SAC - Sheperd, Abundance, Cross
by Rev. Jack Peterson YA
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Jesus said: "Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd 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 his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers," Although Jesus used this figure of speech, the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them.
So Jesus said again, "Amen, amen, I say to you , I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly."
It is Easter, and I would like to offer you a “sac” of faith. (“Sac” is French for sack.) In this sac is a Shepherd, an Abundance of life and a Cross.
In our Gospel passage for today, Jesus calls himself the “shepherd of the sheep.” At the time of Christ, it was a common practice for a shepherd to leave his sheep at night in a large pen with other sheep from different flocks and where a person would keep watch during the night. In the morning, the shepherd would arrive, enter through the gate and begin to call his sheep. One noteworthy reason for this image is that the shepherd would actually call each sheep by name. The names for the sheep were often quite descriptive, like “Floppy Ears” or “Black Eye” or “Stubborn.” Every morning, each sheep would hear his name individually and come to the shepherd. In those days, there was a very personal nature to the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep.
I grew up sharing the same name and nickname as my father. My mother had a “Jack” for me and a different “Jack” for my dad. She even had a third one for both which she used regularly when she arrived home with the groceries.
We know when our name is called by someone who loves us. A disciple of Jesus comes to know the voice of the shepherd by reading and praying with his Word and by quieting his or her heart regularly in prayer to hear his still, quiet voice deep within.
Did you give Jesus the chance to call you by name this morning?
After gathering his flock in the morning, a good shepherd would then lead the flock out of the pen to safe and green pastures. He was wise and caring, and would find out if there had been any wolves spotted in the area, if thieves were lurking outside any nearby villages, and which fields were still rich with green grass. The sheep were content to follow the shepherd whose voice they knew and whom they trusted.
Also in our sac, borrowed from Jesus, is an abundance of life. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, proclaims at the end of the Gospel: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” God always gives in abundance. At the end of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the disciples collect baskets full of leftovers. In the miraculous catch of fish, nets tear, new boats come to assist and all of the boats nearly sink because of the abundance of fish. In the temple area, the woman caught in the act of adultery is overwhelmed with the abundance of mercy that Jesus bestows upon her in front of the pride-filled crowd who, sadly, are reluctant to drop their stones.
God can never be outdone in generosity. Ironically, the more we give ourselves to him and to our neighbor, the more we receive back from God. When describing those who sacrifice earthly goods for the sake of the kingdom, Jesus lays out this principle: “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” (Mt 19:29). Yes, Our Lord said, “a hundredfold.”
Finally, in this sac is a cross. The mystery of the cross is always present to the flock, even during the Easter season. We could not get to the resurrection except by way of the cross. St. Peter takes the opportunity to remind us of the abundance of Jesus’ suffering which he endured because of the abundance of his love: “He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.”
The cross is like a portal from heaven through which every grace God desires to pour upon the world flows in rich abundance. It is a fountain of living water. Whenever we feel like we are running out of life’s essentials, we just need to find our way to the foot of the cross. After some good time there, we will find ourselves soon at the entrance of the empty tomb. Next, we will find ourselves in the upper room at Pentecost where the Spirit of Jesus is poured upon the world with audacious abundance.
“I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”