Fourth Sunday of Easter: Good shepherds or hired hands?

He says he’s the gate of the sheepfold. All others who have come are thieves and brigands.

What is this sheepfold and who are these thieves and brigands?

IMG_1352The very idea of a sheepfold suggests that we do not follow Jesus as individuals in isolation – there’s always Jesus Christ (the shepherd) and the Church (the sheepfold).

The sheepfold is the Church but it’s the Church merging into the kingdom of God. The Church is the gathering of those who’ve entered into the life of God through Jesus – it’s this passing through Jesus that produces the Church.

Jesus describes people who enter in this way as “safe” going “freely in and out” (of the life of God), “sure of finding pasture” – powerfully descriptive words.

There are other people who’ve entered the Church but without entering the life of God. They’re just going through the motions. These are the thieves and brigands – an accusation that’s directed in the first place at the religious leaders of his day.

Catholics, but particularly bishops and priests who maintain the mere external practice of religion without true conversion of heart are thieves and brigands. They usurp the things of God becoming obstacles rather than stepping stones to God. Pope Francis repeatedly warns about the threat such people pose within the Church.

But this problem is not confined to priests and bishops. Few are immune to the trappings of religion without the appropriate conversion of heart. 

Such ‘Catholics’ find life in the Church boring. They’re highly visible at the one-off events, First Communions, Confirmations, there’s an obvious disconnect which manifests itself in distraction. There’s little sense of the sacred, little sense of the presence of the Totally Other. In their distraction they “steal and kill and destroy” the sacred.

Finally, allow me to present you with the ultimate test of the Christian; are you a goodIMG_1356 shepherd prepared to lay down your life for the flock (the Church, God’s people) or are you a hired hand who runs away when the wolf attacks?

The difference, I think, is the gate we’ve used to enter the sheepfold. Have we really come in through Jesus?

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