A Different Kind of Gate
“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
April 28, 2023, Words By: Joel Van Dyke, Image By: Quang Nguyen
A man born blind has been treated like a deplorable outcast his entire life. His blindness, it has been assumed, must be the result of someone’s sin, and he thus spends his life punished, marginalized and rejected. The religious leaders are blinded from their transactional religious system that acts like a bouncer at a nightclub, excluding the “unworthy” while granting entry to those who fit their establishment’s ideals. Through rejection and exclusion, they act like thieves and robbers who steal, kill and destroy.
Such is the context for our text this week as Jesus teaches a master leadership class. While the religious leaders of the day stand as prideful gatekeepers bent on exclusion and judgment, Jesus portrays the opposite, a gate designed for inclusion and embrace. Jesus is a gate that keeps sheep from wandering, from getting lost. A gate leading to a safe place of pasture where sheep can be known and where life can be experienced to the fullest.
As a part of the broader church, I see myself in the mirror of Jesus’ words today. We have a crucial decision to make. Will we be the kind of gate that uses all of our energy acting like bouncers, deciding who is in and who is out? Or, will we embrace the role of a gate portrayed by Jesus, dedicated to creating a sanctuary where sheep are known and can flourish?
The picture of a Shepherd who “calls his own sheep by name” takes us back to Easter Sunday where Mary recognizes Jesus when he calls her by name. She is seen and “known” in the pastureland of Jesus’ presence and there she finds safety and security.
In contrast, a man born blind was not seen nor known by the religious leaders of the day (gatekeepers acting as bouncers). So Jesus invites them to consider a different kind of gatekeeping. Jesus goes on to mix his metaphors, proclaiming that He is not only the gate, but He is also the Shepherd.
Sheep need shepherds, and I am hard-pressed to think of a time when humanity has been in more need of “good shepherding.” The problem is that there are always bad shepherds vying for the right to “lead.” They are, in actuality, thieves and robbers, imprisoned by opportunistic and rivalistic ambition. I hate to admit how often these incriminating motives permeate my own heart.
The Good Shepherd, in comparison, leads his sheep through a very different gate towards a very different destination. He enters the pen with his sheep, stepping into their world. He calls them each by name and leads them into the unknown, as opposed to driving them from behind with a whip. The Good Shepherd goes out ahead, standing in front of danger, taking it upon himself. The Good Shepherd’s way of leading shapes the sheep. In his presence they find pasture — a place of abundance, forgiveness, and love for the other. In him, they become who they were made to be.
Archbishop Oscar Romero, looking out over the devastation of war in his beloved El Salvador, pointed the sheep in his care to the oasis of true pastureland, life that is full:
“People of our time,
anguished about so many problems,
deprived of hope
seeking paradise on this earth,
seek it not here,
seek it in Christ arisen.
Let us find in him relief for our afflictions,
for our worries,
for our anguish,
and in him let us place our hopes.”
The Good Shepherd invites all of us, the excluders and the excluded, through a gate where we can all be known, find true community, and flourish in life that is full. His gate leads to a new morning of abundant pastureland. That is a current Easter resurrection reality and future promise, even amidst contemporary clouds of doom and gloom that so often appear on the horizon.
“I have come that they may have life; and life to the full.”
May it be so.
Dwelling Among Us
When sheep entered through the sheep gate at the temple, they did not return. Jesus claims to be the sheep gate, which might sound terrifying, but those who enter have nothing to fear. They are free to come and go, and find rest. If Jesus is the gateway of mercy, not sacrifice, how does this reimagine God and the whole temple system? And how relieved are you if you are a sheep?