Home Homilies Michael Whelan SM, PhD Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year A) (30 April 2023)

Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year A) (30 April 2023)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:1-10 – NRSV).

Introductory notes


The Gospel text used in today’s liturgy stops before the final words of 10:10: “I am the good shepherd”. The text for today is only part of an extended reflection on the image of Jesus as the shepherd – see 10:1-18.

“But what of the messianic question? Jesus transcends all suggested messianic expectations—the hidden Messiah (7:26–27), the miracle-working Messiah (7:31), the Messiah who gives living water (7:37–41a), and the Davidic Messiah (7:41b–42). He repeatedly affirms his relationship with God, his Father, and the mystery of his origins and destiny. The report of the celebration closes with Jesus finally accepting a traditional Jewish messianic expectation: he is the Good Shepherd (10:11, 14). The roots of this messianic figure lie solidly within Jewish tradition, but Jesus transcends and explodes the possibilities of the image. His shepherding flows from his knowledge and love of the Father, reciprocated by the knowledge and love the Father has for him. Accepting the charge the Father has given him, Jesus will lay down his life for his sheep, but he will take it up again” (Francis J Moloney, SDB, The Gospel of John, The Liturgical Press, 1998, 306-307).

“Ezekiel 34; 36; Jeremiah 23; Psalm 23 constitute the OT background to this chapter. These passages could probably be read as an aid to understanding its message. In these OT contexts the conflict is not only between the shepherds and the sheep, but also between sheep and sheep, and between the shepherd and the Shepherd, God” (Teresa Okure, “John” in The International Bible Commentary, Collegeville, MINN: The Litrugical Press, 1998, 1479).


sheepfold. Jesus’ listeners would all be familiar with the sheepfold. Raymond Brown writes: “There were several types. At times, the sheepfold was a square marked off on a hillside by stone walls; here it seems to be a yard in front of a house, surrounded by a stone wall which was probably topped with briars”. (Raymond E Brown, The Gospel according to John (I–XII): Introduction, translation, and notes (Vol. 29), Yale University Press, 2008, 385.). The references to knowing the sheep by name, following the shepherd and recognizing his voice, would all be familiar to the listeners too. The metaphor is in fact used frequently in the Scriptures:

  • In Genesis 49:24, God is referred to as a shepherd – see also Psalms 23, 95:7 and 100:3; Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 34:11–24; Micah 7:14; Zechariah 10:3 and 11:7.
  • In Ezekiel 34:2, 9 and 13f, the leaders are compared to shepherds have failed to tend their sheep. See also Numbers 27:17; 1 Kings 22:17; 2 Chronicles 18:16; Zechariah 10:2.

The gate 

In today’s Gospel – John 10:1-10 – we have part of an extended reflection on the image of Jesus as the shepherd – see 10:1-18. Jesus’ words echo the “I AM” statement of Exodus: “I AM WHO I AM” (3:14). In particular, we hear him say, “I am the good shepherd” and twice he says, “I am the gate”. Other examples of these “I am” statements include: “I am the bread of life” (6:35); “I am the light of the world” (8:12 & 9:5); “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25); “I am the way, the truth and the life” (14:6); “I am the true vine” (15:1-5).  

Scholars argue that the use of “I am” by Jesus is not accidental. Rather, it suggests Exodus 3:14.  

First of all, the “I AM” “revealed” in Exodus 3:14, is ultimately incomprehensible, uncontrollable and, yes, unnameable. We might paraphrase it as follows: “I shall be there with you, as who I am shall I be there”. God’s sovereignty is maintained in intimacy, God’s transcendence is found in immanence. 

The essential focus of Jesus’ “I am” statements is not the metaphor that follows – such as “the good shepherd” or “the gate” – but the “I AM”. We listen so that we might hear his “voice” in our hearts. Our hearing is a being drawn into the inexplicable, uncontrollable, unnameable mystery of God’s Being here with us. The Great Doxology at reminds us of this: “Through Him, with Him and in Him, all glory and honour is yours almighty Father”.  

Secondly, the “I am” statements of Jesus cannot be reduced to programs and projects of imitation – even if they are of the highest moral intent. Too easily we reduce Christian life to a matter of “right behaviour” – whatever that might mean. And history tells us that this “right behaviour” can be the very opposite of what Jesus offers through the power of his Spirit. Our task is to cooperate, facilitate and thus enable Christ to dwell in us and act through us. Our primary vocation is, by the Spirit of Christ, to be the place where the “I AM” becomes real for us and the people, events and things that are part of our world. 

When Jesus says, “I am the gate”, we are reminded of his words to Thomas: “I am the way …. No one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6-7). Thomas asked for a map and Jesus offered him a relationship, a “gate”. The seduction of the map is its capacity to make us feel as though we comprehend what must be done, and we can thus feel in control of the process and put our name on it. That may be attractive and easy to explain and enact, but it is not what we are called to in Christ. We are called to go by “the gate” into the life of the “I AM”. And we are not in control when we go via that “gate”. Thank God! 

Fr Michael Whelan SM – Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter