Monday, May 12, 2014

The Heavy Gate of Heaven

“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.

And all that in our faith is for us grievous burden and sore trial, all the demands of moral life and struggle, sacrificial love, the cost of discipleship—all of this is simply the heavy and burdensome gate to the path of life laid out for us in this world marked by sin and death. He came that we may have life, but it is a simple fact—a harrowing, searing, soul-scouring fact—that this way of life of the sheep following the shepherd takes us through the valley of the shadow of death and looks a lot like death itself at times. 

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.


  1. Amen, enjoyed your thoughts this morning, very thought provoking something to ponder on today, and may I add a scripture that says the way to open the gate, Why call me Lord and do not the things that I say. To follow the Shepard we must obey His every command. Peace be to you today

  2. The shepherd analogy was a popular one in generations past and still very popular with the church and it's priests. It's easy to see why. Regular people don't care for it much.

  3. I am the bread of life
    I am the light of the world
    I am the Gate
    I am the good shepherd
    I am the Resertection and the Life
    I am the true vine

    We live in a world still unfinished. Sometimes it seems like every day people are calling out God is gone, there is no door, no gate. Sometimes, despite trying to find words to comfort or give hope, I find none.

    As Simon Peter says : "To whom shall we go Lord, you alone have the words of eternal life"

    I fall back on Jesus.

    I also fall back on my church, all the people and priests who have helped me to know Jesus.

    Ron Rolheiser is his book Holy Longinghas this to say about coming to our Catholic Church:

    "To be in church it is not necessary to be with others whom we agree, with whom we are emotionally, ideologically or otherwise compatible...
    Rather it is to stand shoulder to shoulder and hand in hand (which is why we have the sign of peace) precisely with people who are very different from ourselves and with them to hear the common words, say a common creed , share a common bread , and offer a mutual forgiveness so as in that way to breach our differences and become a common heart"

    Bless you


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