Pastoral Message – April 30, 2023
“I am the gate for the sheep…Whoever enters through me will be saved.”
In John’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims seven “I Am” statements that point to His unique, divine identity and purpose:
I am the Bread of Life (John 6:35)
I am the Light of the World (John 8:12)
I am the Door (Gate) (John 10:9)
I am the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14)
I am the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25)
I am the Way and the Truth and the Life (John 14:6)
I am the Vine (John 15:1, 5)
When Jesus refers to himself as the door or gate of the sheepfold, he is using a familiar metaphor for his listeners who often saw shepherds and sheep wandering around. Jesus draws his metaphor from the imagery of a sheep pen, which was a walled enclosure. At night, the shepherds would bring the sheep in there to allow them to rest securely. The sheep would enter one at a time, while the shepherd would stop each sheep check each one for wounds and then let the sheep in. Often, shepherds would share a sheep pen so that all of the village sheep would be in one fold that was the place of protection.
In the verse that follows this week’s Gospel passage, Jesus proclaims another “I Am” statement, saying that He is the “good shepherd.” Historians have found evidence that when shepherds put the sheep in the pen at night, the most dedicated shepherds would lie across the front of the pen and would act as a guard. The good shepherd was effectively a door or gate for the sheep pen. This was not only to prevent predators getting in but to prevent sheep from getting out. The shepherds would lay across and fall asleep there or stay on watch.
Jesus explains that whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. When my son was around twelve, I was throwing batting practice to him and he hit a foul ball over a fence. Neither he nor I had any experience climbing over a fence. He asked me why I never taught him to climb a fence. I told him that the only reason someone would climb a fence was to go where he was not supposed to go. When I was young, I never did that. Thus, I never learned to climb a fence and never taught him to climb one. The idea is that, in every situation, there is a proper way to gain entry. For those of us seeking entry to eternal life, Jesus is the door. He is the true shepherd who invites us to enter through Him – through love, care, and sacrificial service.
God always intended that His people be led, fed, and protected by those who come in the legitimate, intended way. However, not everyone who stands among the sheep comes that way. Many of the Jewish leaders gained their status through personal and political connections, education, ambition,
manipulation, and corruption. That is like climbing over the fence. One scripture commentator put it this way: “Because the Pharisees are blind leaders, they are also bogus shepherds, and come under the category of those designated in John 10:8 thieves and robbers.” On the other hand, Jesus is both the Door to the sheepfold and our Shepherd and who provides for all our needs. Knowing that the world is full of predators whose sole intent is to destroy us, He is always there to protect us. A true shepherd protects and promotes life; in the same way, Jesus says that came that we “may have life, and…may have it more abundantly.” Just as the shepherd calls his sheep by name, showing that he has a personal connection with the sheep, so too Jesus calls us by name.
For some of us, making Jesus the door to our lives can be very difficult. We have so many distractions that force us to climb over the fence instead of going through the main door and being welcomed and checked by Jesus. We try to save ourselves by seeking our own access to the sheepfold. We place importance on our earthly existence instead of turning toward God to give our life meaning or significance. Some of these can be legitimate things like relationships or children, or even wanting to be successful. They are good things in themselves. Yet, if we place our hope in these things, they will not bring life in all its fullness as Jesus promised. It is only through Jesus that we can feel truly significant and that our life can have true meaning.
For many shepherds, the sheepfold was attached to their home. So, to enter the sheepfold was to come home. As “the door,” Jesus made it clear that He is the only means of coming home to God. He is the only way one can become part of the people of God. There is no other way. When we go through Jesus (“the door”), we are home! There we will find an abundant life, complete with fullness and freedom. Today, we can walk through the door that Jesus has opened to us. He not only gave his life for us, but gives his life to us right now!