Happy Good – you think I’m going to say Good Shepherd Sunday. We know this Sunday as Good Shepherd Sunday, but it’s really Good GATE Sunday. I’m going to wish you a happy Good Gate Sunday. If you look closely at the gospel – what is emphasized is that Jesus is a GATE. Jesus uses the word gate five times, shepherd once.
We need to put this chapter in context. Back in the thirteenth century, a theologian broke the gospels into chapters, separating chapters nine and ten, when they really belong together. Right before this chapter, Jesus healed the man born blind. Right AFTER this chapter, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. These are two stories where people respond to Jesus’ VOICE. Jesus raises his VOICE and his sheep respond to him. Before Jesus healed the blind man, the man heard Jesus’ voice telling him to wash in the pool.
And now we hear Jesus saying FIVE TIMES that he is a GATE. What does he mean by that? How can he be a shepherd AND a gate? A Palestinian shepherd will get his sheep together for the night, then he’ll shut a gate, and then will lie down across the entrance, so no thief will get in and the sheep can’t get out. So, we see how Jesus can be both shepherd AND gate. You’d have to step OVER the shepherd’s body to get to the sheep. It’s like the shepherd is saying ‘over my dead body will you harm these sheep. You’re going to have to walk OVER me, buddy.’
Another place where we can see Jesus as a gate or door is on Good Friday. In John’s gospel, while he is praying in the garden and the soldiers have come to arrest him, Jesus goes forward and puts himself between the “detachment of soldiers” and his apostles protecting them. He is acting in the role of a good shepherd. The soldiers would have to go through him, like a gate to get to the apostles who he is protecting.
When Jesus says that he is a GATE, he is affirming his authority. This text has often been misread as if Jesus is determining who is worthy and who is NOT worthy to enter the sheepfold. Truly, Jesus calls everyone to enter in and find good pasture with himself. When Jesus proclaims himself as a GATE, he is placing himself in conflict with the authority of the religious leaders who don’t have his authority. Remember, it was said that the people would listen to him, mesmerized because he taught with AUTHORITY. What he taught RUNG TRUE, unlike how the scribes and Pharisee taught. Jesus is the GATE of GRACE and FORGIVENESS, unlike any human.
The gospel of John is distinctive in that Jesus uses I AM statements, many times. I am the Bread of Life. I am the Way the Truth and the Life. I am the Resurrection and the Life. I am the Good Shepherd. And today’s I am the Gate.
Five times. So, Jesus definitely wants that statement to stick in our minds. We are to pay attention.
Who does Jesus let in? Those who HEAR his voice like the formerly blind man. It’s Jesus’ VOICE that has the authority to give LIFE. Remember with the formerly blind man, it is Jesus’ VOICE who he hears and who he obeys. After the man has been kicked out of the synagogue, Jesus returns to him and the formerly blind man recognizes Jesus by his VOICE, not by sight.
And Jesus, who has the AUTHORITY to do so, ushers him into a NEW sheepfold, with a NEW shepherd. The religious authorities were miserable failures as shepherds; they can only SEE this formerly blind man as defective. The religious authorities should be happy now that he can see, and welcoming him in. But no, they hold a grudge against Jesus, and take it out on the man.
And here is the heart of the sermon: Jesus has given this formerly blind man a NEW life. Jesus says, “I have come to give life and to have it in ABUN-DANCE.” We’re talking about SALVATION here. What was the blind man’s salvation? What did he receive? First of all, his sight. He is saved from isolation and being stigmatized – remember people tried to understand why the man had been born blind, as if it was his fault somehow. It was assumed that the man or his parents must be HUGE sinners – that’s why he is blind. Jesus is revealing that as superstition and magical thinking.
The ABUNDANT life is revealed as this formerly blind man is taken from the margins and brought into the center. Yes, he was kicked out of the synagogue, but he is brought into a new community formed around JESUS. His alienation is over. He doesn’t have to beg for a living and worry if he would eat that day. The twenty -third psalm applies to him: “He spreads the table before me in the sight of mine enemies. My cup runneth over.” The man will never have to wonder where his next meal is coming from. Salvation is not some amorphous thing, but it is real with real impact, and taking place in real time.
So when Jesus declares FIVE TIMES that he is the GATE, he is declaring his authority over this formerly blind man to receive an ABUNDANT life.
And what do WE mean by ABUNDANT life? Jesus makes this declaration as if we know what it means. Do we ever get what Jesus has to offer confused with the prosperity gospel? The prosperity gospel says send in your money and God will bless you. There have been a lot of scammers who try to con Christians with false claims. With the prosperity gospel, there is a transaction involved. God will do THIS because we will do THAT, and the blessings will always be material wealth. Yet we know that the formerly blind man was in no position to give Jesus anything, or to bargain with him. He had nothing to give him except his listening EARS, his obedience, and his heart and soul.
A couple of months ago, I asked in a sermon, does carrying the cross have anything to do with having an ABUNDANT LIFE? I didn’t try to answer it then, but I’ve got more to say on it now. A life of COMPASSION, a life ROOTED in com-passion as Jesus’ life is a life of compassion– is a life of ABUNDANCE. And a life of compassion INCLUDES carrying the cross. We may be carrying the cross FOR someone who can’t do it themselves. Just as Jesus carried the cross for US, because we couldn’t carry it on our own behalf.
Jesus is inviting us to share with him the abundant life, the life of COMPASSION. The Good Shepherd, the GATE of AUTHORITY invites us into the sheepfold not just to receive from him, but to learn how to BE more like him. To become MORE compassionate like him. The Good Shepherd extends his hand in invitation for us to BE like him.
How do you understand the abundant life?
How have your RECEIVED abundance?
HOW is a life of compassion an abundant life?
Is there a BEFORE and an AFTER in your life like the formerly blind man?
Back during Epiphany, we read about how Joseph was said to be a ‘righteous man.’ You could be considered righteous by doing the bare minimum. Yet that kind of righteousness would have gotten Mary killed, so Joseph redefined righteousness to include COMPASSION. Where had compassion gone? Why was it a new idea? Is compassion always a divine idea?
We see Jesus today talking about an abundant life, and it’s not the abundance we think of – an abundance of goods, an abundance of technological toys, an abundance of stuff. We would never have thought of that on our own, we are so dazzled by material goods, and pushed around by our desires for more and more stuff. GRACE shows us that an abundant life has to include compassion. When we choose to follow Jesus, we are choosing a life of COMPASSION. We are saying THAT is the road of life. I CHOOSE a life of compassion as my abundance. We understand Jesus as defined by compassion.
When you think about Jesus, what story about him shows him at his MOST compassionate?
The gate, the door swings wide open to include the blind man. The gate, the door is a door of WELCOME. Jesus IS the GATE, and WELCOMES him in to a NEW fold. Jesus is the DOOR where freedom begins. In the power of his COMPASSION, Jesus is inviting the formerly blind man into freedom. The formerly blind man is now given an invitation to be a disciple and to enter into a new community. To be a disciple is to have a share in this abundant life with Jesus.
Do you resist the open door that Jesus offers to you?
What doors do you see that need to be opened?
Does the pandemic provide opportunities for new doors to swing open?
Has the pandemic provided opportunities for compassion for you?
Loving God, thank you for Jesus, who is a GATE and a door that swings wide in welcome. Thank you for showing us that a life of abundance is a life of compassion. Thank you for going ahead of us and leading the way as our good shepherd. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.