Fourth Sunday of Easter May 15th, 2011 Year A (Good Shepherd Sunday)

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Dear Friends:

This Sunday is known as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’. Christ is our Good Shepherd. In today’s Gospel, Jesus compares his love for his disciples to the love of a shepherd for his sheep.

Shepherding was one of man’s earliest occupations. Possession of domesticated animals indicated power and wealth. Job had thousands of sheep, camels, oxen and she-asses, and Abraham’s flocks, herds, camels and asses were counted among his blessings . Abel, Rachel and David were all keepers of sheep. Their occupation consisted in tending, feeding, and guarding the sheep. The principal duty of the shepherd was to see that the animals found enough food and water; and it was important for him to guard and protect the sheep, since they were easy prey for wild animals. There was a danger that thieves might enter the sheepfold and carry them off . The owner himself was sometimes the shepherd of his flock. Abel was a “keeper of sheep” and Jacob cared for his own flocks. God is pictured as a shepherd, who seeks out his own scattered sheep . A good shepherd was especially concerned about the condition of his flock, he is careful that the animals are not overdriven; and would sometimes carry the helpless and weak lambs in his arms, or on his shoulders .

At night, sheep were often kept in simple walled enclosures, made from tangled bushes, providing minimum protection from the weather and enemies, or caves might have been used affording the best protection .
The Palestinian shepherd led his sheep (he did not drive them), and the sheep followed, because they knew his voice. The shepherd has special calls, which only his own sheep know and respond to; indeed he knows his sheep so well, that each has a name, just as a farmer in a small farm may have a name for every cow. In the Old Testament the leaders of the people were considered to be shepherds; and in those shepherds are subjected to fierce criticism and are threatened with being replaced by a new shepherd – David, or a descendent of David – who will make the scattered flock one, obedient to its Lord, who is God.

Jesus says that he is the gate of the sheepfold. He is the gate leading to salvation. All must pass through the gate, that is Jesus, in order to be saved. The concept of the gate of salvation is found also in Ps 118:20: This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it.