Jesus was one frustrating guy. He described Himself in any number of ways; I am the resurrection, He said, I am the way, the truth, the life, the Good Shepherd, the living bread, the light of the world, the true vine. Which one is it? I don’t mean to be irreverent about the whole thing, but sometimes you wish Jesus would settle on one thing, one very clear thing. Instead we get today’s Gospel from St. John. Jesus talks about sheep, so we think, “Well, maybe this is a Good Shepherd story.” But no, that would have been too easy; Jesus will get there, but not yet. What do we get instead? “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.” I am the gate, Jesus says. Seriously? The gate?
“Why be a gate? Maybe one clue is in something I read in a commentary a while back. Apparently while doing some research in the Middle East, the Bible commentator ran across an Arab shepherd. This shepherd was not a Christian and did not know the Bible. But he was a keeper of sheep and so was showing off his flock as well as the penned-in area where his sheep slept every night. “And when they go in there,” the shepherd said proudly, “they are perfectly safe.” But then the scholar noticed something. “Your sheep sleep in that pen and yet I just noticed that the pen does not have a gate on it.” “Yes, that’s right,” the shepherd replied, “I am the gate.” “What do you mean?” the man asked in startled wonder. “After my sheep are in the pen, I lay my body across the opening. No sheep will step over me and no wolf can get in without getting past me first. I am the gate.”
Well, there it is. I guess the mixed metaphor of being the Good Shepherd and being the gate isn’t so mixed after all.
So where does that leave us? If Jesus is the gate, the door, the Good Shepherd, the resurrection, and a whole lot of other things, where do we stand? That’s a timely question, and it may not come with easy answers. If it is true that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, that He is the gate, then who are the sheep? And who are the thieves and bandits who try to get to the sheep?
First off, it is true that Jesus is the gate; He is the way to the Father, the only way. The old adage rings true, that if Jesus is not the Son of the living God, then He was a raving madman. There was nothing subtle about Him or His claim to the Godhead. As we learn last week in the Gospel about the disciples on the road to Emmaus, everything, all of life, revolves around Jesus.
Secondly, if we follow from the truth that Jesus is way, then anyone who teaches anything contrary to Jesus is a thief and a bandit. Sometimes that’s difficult to hear; we don’t like thinking that religious leaders who are, in general, well-intentioned, can be lumped into the bandit camp when they teach anything but Jesus, but leading people away from Jesus, taking the sheep out of the hands of the Good Shepherd, leads only to their death. The bad news is that such thieves and bandits exist…
…the good news is that the Good Shepherd keeps calling, and the sheep keep hearing his voice. And here, amongst our little sheepfold, are eight little sheep who have heard His voice, who have found the gate, who have chosen Jesus. First Holy Communion is no small thing. It marks those who now choose to come to that rail for the Blessed Sacrament as both blessed and liable for the Body and Blood of our Lord. Our children who will receive the Sacrament for the first time tomorrow have been well prepared to do so; they have watched, walked, and listened, they have been taught, and soon they will taste, they will taste and see how gracious the Lord is.
So again, where does that leave us? We have been leading these kids to the rail so that they may taste life; where will we lead them next? It’s up to us, parents, teachers, mentors, priests, all of us witnesses, to be examples for these and all our children. The Good Shepherd counts on us little OK shepherds to keep pointing the way, the way to the gate, the way to continued life in the Church, the way to everlasting life in Christ. May we take joy in the privilege of that charge. And as those who will soon be coming to this rail to receive Christ in His Body and Blood: My prayer is that they will visit this rail as much as they can; it’s at this rail that the light of Heaven peeks through, it’s at this rail that they will be strengthened for life and for death, it’s at this rail that we all get see Jesus.
1. Scott Hoezee, This Week