mission” (No. 23). Yes, because each and every one of us is able to say: “I am a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world” (Evangelii Gaudium, 273).

Our shared mission as Christians is to bear joyful witness wherever we find ourselves, through our actions and words, to the experience of being with Jesus and members of his community, which is the Church.  That mission finds expression in works of material and spiritual mercy, in a welcoming and gentle way of life that reflects closeness, compassion and tenderness, in contrast to the culture of waste and indifference. By being a neighbour, like the Good Samaritan (cf. Lk 10:25-37), we come to understand the heart of our Christian vocation: to imitate Jesus Christ, who came to serve, not to be served (cf. Mk 10:45).

This missionary activity does not arise simply from our own abilities, plans and projects, nor from our sheer willpower or our efforts to practice the virtues; it is the result of a profound experience in the company of Jesus.  Only then can we testify to a Person, a Life, and thus become “apostles”. Only then can we regard ourselves as “sealed, even branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, raising, healing and freeing” (Evangelii Gaudium, 273).

The Gospel icon of this experience is that of the two disciples journeying to Emmaus. After their encounter with the risen Jesus, they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the Scriptures to us?” (Lk 24:32). In those disciples, we can see what it means to have “hearts on fire, feet on the move” [Cf. Message for World Mission Day 2023 (6 January 2023)]. This is also my fervent hope for the coming World Youth Day in Lisbon, to which I joyfully look forward, with its motto: “Mary arose and went with haste” (Lk 1:39). May every man and woman feel called to arise and go in haste, with hearts on fire.

JOHN PAUL II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Formation of Priests in the Circumstances of the Present Day, Pastores Dabo Vobis

18. As the Council points out, “the spiritual gift which priests have received in ordination does not prepare them merely for a limited and circumscribed mission, but for the fullest, in fact the universal, mission of salvation to the end of the earth. The reason is that every priestly ministry shares in the fullness of the mission entrusted by Christ to the apostles.” By the very nature of their ministry they should therefore be penetrated and animated by a profound missionary spirit and “with that truly Catholic spirit which habitually looks beyond the boundaries of diocese, country or rite to meet the needs of the whole Church, being prepared in spirit to preach the Gospel everywhere.”

23. (…) The gift of self, which is the source and synthesis of pastoral charity, is directed toward the Church. This was true of Christ who “loved the Church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25), and the same must be true for the priest. With pastoral charity, which distinguishes the exercise of the priestly ministry as an amoris officium, “the priest, who welcomes the call to ministry, is in a position to make this a loving choice, as a result of which the Church and souls become his first interest, and with this concrete spirituality he becomes capable of loving the universal Church and that part of it entrusted to him with the deep love of a husband for his wife.” The gift of self has no limits, marked as it is by the same apostolic and missionary zeal of Christ, the good shepherd, who said: “And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd” (Jn. 10:16).

32. Membership in and dedication to a particular church does not limit the activity and life of the presbyterate to that church: A restriction of this sort is not possible, given the very nature both of the particular church and of the priestly ministry. In this regard the Council teaches that “the spiritual gift which priests received at their ordination prepares them not for any limited or narrow mission but for the widest scope of the universal mission of salvation ‘to the end of the earth’ (Acts 1:8). For every priestly ministry shares in the universality of the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles.”

It thus follows that the spiritual life of the priest should be profoundly marked by a missionary zeal and dynamism. In the exercise of their ministry and the witness of their lives, priests have the duty to form the community entrusted to them as a truly missionary community. As I wrote in the encyclical Redemptoris Missio, “all priests must have the mind and heart of missionaries open to the needs of the Church and the world, with concern for those farthest away and especially for the non - Christian groups in their own area. They should have at heart, in their prayers and particularly at the eucharistic sacrifice, the concern of the whole Church for all of humanity.”

If the lives of priests are generously inspired by this missionary spirit, it will be easier to respond to that increasingly serious demand of the Church today which arises from the unequal distribution of the clergy. In this regard, the Council was both quite clear and forceful: “Let priests remember then that they must have at heart the care of all the churches. Hence priests belonging to dioceses which are rich in vocations should show themselves willing and ready, with the permission or at the urging of their own bishop, to exercise their ministry in other regions, missions or activities which suffer from a shortage of clergy.”

JOHN PAUL II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Bishop, Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World, Pastores Gregis

22. (…) Communion, in its Trinitarian source and model, is always expressed in mission. Mission is the fruit and the logical consequence of communion. The dynamic process of communion is favoured by openness to the horizons and demands of mission, always ensuring the witness of unity so that the world may believe and making ever greater room for love, so that all people may attain to the Trinitarian unity from which they have come forth and to which they are destined. The more intense communion is, the more mission is fostered, especially when it is lived out in the poverty of love, which is the ability to go forth to meet any person or group or culture with the power of the Cross, our spes unica and the supreme witness to the love of God, which is also manifested as a universal love of our brothers and sisters.

66. In sacred Scripture the Church is compared to a flock ‘‘which God himself foretold that he would shepherd, and whose sheep, even though governed by human shepherds, are continuously led and nourished by Christ himself, the Good Shepherd and the Prince of Shepherds’’. Does not Jesus himself call his disciples a pusillus grex and exhort them not to fear but to have hope (cf. Lk 12:32)? Jesus often repeated this exhortation to his disciples: “In the world you will have fear; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world!” (Jn 16:33). As he was about to return to the Father, he washed the feet of the Apostles and said to them: “Let not your hearts be troubled,” and added: “I am the way... No one comes to the Father, but by me” (cf. Jn 14:1-6). On this “way” which is Christ, the little flock, the Church, has set out, and is led by him, the Good Shepherd, who, “when he has brought out all his own, goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (Jn 10:4).

In the image of Jesus Christ, and following in his footsteps, the Bishop also goes forth to proclaim him before the world as the Saviour of mankind, the Saviour of every man and woman. As a missionary of the Gospel, he acts in the name of the Church, which is an expert in humanity and close to the men and women of our time. Consequently, the Bishop, with the strength which comes from the radicalism of the Gospel, also has the duty to unmask false conceptions of man, to defend values being threatened by ideological movements and to discern the truth. With the Apostle he can repeat: “We toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, especially of those who believe” (1 Tim 4:10).

The Bishop’s activity should thus be marked by that parrhesía which is the fruit of the working of the Spirit (cf. Acts 4:31). Leaving behind his very self in order to proclaim Jesus Christ, the Bishop takes up his mission with confidence and courage, factus pontifex, becoming in truth a ‘‘bridge’’ which leads to every man and women. With the burning love of a shepherd he goes out in search of the sheep, following in the footsteps of Jesus who says: “I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also and they will hear my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd” (Jn 10:16).

PAUL VIRadio Message for the 1st World Day of Prayer for Vocations, April 11, 1964

Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers” for his Church (cf. Mt 9:38).

Casting an anxious gaze over the endless expanse of green spiritual fields, which all over the world await priestly hands, the heartfelt invocation to the Lord springs from our soul, according to Christ’s invitation. Yes, today as then, “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (ibid. 9:37): few, compared to the increased needs of pastoral care; few, in the face of the needs of the modern world, in the face of its quivers of restlessness, its needs for clarity and light, which require teachers and fathers who are understanding, open, updated; few, yet, in the face of those who, although distant, indifferent, or hostile, still want in the priest a living irreproachable model of the doctrine, which he professes. And above all these priestly hands are scarce in the mission fields, wherever there are people to catechize, to help, to console.

Therefore, may this Sunday, which in the Roman Liturgy takes the name of the Good Shepherd from the Gospel, see united in a single heartbeat of prayer the generous hosts of Catholics from all over the world, to invoke from the Lord the workers necessary for his harvest.