Fourth Sunday of Easter; Easter 4A (RCL); Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10.
This Sunday is familiarly know as Good Shepherd Sunday, and the Gospel reading is always from the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel. Some years, we actually hear the portion of the chapter in which Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” Not this year. This year, Jesus says, “I am the door.”
What an odd image. Jesus as the Good Shepherd makes a lot of sense (at least it’s easy to picture), but Jesus as the door just leaves questions. First of all, it is not clear who the audience of this saying is. This comes immediately on the heels of Jesus speaking to the Pharisees after healing the man born blind. He has just told them that since they claim to see, their sin remains. John provides no shift of audience, so presumably this is spoken to the Pharisees.
Is the sheepfold then John’s community, and the Pharisees try to get in without using the door? Or is the sheepfold Israel? Shepherd is certainly an image familiar in the literature of Israel, usually standing for the king. It was certainly the king’s vocation to protect the sheep. Psalm 23 gives us a lovely pastoral image that blends shepherd and king.
Certainly Samuel warned Israel before anointing Saul that a king would take their land and their sons and daughters. This would fit with the thieves who come only to steal and kill and destroy. If Jesus is the door, then the shepherd comes to the community through Jesus, and leads them in and out where they can find pasture — what the shepherd does in Psalm 23. Since Jesus has not yet claimed to be the shepherd, this is perhaps a standard for measuring community leadership. Is the leader self-interested, or interested in pasture for the flock? It’s a standard by which much of what passes for leadership today would be found wanting.
I find it interesting that the door goes both ways. This not just about coming into the fold for safety, but going out to find pasture as well. John calls attention to doors in another place in the Gospel. Twice he tells us after the resurrection, the disciples were locked in a room with the doors shut out of fear. He commissions them to forgive sins, thereby removing the fear that keeps them locked up.
We are anxious to get back into our churches, entering through the door, into the security of the sheepfold, but we need to remember the door is meant to work the other way as well, leading us out into the world.