Fri, 01 May 20 Lectio Divina - Year A
Bible, the land promised to the people of Israel is called a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8). “Milk” refers to the fact that this region of the Middle East is especially well suited for sheep and other grazing animals, including the lactating goats that are part of every shepherd’s flock. In addition to the work of bees, biblical “honey” also images the sweet syrup produced by pressing the dates that grow well in the salty soils around the city of Jericho.
Sheep are curious animals, and the biblical authors rely on our knowledge of their nature and habits to convey complex theological truths. During the time of Jesus, everyone had a basic knowledge about sheep and their care. The references that Jesus makes to sheep in a flock and those penned together at night would be easily understood by those in his original audience.
In today’s First Reading St. Peter, the appointed shepherd of the flock of Jesus is just finishing his first sermon. Peter ends by proclaiming: “Let the whole house of Israel know without a doubt that God has made both Lord and Messiah this Jesus Whom you crucified.” The crowd asks the question, “What are we to do?”
The theme Good Shepherd is heard reminds “The Lord is my Shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” In this often-quoted psalm, we proclaim what our Shepherd has done for us: giving us good pasture, leading us, feeding us, providing peace and security.
In the Second Reading. Peter is encouraging his flock to stay true to the Good Shepherd even amid the trial and persecutions they are facing. For Jesus, the Good Shepherd has already experienced even worse suffering for the flock and He has healed them by His own wounds, so they would not be wayward sheep, but faithful members of His flock.
In the tenth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, we see Jesus portrayed as the Good Shepherd, the One Who calls each sheep and leads all His flock to safety. Jesus also is the Sheep Gate. Shepherd is willing to lay down His life for the protection of the sheep; He leads the flock to verdant pastures. Jesus is concerned for each of us in a very personal, intimate way. Jesus knows each of us. He is willing to do whatever is necessary so that not one of His flock is lost or hurt. We should not worry about anything if we truly know the voice of our Good Shepherd and respond to His call. To understand this important relationship it helps to know what the shepherds did at the time of Jesus. First of all, they would lead the flock by day. They would go in front of the sheep, and the sheep would follow. This is different from modern shepherds who often have sheepdogs lead while they stay behind. In Jesus’ time, the sheep would know the voice of their shepherd, and they would follow as the shepherd spoke to the sheep. During most of the year, at night, the shepherd would bring the sheep back to a stonewall enclosure with no gate. The gate would be the shepherd himself, who would lay down and sleep in the opening of the sheep pen. Thus, the shepherd would prevent thieves and wild animals from getting into the enclosure by being the living gate. If there were many flocks inside the sheep walls, the shepherds would each take a turn being the sheep gate. In the morning, each shepherd would call his flock and only his sheep would follow him and not the other shepherds because they knew the voice of their shepherd and would only follow their own shepherd. The shepherd would once again lead his flock to green pastures where he would provide for the needs of the flock. The sheep of the flock would have no worries because their shepherd would protect them with his rod and staff. The shepherd’s main focus was always the Good of the sheep, and not his own comfort or pleasure. Hired shepherds would only be interested in what they would gain from shepherding the flock, and they would not be interested in what happened to the sheep. The only response of the sheep was to follow the Good shepherd. They needed to be attuned to the voice of the shepherd and do what the shepherd asked of them. Everything else would be provided.
As a shepherd would reach the point where he could no longer shepherd the sheep himself, the shepherd would have to find someone else to carry on his role. He would work with his replacement and have the new shepherd become familiar with the sheep of the flock. The new shepherd would have to take on the characteristics of the original shepherd. The new shepherd would have to be willing to develop the personal relationship with sheep, to lay down his life for the sheep, and to lead the sheep to ever new and green pasturelands.
Jesus is the gate. We enter the sheepfold through him. It is a place of safety and repose. Contemplate Jesus welcoming you into the fold so that you will face the terrors of the night.