Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Follo: the Shepherd: the Lamb who Saves the Sheep

With the whish that it can arrive to us what arrived to the Apostle Thomas: he touched the man and he recognized God.

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Fourth Sunday of Easter – Year A – May 3, 2020

Roman Rite

Acts 2:14 a-36 – 41; Ps 23 ; 1 Peter 2:20 b- 25; Jn 10:1-10

Ambrosian Rite

Acts 6:1-7; Ps 134; Rm 10: 11-15; Jn 10: 11-18


1) He is the true Shepherd, the good one.

Today’s liturgy invites us to contemplate Jesus as both the shepherd and the entry to the sheepfold while at Easter we have contemplated Him as the Lamb, the paschal victim who redeems the sheep conquering death forever.

Today in the developed western world, the image of the shepherd is not very present and when it is, it is done with a bit of contempt so much so that the expression «I am not a sheep» is used to define independent and courageous adults not in need of a shepherd.

In the former days and in the Jewish civilization the figure of the shepherd was a well-known and familiar one: Abraham was a shepherd, Moses was the shepherd of his people and so was also King David. In fact, in the biblical civilization the image of the shepherd as the king who leads his people and of the God as The Shepherd who leads his people to freedom and to life was well known.

The History of Salvation sung in Psalms and narrated in particular in the book of Exodus, has made ​​familiar to the Jews the experience of a God who is near. This experience is well expressed by the image of God that leads his people to pastures, defends them from the enemies, led them to safety through the dangers of the desert and guides them toward the fulfillment of His promises and to the Promised Land.

It is a divine romance that sums up the troubled relationship between the people and God who uses the image of the shepherd to say, “Look! I myself will search for my sheep and examine them. As a shepherd examines his flock while he himself is among his scattered sheep, so will I examine my sheep. I will deliver them from every place where they were scattered on the day of dark clouds. I will lead them out from among the peoples and gather them from the lands; I will bring them back to their own country and pasture them upon the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and every inhabited place in the land. In good pastures I will pasture them; on the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down on good grazing ground; in rich pastures they will be pastured on the mountains of Israel. I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest—oracle of the Lord GOD. The lost I will search out, the strays I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, and the sick I will heal; but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd them in judgment.» (Ez 34: 11-16).

Jesus, who bore within itself the truth and the fulfillment of all the prophecies, puts himself into this path and proves to be the truth, the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep and his sheep know Him, just as the Father knows Him and He knows the Father (cf. Jn 10:14-15 ) . How wonderful is this knowledge that reaches up to the eternal Truth and Love, whose name is the «Father.» It is from this source that comes the particular knowledge which gives rise to full and pure trust. This is not an abstract knowledge, a purely intellectual certainty. It is a liberating knowledge that inspires trust.

2) The Shepherd is the Door

As I mentioned above, the allegory of the shepherd, with which Jesus describes his identity «I AM the good shepherd” (Jn 10:11), moves on a background still very familiar to the life in the Holy Land. In the evening, the shepherds lead the flock in a pen for the night. A common fence serves generally for several flocks. In the morning each shepherd cries his call and the sheep – the sheep that know his voice – follow him.

Recounting this familiar scene Jesus emphasizes first that HE is the true shepherd because – unlike the mercenary – he is not going to steal the sheep, but to give life.  The characteristic of the true shepherd is the gift of self.

But there is also a second thought: Jesus is the door of the sheepfold “I AM the Door» (cf. Jn 10: 7:09). And this takes on two meanings: one for the leaders and a second for the faithful. Jesus is the door through which we must pass in order to be legitimate shepherds. No one can have authority over the Church if not legitimized by Jesus.  And no one is a disciple if he does not go through Jesus and enters in his community. As you can see, Jesus is at the center of the authority that governs in his name and of the faithful that in communion with Him can truly belong to the people of God

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says: » I ​​AM» and he says it four times: I AM the door, and again I AM the door, then I AM the good Shepherd, I AM the Shepherd good; – where the I AM reminds to the God of the Exodus, the revelation of the Name of God, the God who saves mankind and sets him free.

Whoever enters via the door is the shepherd; all the others are thieves. The door is a hole in the wall and at the same time the fence from where you can walk out to freedom. Jesus is the door that is opened between man and God. As the incarnated Word of God, He is the door from man to God. He is the door through which humanity sees the truth of the man, who is the Son of God. Those who enter through this door, enter through intelligence, for the Son is the Word of the Father, which is itself intelligence. They enter through freedom and love for the children who are free, love, respond to love and follow a certain kind of life.

Compared to the fence of the sheepfold, which although necessary for the protection of the sheep is also a barrier, the door means the possibility for communication and communion.

That door, which is Jesus, is the breaking of what separates God from us and us from God and therefore it is the possibility of the communication and the communion desired both by Him and by us.

 3) We must follow the Shepherd to evangelize.

However, today’s Gospel passage not only describes the figure of Jesus as Shepherd and Pastor of the Church, but it also describes the behavior of the sheep, which are called by name to follow their shepherd. The following is the result of a call (“He calls his own sheep by name «), implying a sense of belonging (the sheep are his) and requiring listening (“hear his voice «).

Call, belonging and listening are the traits of the community that walks with Jesus. Of course all of this requires the rejection of any other shepherd and every other teacher (“a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him «).

Jesus, light of the world, leads to the pastures of life, makes us one flock of free people, children and siblings like him and different from each other. He is the Lamb who knows how to expose, lay and place his life on behalf of others. He is the Chief because He is the Servant of all. He is the true Shepherd, different from celebrities who are too often followed as a model, but are models that steal life and do not donate it.

The model of man that Jesus asks us to live is the model of the shepherd. He, the Good Shepherd, comes to bring us to freedom, which means not to follow the current models, stylish and deviant. He is the Good and True Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep “(Jn 10, 11.15).

But there is also another characteristic, which is indicated after a few lines. The Shepherd Jesus not only traces the path to the flock (walking in front of the flock and is he  only the one who gathers the flock (who loves and calls his own sheep), but  he is the one who – walking in front of the flock – thinks also of the sheep that do not belong to the fold. So is Peter: he is the pastor of the Church, but his thought is for the whole world. His role is also to not allow the Christian community to close in, to get away from the world and to think only about herself.

In this regard, the consecrated Virgins show that being religious does not mean “to spare themselves for eternal life” … but to penetrate, as did the Word of God, into everyday work showing the face of the Father who awaits, of the Son who remakes all things and of the Spirit that animates them.

To enter into the world means to bring the example of the limits of the Incarnation up to a more intensely dramatic sphere. St. Paul writes: “Those who use this world do not stick to it, because the scene of this world passes” (cf. 1 Cor 7:31). This involves putting the transcendent in the very core of our life and of the daily activities of our commitment. This dimension constitutes a consecration and “By such a bond, a person is totally dedicated to God, loved beyond all things. In this way, that person is ordained to the honor and service of God under a new and special title. (Dogmatic Constitution of the Church “Lumen Gentium”, 44)

Patristic Reading

Saint Augustine of Hippo

 Sermon 229 N 1,2,3

  1. Here is the Lord, again appearing to the disciples after the resurrection, and questioning the apostle Peter; and he obliges him three times to confess his love, because three times he had denied him through fear. Christ rose again in the flesh, and Peter in the spirit; because when Christ died in his passion, Peter died by his denial. Christ the Lord was raised from the dead; out of his love he raised Peter. He questioned him about the love he was confessing, and entrusted him with his sheep. After all, what benefit could Peter confer on Christ, by the mere fact of his loving Christ? If Christ loves you, it’s to your advantage, not Christ’s; and if you love Christ, it’s to your advantage, not Christ’s. And yet Christ the Lord wanted to indicate in what way people ought to indicate that they love Christ, and he made it plain enough by entrusting him with his sheep. Do you love me? I do. Feed my sheep (Jn 21:15-17). All this once, all this a second time, all this a third time. Peter made no other reply than that he loved him; the Lord asked no other question but whether he loved him; when he answered, he did nothing else but entrust his sheep to him.

Let us love each other, and we love Christ. Christ, you see, while always God, was born a man in time. As a human being born of a human being, he appeared as a man to men; he performed many miracles, as God in man; he suffered many evils, as man from men; he rose again after death, as God in man. He conversed for forty days on earth as man with men; before their very eyes he ascended into heaven, as God in man, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. All this we believe, we can’t see; and we are commanded to love Christ the Lord, whom we can’t see; and we all shout and say, “I love Christ.” If you do not love the brother whom you can see, how can you love the God whom you cannot see? (1 Jn 4:20). By loving the sheep, show the love you have for the shepherd; because the very sheep themselves are members of the shepherd. In order that the sheep might be his members, he was prepared to be a sheep; that the sheep might be his members, like a sheep he was led to the slaughter (Is 53:7); that the sheep might be his members, it was said of him, Behold the lamb of God, behold the one who takes away the sins of the world (Jn 1:29). But there’s tremendous courage in this lamb. Do you want to know how much courage this lamb showed? The lamb was crucified, and the lion was conquered. Just observe and consider with what power Christ must govern the world, seeing that by his death he conquered the devil.

  1. So let us love him, let there be nothing dearer to us than he. So do you imagine that the Lord is not questioning us? Was Peter the only one who qualified to be questioned, and didn’t we? When that reading is read, every single Christian is being questioned in his heart. So when you hear the Lord saying Peter, do you love me? think of it as a mirror, and observe yourself there. I mean, what else was Peter doing but standing for the Church? So when the Lord was questioning Peter, he was questioning us, he was questioning the Church.
  2. We all love Christ, you see, we are his members; and when he entrusts the sheep to the shepherds, the whole number of shepherds is reduced to the body of the one shepherd…

And so may the love of Christ, whom we love in you, the love of Christ, whom you love in us, lead us all, among our trials, our temptations, our toils, our sweat, our anxieties, our misfortunes, to where there’s no toil, no misfortune, no groans, no sighs, no vexations; where nobody’s born, nobody dies, nobody has to fear the wrath of the mighty man, all being protected by the countenance of the Almighty God.

   In short …

When (Christ) entrusted his sheep to Peter, entrusted his limbs to the Church. O Lord, yes, trust your Church to your Church! And your Church entrusts to you. (Ser 229 / P, 4)

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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