“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.
“The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”
Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate.
“Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
John 10: 1-10
Reflection – Well, it’s time for a little more Scripture on the blog. The fourth week of Easter is, in the Catholic liturgical cycle, dedicated in a certain sense to Christ the Good Shepherd, both the Sunday and weekday Gospels taking us through John 10 and its presentation of that theme. So I thought we could read through it together this week, as the image of Christ as Shepherd, of our God as a shepherd, is central to our faith and very beautiful, too.
Now I must admit, I have never quite been able to meditate greatly on ‘Christ the gate’, as opposed to Christ the Shepherd. Gates always strike me as pretty much the most utilitarian objects in the world, especially on a farm. They also tend to be heavy and rather a nuisance to open and shut, necessarily so to keep the animals from busting through them, which perhaps makes it hard to connect the Lord Jesus with them.
But here he is—Christ the Gate. Certainly this is an image that tells us of the exclusive and unique nature of Christ. There is only one way in to the sheepfold, only one way out to the pasture, and that is Jesus. Controversial words in our pluralistic world, perhaps offensive, but that is what the Gospel says and we cannot change the Gospel.
Of course this does not mean (Church doctrine time!) that everyone who is not a baptized Christian is hell-bound. We do not believe that and do not teach that. But it does mean that the sheepfold, which is a symbol of heaven in one reading of it, only has one gate, and that anyone who gets into it has passed through this gate. In short, anyone who is saved, is saved because in some way—the way of baptism and faith, or some mysterious way we do not fully understand—they have come into a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Gate.
But the more important thing here is not these rather thorny questions of theology and the painful dialogues we may have with our non-Christian family and friends at times. The more important thing is that there is a gate, there is a Shepherd, and that there is a way in and a way out. In other words, this whole chapter of John 10 is a powerful revelation about the fact of salvation, the powerful operation of God in the world in Jesus Christ, to take care of the sheep, take care of us.
‘I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ This one Dominical saying is something we could all afford to meditate on at length in our personal prayer. So often we draw back from God, just a little bit, because we are basically afraid that He is not really good for us. He is going to take from us… something, I guess. Our freedom, our pleasures, our dignity. Something, anyhow. At any rate, we read the lives of the saints and it all seems rather hard and demanding and relentless. We draw back—stay close enough to the Shepherd so that we don’t actually miss the gate and get lost, but hang to the back of the flock. Sit in the back of the Church, like good Catholics the world over.
‘I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ Yeah, we need to really ponder that one in our hearts until we actually come to believe it. God does not come to us to lay a heavy burden on us, to make us miserable, to kill us. He comes to make us alive—the Resurrection is the whole sum total of the designs of God for humanity.
It is the shepherd and his voice that alone sees us through this, and assures us that life is ours, if we keep following him. That on the other side of that gate which we have to strain and sweat to lift open is the green fields of the Lord's own pasture land, the whole beauty and goodness of God and of the Kingdom.