domenica 7 maggio 2017

«Ego sum ostium»

The fourth Sunday of Easter is the “Good Shepherd Sunday.” On this Sunday, some passages from chapter 10 of John’s gospel are read. This year we read the beginning of the chapter. If you remember, during Lent, namely on the fourth Sunday, we read chapter 9, that is to say the healing of the man born blind. At the end of that story some Pharisees ask Jesus: “Are we also blind?” And Jesus replies: “If you were blind you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.” Well, the Good Shepherd discourse that we read in chapter 10 is the continuation of Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees.

The first part of the discourse, which we have heard in today’s gospel, contains two parables. In the first one, Jesus compares himself with the “shepherd of the sheep,” in opposition to thieves and robbers. How can we distinguish a shepherd from thieves and robbers? The shepherd is the one who enters the sheepfold through the gate; the gatekeeper opens to him, and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice. Thieves and robbers, instead, do not use the gate to enter the sheepfold; they creep into it by another way; the sheep do not recognize their voice and run away from them, because they are strangers. The gospel tells us that the Pharisees did not understand the meaning of the parable; but it is quite obvious that Jesus was referring to them.

In the second parable, Jesus compares himself to the gate: “I am the gate” (Ego sum ostium). It is necessary to pass through him, if we want to be saved. During the last supper, Jesus will use another image: “I am the way … No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6). Jesus is the only means of salvation: one can be saved only through him. Peter will put it very clearly before the Sanhedrin: “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to men by which we are to be saved” (Acts 4:12). In the present context, through the Good Shepherd the sheep can come in and go out and find pasture. It is interesting to notice that, in Christ, the disciples find not only nourishment, but also freedom: they can go in and out freely and safely.

At the end of today’s selection, Jesus goes back to the opposition between himself and the Pharisees: “A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Here is the essential difference between a thief and a shepherd: a shepherd is one to whom the sheep belong, and so he is concerned for their safety and well-being; a thief, besides being a stranger, is concerned only about his own interest; he “comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy.”

Today’s liturgy describes in a lively way our own condition. The Second Vatican Council, speaking of the Church, says that she “is a sheepfold, the sole and necessary gateway to which is Christ. She is also the flock of which God himself foretold that he would be the shepherd, and whose sheep, even though governed by human shepherds, are unfailingly nourished and led by Christ himself, the Good Shepherd and Prince of Shepherds, who gave his life for his sheep” (Lumen gentium, 6). So, we are the sheepfold, we are the flock, of which Jesus is talking in today’s gospel. He is the gate, through which we are to pass; he is the shepherd who leads us to pasture, the one who has come to give us life. The Council rightly reminds us that Jesus governs his flock through human shepherds. These should embody the image of the Good Shepherd; but, unfortunately, that is not always the case. The sheep perceive it immediately: they recognize the voice of the shepherd and do not follow a stranger. But, anyway, they never feel abandoned, because they know that their true shepherd is Christ. Either through or despite the human shepherds, they “are unfailingly nourished and led by Christ himself, the Good Shepherd and Prince of Shepherd, who gave his life for the sheep.”