Written by Pastor Ed
I Am the Gate
October 22, 2017
John 10: 1-10
As you may recall, we are working our way through the Gospel of John, looking at the 7 I AM statements found there. There are actually two statements found in John 10, and in some ways the next one is much easier, since we all know about the good shepherd. And, as one commentator pointed out, and Gay discovered, there aren’t a lot of songs about Jesus as the gate or the door. The word translated “gate” in this passage is most often translated as “door” in other places, but because it is referring here to a sheepfold, gate is generally used as being more appropriate.
Now because the Gospel of John is carefully constructed, we need to pay attention to the context that the writer places this passage into. Chapter 9, one of the signs recorded in the gospel, is the story of the man born blind whom Jesus heals. Of course the religious leaders get word of this and first question the man himself, and then also his parents, both of whom confirm that he had been blind and now could see.
Finally the Pharisees question the man again and when he rather forcefully defends Jesus, he is insulted and then it says “they drove him out.” Jesus finds the man and questions whether he believes, and the man says yes, I believe. This in turn results in an exchange with some Pharisees standing nearby, to which Jesus replies, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”
And then Jesus goes on with his discourse on the sheepfold, using both the images of the gate as well as the shepherd. So what’s going on here? Blindness and seeing? Inside and outside? Thieves and robbers and the shepherd?
Jesus begins his discourse with two images, pictures, the first about people who climb over the fence and don’t come in by the gate, like the shepherd would. The second is a picture of the shepherd, which we will pick up on in two weeks. But, the writer tells us, the people didn’t understand what Jesus was trying to say to them, so he needed to expand on it.
“I am the gate,” Jesus says. The gate is the proper way to enter and leave the sheepfold, and the true shepherds do so. The gate defines the inside from the outside, those who are blind and those who see. Anyone who tries to enter by climbing over the wall or fence is up to no good and has ill motives on their mind.
I’m reminded of potential pastors that I worked with at times when I served as a Conference Minister. There was, and is, a procedure that potential pastors were to follow in seeking a position, which involved filling out a Ministerial Leadership Information form, or MLI, and then walking through the process via the conference minister. The same was true for congregations; there was a process to follow. But some people didn’t think they needed to follow the process, trying to circumvent some part of it, often with unfortunate results.
Jesus says to the Pharisees, you think there are certain ways into the kingdom of God by following exactly the laws that you have developed, which, by the way included not healing on the Sabbath, which Jesus had just done with the blind man, but those aren’t the proper ways to get in. Jesus showed us a different way, the proper way, which involved compassion for those on the margins. Enter by the gate, which brings salvation, both to the blind as well as to those who think they see.
As one commentator put it, “I am the door. I am the proper way, the right way, the only way into the sheep fold. Pasture, that is, life, is through me, the door. Those who enter are being saved, that is, being brought into pasture and life rather than being snatched up for their destruction.”
For the blind man, as Karoline Lewis put it, “The man blind from birth is saved from isolation and marginalization. His healing saves him from everlasting darkness. Never again will he wonder where his next meal will be or who will answer his pleas as he sits begging outside the city. He will know the safety and security of community.” Jesus says that whoever enters by the gate will be saved and will “come in and go out and find pasture.” The promise of nourishment, as with living water, the bread and the light which give life in its fullness.
Now it is interesting that Jesus doesn’t say I am the gate and once I get the flock into the fold I shut the gate and make sure that no one goes in or out anymore. There isn’t a shut gate with exclusive rights to enter talked about. Rather the sheep go in and out and find pasture. It’s not a picture of a huddle, but rather of life lived in its fullness.
And, as Jesus makes clear, just being in the sheepfold doesn’t mean that everything is safe and secure. There are those who attempt to sneak over the fence and steal the sheep, leading many astray. Not everyone who claims to be a shepherd has the best interests of the sheep in mind. The test is whether they enter through the gate and focus on Jesus.
Gates are ways in and out. They are breaks in the fence so that there is a way in, just as a door lets you enter or leave a room. In the house we lived in in Nebraska there was a small room on the side of the house which, because of a remodeling that had been done years earlier, could only be accessed by a small window on the outside. It was an interesting conversation piece, but served no purpose. I think people sometimes look at the church and feel the same way. It’s an interesting conversation piece, but really has no purpose and access is very limited, not really worth the effort.
But Jesus provides the gate, and Jesus is just as relevant today as he was 2000 years ago. Jesus modeled a way of life that welcomed the stranger and even the outcast. He supplied what was needed to make life more abundant for the leper and the blind man. He forgave those who came to him seeking comfort, and he had harsh words for the religious leaders who nit-picked their way to positions of power and kept the undesirables out.
If the church practices the way of Jesus, then the church too will be more than just a nice conversation piece but will be a gate as well that shows people a way of life that is nourishing and meets the needs of the world around us. Later on this morning we’ll hear a bit about the Mennonite Church Canada Assembly last weekend. There are a lot of unknowns that are still being worked out, but one of the emphases is on the local congregation as the primary place where the mission of God is carried out. That’s not really new, but it reminds us that it’s up to you and I to point the way to Jesus and to open the gate and invite all to come in.