Jesus is the Gate (4 Easter, A)
“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. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
"Jesus is the Gate"
By Fr. Guillermo A. Arboleda
Jesus is many things to us. Savior, Lord, friend, helper, shepherd, light, way, and truth. Jesus identifies himself in all of these ways throughout the Bible. But perhaps the oddest, and least inspiring image Jesus gives us is the one we heard today. “I am the gate” (John 10:7, 9)
Jesus is a gate? A door? An inanimate object to be pushed and pulled by any passerby? Is that how we really imagine Jesus? I have never seen an icon or stained glass window of a gate with a halo over it. We don’t have any popular hymns about Jesus, our heavenly gate.
Nevertheless, this image is here for a reason. It is important for us to understand what Jesus means when he says, “I am the gate.” It is helpful for us to pay attention to what else Jesus has to say about this.
John 10:9-10 reads, “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.”
So often we think of this as simply reiterating that Jesus is the only way to salvation. That’s true, but it’s not all that is going on here. The Jesus-Gate is not a one-way path. We don’t go in through the Gate and just stay there. We don’t simply huddle together and celebrate how great we are for being inside.
The Gate allows us inside the fence of safety, and in these bounds we “will be saved.” But Jesus says that whoever enters by him will also “go out and find pasture.” The Gate has two-way traffic. We come in and go out.
This is a radically different vision of church than we typically encounter. The Church is not simply a place of refuge and retreat. We don’t gather in church only to be saved and taken care of. Jesus invites us into the fold of protection and healing, but then calls us out of the gate too!
We have to leave the sheep pen behind and “go out.” Jesus leads us to the outside of the gate in order to eat and be nourished. The outside is not a place of suffering and punishment. It is not reserved for sinners and scoundrels, thieves and bandits.
No, the outside is good place too. It simply serves a different purpose than the inside. Jesus invites us to live as his sheep both inside the gate, finding refuge from the dangers of the world, and outside the gate, where in loving and serving the world, we discover abundant life.
Our spiritual lives aren’t healthy when we neglect to “go out and find pasture.” We need both movements, in and out of the Gate of Jesus, in order to live the abundant life that Jesus offers us. We are restored inside and fed outside.
Discipleship is dynamic and active. We are constantly moving in and out of the Gate. This movement is the center of the Christian life. One way of talking about this activity is called “The Renewal-Apostolate Cycle.” It is a key component of the training that our Diocese offers to all our new clergy.
The Rev. Robert Gallagher writes, “The Renewal - Apostolate Cycle is a way of describing a central dynamic of Christian life. The Cycle focuses our attention on the Christian’s movement between being renewed in baptismal identity and purpose and living as instruments of God’s love and grace in daily life. The Cycle is interested in both the individual’s movement and in the ways in which the parish church supports and facilitates that movement.” (Fill All Things, p. 20)
We come in through the Gate of Jesus to participate in the life of the parish church. When we’re here, our principal task is renewal in the love and joy of God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Like the Christians in Acts, we who are baptized devote ourselves “to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
Our worship is designed to draw us near to the heart of God through the tried and true methods of reading the Scriptures and sharing the sacraments. The parish provides resources for finding that renewal in your daily life, apart from Sundays. That’s why we gather for the Daily Office twice per week and teach lay people how to lead it. It’s why we provide Forward Day by Day for devotional use.
The Holy Spirit of God dwells in us and calls us to greater love and knowledge of God. In baptism we are joined to Christ and drawn into the fellowship of the Trinity. It is in that Vine that we find our source of life and peace.
But then, we go out of the Gate. Inevitably, we leave the four walls of this church building, but we never leave Jesus behind. Jesus is that Gate that calls us to go out into the world while continuing to serve him. The same Spirit that lives in us here also goes with us wherever we go.
This call to “go out and find pasture” is a call to love and serve the world. It’s about paying attention to the needs and wants of the creatures around us. We look for opportunities to be Christ to other people, to live and share that amazing love that God has for us.
Gallagher puts it this way: “We are light and salt to the extent we have become light and salt. We are invited to love and serve in the places we find ourselves. The process isn’t at its core strategic, a matter of our planning and awareness; rather it is dependent on our status as people incorporated by baptism into the Body of Christ. It is living as an extension of the sacrament that is the Church in which God’s compassion and justice is offered through us in the routine and ordinary places of life” (Fill All Things, p. 22).
Jesus sends us out to live that abundant life. And when we live God’s abundant life, we become salt and light for God’s glory. Jesus becomes visible in us through the Fruit of the Holy Spirit: our love, joy, peace, patience, etc. (Galatians 5:22ff.).
The parish church is also here to foster that kind of growth in your spiritual life. Jesus is a two-way Gate. He wants you to come in and be saved, but also to go out and find your calling in the world.
As we continue our worship and move along to the rest of our weeks, take a few moments -- perhaps a few moments each day -- to reflect about how you are spiritually renewed, and how God is sending you. How is Jesus acting as the Gate for the Sheep in your life? Amen.
Davis, D. Mark. “Figurative Speech with a Twist!” Left Behind and Loving It. Blog. Published 1 May 2017. Accessed 4 May 2017. https://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com/2014/05/figurative-speech-with-twist.html
Gallagher, Robert A. Fill All Things: The Dynamics of Spirituality in the Parish Church - The Core Frameworks of Parish Life. Fayetteville, AR: Ascension Press, 2008.
Daily Office and Devotional Prayers from Forward Movement: http://prayer.forwardmovement.org/
Image Credit: "Church Door" by Rodney Campbell. https://www.flickr.com/photos/acrylicartist/5854647274.