The Twenty-Third Psalm speaks of God as “my shepherd.” Jesus expresses the same concern for us when He describes Himself as the “shepherd of the sheep.”
Jesus is also the “sheep gate,” that keeps the sheep secure. St. Thomas Aquinas applies Jesus’ words to all of us as sheep and to those who minister in the Church as shepherds: “If you wish to enter as a sheep to be kept safe there, or as a shepherd to keep the people safe, you must enter the sheepfold through Christ” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John, 1368).
Christ is the door: “…This is the door through which the true shepherds have entered…” (Commentary on John, 1368).
Yet, a door to a sheep pen is low: “… the door, namely, Christ, is small through humility – ‘Learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart’ (Matt 11:29) – can be entered only by those who imitate the humility of Christ (Commentary on John, 1368).
The proud climb into the sheep fold by another way: “They do not imitate Him who, although He was God, became man; and they do not recognize His lowering of Himself” (Commentary on John, 1368).
Christ is also the gatekeeper: “The gatekeeper is Christ Himself, because He brings us Himself… Augustine says, ‘He opens Himself who reveals Himself, and we enter only by His grace’” (Commentary on John, 1370).
Christ is also the shepherd: “Just as sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd due to familiar experience, so righteous believers hear the voice of Christ: ‘O that today you would harken to His voice’ (Ps 95:7)” (Commentary on John, 1372).
The good shepherd calls His sheep by name. God told the Israelites, “I know you by name” (Ex 33:17). The Book of Proverbs instructs: “Be diligent to know the countenance of your flock” (Prv 27:23).
Thomas notes that calling by name “shows his knowledge of and familiarity with his sheep, for we call by name those whom we know familiarly” (Commentary on John, 1374).
The good shepherd goes before his sleep by the example of a good life. Thomas comments that customarily shepherds go after their sheep. Thomas observes: “But the good shepherd goes before them by example, ‘not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock’ (1 Pet 5:3)” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 1374).
Christ goes before His sheep: “Christ does go before them: for He was the first to die for the teaching of the truth – ‘If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me’ (Matt 16:24); and He went before all into everlasting life” (Commentary on John, 1374).
Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door” (Jn 10:7). Thomas reflects that the purpose of a door is to lead into the inner rooms: “One must enter into the secrets of God through Him: ‘This is the gate of the Lord,’ that is, Christ, ‘the righteous shall enter through it’ (Ps 118:20)… The shepherds and the sheep are brought into the present Church and enter into eternal happiness (Commentary on John, 1382).
Thomas explains that “those who came before Me” does not apply to the holy people of the Old Testament, who entered through the door, Christ. This is because Christ is the eternal Word, who even acted during the time of the Old Testament:
“It is clear that all the patriarchs and prophets, whom the Christ-to-come had sent forerunners, entered by the door, i.e., Christ. For although He took flesh and became man in time, He was the Word of God from all eternity: ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever’ (Heb 13:8). Indeed, the prophets were sent by the Word and Wisdom of God: ‘In every generation she,’ the Wisdom of God, ‘passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets’ (Wis 7:27). Accordingly, we expressly read in the prophets that the word of God came to this or that prophet, who prophesied by participating in the Word of God” (Commentary on John, 1384).
By “those who came before Me,” Jesus means “… independently of Me, without divine inspiration and authority, and not with the intention of seeking the glory of God but acquiring their own, are thieves, insofar as they take for themselves what is not theirs, that is, the authority to teach… (Commentary on John, 1385).
Jesus announces: “If any one enters by Me, he will be saved” (Jn 10:9). Thomas comments: “He shows that the purpose of a door, which is to keep the sheep safe, applies to Himself … The door safeguards the sheep by keeping those within from going out, and by protecting them from strangers who want to come in. And this applies to Christ, for He is our safeguard and protection. (Commentary on John, 1388 -1389).
Thomas recalls the words of Scripture: “For there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12); “We shall be saved by His life” (Rom 5:10).
Jesus declared: “I came that they may have life” (Jn 10:10) Thomas observes:
“… that is, the life of righteousness, by entering into the Church through faith: ‘My righteous one shall live by faith’ (Heb 10:38). We read of this life in 1 John (3:14) that ‘We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren.’ And have it abundantly, that is, have eternal life, when they leave the body. We read below of this life: ‘This is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God’ (Jn 17:3)” (Commentary on John, 1390).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
References to Thomas Commentary on the Gospel of John may be found in the translation by Fr. James A. Weisheipl, O.P. and Fabian R. Larcher, O.P., published by St. Bede’s Publications.