Read John 10 1-10 ‘I am the gate’
Happy birthday Norman, we went to Sunday school together, started school together and, years later, both of us found ourselves in a foreign field -Brasil for me and Cambodia for Norman. Starting school, a gateway experience, a challenge, but it helps greatly if you have a friend who is in the same boat.
A few years later we both studied for the Scripture exam, today’s passage was one we had to look at. One of the ‘I ams’ of John’s gospel, ‘I am the gate’ in this case of the sheepfold. This is a word picture, it shifts and shimmers in its meaning, at first there is some sort of physical gate with the shepherd going in and out. There is also a gatekeeper who opens the gate for the shepherd. Then we move beyond the merely physical ‘So Jesus said again ….. “I am the gate for the sheep.”
As so often with John’s gospel we start off paddling in the shallow end -this is a pretty straightforward saying after all, Jesus is the good shepherd who ‘calls his own sheep by name and he leads them out’. That’s us we think. But we find ourselves getting a bit out of our depth with this switch to ‘I am the gate’.
Pause here to ponder on what this means. Is it a wide gate, a narrow one, open or shut, are you inside or outside? It clearly leads on to the next ‘I am’ –‘the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep’.
I imagine that readers will be very familiar with what this passage has to say about Jesus, where might we fit in – merely as sheep? What if we could imagine ourselves as gatekeepers? ‘The gatekeeper opens the gate for him’
We think that gates are to keep undesirables, (people and animals) out. Let us try thinking that they are there to allow people and animals in. This then invites the thought, are Christians seen as those who ‘guard the gates’, with a sort of fortress mentality against ………. ‘this, that and especially the other!’
If there are such Christians, guardians, then they clearly have good intentions, for example a concern for truth, for that which is right, for that which is God’s will.
Suppose, however, that Christians are ‘gate keepers’, holding the gate open, ready with phrases such as ‘come on in’, ‘so lovely to see you’ with a welcoming smile to accompany such greetings. Might they not also be concerned with truth, with that which is right, with that which is God’s will?
Of course, I exaggerate as if there is a clear-cut division. Even so, the point still has some validity in that we are often seen by others as guardians rather than gate keepers. Christians often see themselves as guardians -especially of truth.
Is it not healthier to see that Jesus is the Guardian, ‘the sheep hear his voice, …. and he leads them out’. A few verses on we read, ‘I am the gate. Whoever comes in by me will be saved; he will come in and go out and find pasture.’
That leaves us with the privilege of being gate keepers, we do not own truth, we serve, we point to Jesus who in Ch.14 says ‘I am the truth’.
If we look at the incident that leads up to the ‘I am the gate’ saying, we hear the story of the healing of the man born blind. That does not end well for the Pharisees who we are told had said, ‘This man (Jesus) cannot be from God; he does not keep the sabbath’. That chapter concludes with a question from some of the Pharisees, “ ‘Do you mean that we are blind?’.’If you were blind’, said Jesus, ‘you would not be guilty, but because you claim to see, your guilt remains.’
There can be a danger in claiming to see what is right, claiming to know the truth, to know God’s will in ways which end up dishonouring God, the blindness of certainty, of ‘we know that this man who cured you is a sinner’. In this incident the Pharisees had seen themselves as guardians, as truth owners.
As a Christian I would be bold enough to say I know the truth, not in the sense of a set of propositions or doctrines, but in the sense of truth personified in Jesus. Thus I would try to do what is right what is God’s will through following the teaching and example of Jesus Christ -or as the wristband has it, WWJD? This also means that in as much as it lies with me I would hope to be a gate keeper -not a guardian. ( If I were a guardian, I wouldn’t let myself in!)
After years of lost contact I met up with Norman a year or two ago, how would it go? It was great. Which leaves me with a final thought. If anybody reading this feels that they would like to re establish what might have been a childish trust in Jesus then be assured of a welcome from the gate, from the good shepherd.
Prayer We give thanks for those who have been gatekeepers in our lives, for those who have been our accompanying friends through the gateway experiences of life. Above all we give thanks for your love through Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd. Amen