Homily for 4th Sunday of Easter By Fr. Jerome Ituah, OCD
Readings: Acts 2:14, 36-41; Ps 23; 1 Pet 2:20-25; Jn 10:1-10
Theme: Jesus, the true shepherd
I have read and preached on today’s gospel passage several times. But a closer look at
the text in Greek strikes a different note. The first line literally reads like this, ‘Amen, I say to
you, he who does not come through the door into the courtyard of the sheep, but goes up by
another way, that (person) is a thief and a robber.’
The door into the courtyard of the sheep
The Greek word, thura, translated in the reading as gate, literally means door. This
word may help to see the passage from a different perspective. Thura could refer to the ‘door’
of a house or a courtyard. It could also mean the ‘door’ of the temple gate (Acts 3:2) or a tomb
(Matt 27:60; Mk 16:3). The word is also used figuratively in the New Testament on other
occasions. It is the door one should shut when they pray to God (Matt 6:6). It refers to the
imminent coming of Jesus (Matt 24:33; Mk 13:29 – When you see these things, know that he
is near, at the door; Matt 25:10; Mk 15:46; Lk 13:25). It is the narrow door that leads to
eternal life, which one must strive to go through (Lk 13:24).
The only other time the words ‘sheep gate’ appear together in the bible is in the book
of Nehemiah, and the Greek word used for the gate is pule (Neh 3:1,32). So, when Jesus uses
the door, thura, in the parable, he intends to communicate a different reality. He is not talking
about the gate to the ordinary sheepfold but rather about something more intimate concerning
human life. This usage may explain why the listeners could not understand the parable. They
knew the pule to the sheepfold. But Jesus is talking about a thura to the house, the Temple or
the tomb, a reality different. Hence, they were thrown into confusion. Jesus then had to
explain to them.
The outer court was a familiar part of the Temple, where every Jew could enter.
Figuratively, the door into the courtyard of the sheep may be referring to this part of the
Temple, as is contained in the prophecy of the New Temple in the book of Ezekiel (Eze 40).
The New Temple is a prefiguration of the heavenly kingdom which Jesus comes to
inaugurate, and of which he is the shepherd and the door. Israel is the sheep of God, and God,
who dwells in the Holy of Holies inside the Temple, was their shepherd. This imagery is
familiar to people in the Old Testament.
The Psalmist highlights the role of God as a shepherd among his people – ‘the Lord is
my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want. He guides me along the right path…prepared a
banquet for me.’ Although God was the shepherd of Israel, the people rejected him by
following their own ways. Thieves and brigands had stolen their hearts, and they went astray.
Because of this, they shut themselves outside the house of God. Jesus came into the world to
open the door and bring back the people into the sheepfold. The apostles and disciples of
Jesus represent the new Israel. No wonder Jesus came to them when their doors were shut for
fear on that first day of the week (Jn 20:19,26). He gains entrance into the new sheepfold
because the solid doors do not limit his access to his sheep.
Jesus is the Shepherd
The sheep are those who listen to the voice of the true shepherd and follow. They
enter into the sheepfold, know the shepherd’s sound, and hear and follow his voice. Those
who genuinely follow him no longer listen to the voices of strangers. The strangers are those
who come to steal, kill and destroy. But the real and good shepherd has come to give life to
the sheep. That is the mission of Jesus, to give abundant life to the sheep.
St. Peter tells us in the second reading that Jesus, as a shepherd, has given us an example to
follow, how to enter and remain in the sheepfold. It is not an easy road; it entails following
the narrow door (cf. Lk 13:24). As a shepherd, he leads the strayed back into the sheepfold as
‘the shepherd and guardian of your souls.’
Jesus, the door into the sheepfold
The true sheep of God is the new Israel. They are the ones who have entered into the
life of Jesus. They have passed through the door into the sheepfold. Jesus is the door that
opens the way to the life of God. He says, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ (Jn 14:6).
Jesus refers to the same reality here. As the door, he is the way that grants us access to the
Trinity, teaches us the truth and gives us the life of God.
‘They were cut to the heart.’
There is a requirement for entering into the sheepfold. When Peter preached to the
people on the day of Pentecost, they were moved and asked what they should do. Peter said
to them, ‘Repent… and every one of you must be baptized’. Repentance from sin and baptism
in the name of Jesus opens the door to this sheepfold. Those who were baptized were added
to their number.
For us today
We are already part of the sheep through our baptism in Jesus. He jealously guides
and protects us from the thieves and brigands, who continually try to break into our hearts to
steal us away from him. We have a choice and responsibility not to admit those thieves and
brigands. Instead, we should welcome Jesus, who is ever at the door of our hearts, waiting to
come in and shepherd us. We have to open the door when he knocks. ‘Behold, I stand at the
door and knock. If anyone hears and opens the door, I will come to him and eat with him, and
he with me’ (Rev 3:20).