The following is taken from the blog of Fr Vladimir Echalas, SOLT: "The Word to the World"
The Fourth Sunday of Easter is the Good Shepherd Sunday. The key to the understanding of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is found in the Old Testament. From the very beginning, Israel lived in a pastoral civilization through their patriarchs. This relationship between God and Israel was reflected in the metaphor of the relationship between the shepherd and his sheep: “He is our God and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides” (Ps. 95:7). The shepherd is both a leader and companion, defending the flock from wild beasts and from robbers: Like a shepherd he feeds his flock, he gathers the lambs in his arms, carrying them carefully in his heart, leading them home” (Ps. 40:11). God elected leaders and entrusted his flock to them as shepherds like Moses, Aaron. David was the best example because he was a real shepherd before he was made the ruler and king of Israel.
But because of their weaknesses and iniquities, these shepherds have been unfaithful so God promised that he himself will take the flock in his hands and will provide a shepherd according to his heart (Jer. 3:15). There will only be one shepherd who was the new David: “I will appoint one shepherd to pasture them, my servant David; he will pasture them and be their shepherd” (Ez. 34:23).
Jesus is the promised good shepherd. There are many allegories of Jesus being a shepherd in the New Testament but it was St. John who compiled them together and composed Chapter 10 in his gospel dedicated to the Good Shepherd. The Church divides this chapter through the three liturgical cycles and in this year, we focus on Jesus as the sheep gate. Oftentimes it was group shepherding wherein shepherds would group themselves together most especially if the fold was huge enough for one shepherd. At night time, during rest, they would form a square marked off by stone walls but there was only one gate for all the sheep to enter and to go out. There was a gate keeper and the shepherds would take turns during the nightwatch. Because of this, the fold was protected from thieves and wild animals.
In John 10:7 Jesus proclaims “I am the sheepgate.” Only true shepherds will be allowed to enter and nobody can enter except through the gate. The fold is the Church and the People of God are all the sheep inside the fold. Jesus continues to guide and protect his people by appointing shepherds to take care of his flock. Jesus is the gate for the sheep who calls and authorizes shepherds to ensure that the sheep are safe from wild animals because outside the fold the sheep are helpless. These shepherds lead the sheep to green pastures and enough water. We see this reality in the hierarchy of the Church wherein we call our shepherds as pastors led by the Pope, the bishops and the priests. Since the bishops are the heads of the local church which we call the diocese, they have the fullness of the priesthood of Jesus. They are shepherds of the diocese that is why they use a staff to symbolize the fullness of their office as pastors. The parish priests share the shepherding of God’s people in the parishes.
When we come together most especially in the Eucharistic assembly, we manifest the reality of our relationship with God as our shepherd represented by the bishop or the priest. Jesus continues to feed us his flock in the green pasture of the Eucharist where we eat his body and drink his blood. When we gather to celebrate the sacraments, the sheepfold becomes a reality once again in fellowship.
We are free to stay outside the fold but we become vulnerable to the attack of the wolves of the world and be allured to the enticements of false shepherds who will only devour us for their own interests. But staying inside the fold, we know we are safe, we are well fed and we feel the joy in the company of the other sheep and in the leadership of our modern shepherds.