s027g99 Third Sunday after Easter
"I am the gate for the sheep" John 10.7
The theme of today's readings is Jesus the good shepherd, or it sort of is. In fact today's gospel reading does not make this identification at all. Indeed there is a bewildering array of characters who appear in these words of Jesus, none of whom are identified with Jesus.
Firstly we have the thief and the bandit, characters who enter the sheepfold in some way other than by the gate. Secondly there is the shepherd, who enters by the gate. This one calls his own sheep, and leads them out to pasture. Jesus does not here identify himself with this character. Thirdly there is an anonymous gatekeeper who opens the gate - again Jesus does not say he is the gatekeeper. Fourthly there seem to be others who enter and leave via the gate (vs9b) - it would seem independently of the shepherd and the gatekeeper. These parallel the "thief" and the "bandit" but they are not so simply because they use the proper entrance and exit.
I can well sympathise with the hearers, who we are told "did not understand what he was saying to them".
In our human way of thinking we could well imagine Jesus describing himself as the shepherd and the gatekeeper. These, with centuries of Christian heritage backing us up, conjure in our minds a care and an authority which we would readily ascribe to Jesus. He is a leader, we are disciples who follow. However it is later in 11 that Jesus goes on to make the identification of himself with the shepherd. We are not wrong, just jumping in too early.
Likewise we can well imagine Jesus being the gatekeeper. We would readily ascribe to Jesus the authority to include and exclude people from God's presence. The Church has oft portrayed Jesus like this - the heavenly bouncer - keeping people away from God - those without the right faith - those who don't have enough faith - or those who don't believe in the same terms as we do.
But, despite this being called Good Shepherd Sunday - Jesus is claiming to be neither of these. Jesus describes himself as the "gate". In fact the references to the gate number five - omitting the reference to the gatekeeper in verse 3 and the words in verse 9: "whoever enters by me ..." In fact reading carefully, Jesus identifies himself twice being the gate - verses 7 and 9. The anonymous shepherd (the word is used once only) we are told enters by the gate and leads the sheep.
Now this is distinctly odd. A gate is essentially an inanimate object, hinged on one side and it merely opens and shuts. A gate is essentially useless unless it opens when pushed from one side or the other.
If one was about trying to impress others, one could well imagine that one would claim to be a shepherd of souls or the bouncer of a nightclub. However few would be impressed if someone described themselves as the door of a nightclub or a rustic gate of a paddock.
And there is nothing mysterious about a gate. It is either open or closed, and as it has not will of it's own, it is open or closed solely determined by the will of those who desire to enter or not. If the hinge is creaky, then it's time for some oil. If it is unhinged, it needs to be repaired. It is simply there.
So also there is a matter of factness about our faith, it too is simply there. There is no arbitrariness about it. If we wish to enter, we too only need to open the gate and make our way in. The gate forms no barrier to anyone. (Indeed the role of the shepherd is to help us find the gate so we don't have to try and climb the fence.)
How often do we as disciples think that our lot is much harder than others? I would have thought that entering by the gate was an aweful lot easier than climbing over the fence elsewhere. I suppose it is not just the young who want to do it "their" way which ultimately is a lot harder.
Indeed of course we do well to rejoice that there is a gate there at all. The gate is of course the cross and resurrection of Jesus, something that we naturally shy away from. We run from death, yet this death of Jesus was not for himself but for each and every one of us.
We will never feel quite as abandoned as Jesus felt on the cross, for Jesus is the actual gate through which we pass. Jesus is not just ahead of us leading us through. Jesus is not just behind us pushing. Jesus is not just holding our hand. Jesus is the gate itself - and we and all people need only to push it for it to open that we can enter - and that is our faith.
And it is not a one way street. We are told we "will come in and go out". Death -that we all view as a "point of no return" is quite wrong.
And we should not dismiss as incidental or unimportant the reference to finding pasture. As disciples we are fed in the Holy Communion, and it is here that we find that interface between this world and the next. It is here that we are closest to those we love who have gone before us, as well as closest to those we love in this life.
And at the altar rail we are closest to the person we are most bidden to love - ourselves - as Jesus show to us the love he has for us in the sacrament of the Holy Communion.
Jesus' final message is that the gate is there that we might "have life, and have it abundantly." (vs10) The reality is that all else are out to get as much from us as possible - and in the end that is "to steal and kill and destroy".
Those of us who are "high church" are in the habit of bowing or genuflecting towards the reserved sacrament in the aumbry, or towards the Altar. However I see Jesus the gate "genuflecting" to us as we go through. The Cross, the event for humanity in general, is made plain for us as individuals in Baptism and Holy Communion. They are all Jesus genuflecting to us - saying to us: "See how much I love you and everyone!"
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