Sheep and shepherds on a enormous canvas with dense mountain forests in the background and a riot of clouds and flashing sunlight was the frequent subject of painting during the Romantic Age of the early 1800s. This idyllic setting even today invites a return a simpler time and place, where the human is more at one with nature. These images are somehow comforting to us, especially those of us furtherest away in our concrete cities. While we have all these thoughts, we realize at the same time that in fact the shepherds’ life and work is not for the faint hearted what with the terrain, the wild storms, wolves, the stupidity of sheep, the loneliness, and all the bugs and beetles and snakes creeping underfoot through the grassy meadow.

So, in the gospel this coming Sunday, we have one more time in which Jesus uses rural images to make his point. The setting is winter, otherwise why would the sheep be inside the gate of the sheepfold. The style of this address is the parable. The gatekeeper, in this way of understanding, is the Father or else the Holy Spirit. The shepherd is Jesus. The gate is discipleship, the flock are the children of God. The thief is the devil, who goes prowling about. The stranger is someone unknown to the flock, and so is probably up to no good or is at least questionable. When Jesus explains the meaning of his “figure of speech” the strangers, thieves and robbers (those who came before him) are all the bad kings, priests, and rabbis who came before him, including the false prophets. He also calls himself the gate, the template for authentic discipleship.

So, for us, it is all about hearing the Word and following Him. In this Word and relationship, we find life abundant.

Alan Hartway

Theological Studies at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago IL; Master of Fine Arts, Poetics, at Naropa University, Boulder CO 1996; Master of Arts, Greek Classics, University of Colorado, Boulder CO 2012; Taught at Naropa University from 1999 through 2015; Chair of Interdisciplinary Studies from 2007-2015; Member of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, Kansas City Province since 1974; Pastor at Guardian Angel Catholic Church, Mead, CO, ministry from 2007-2020 Currently Retired

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