The Sheep Gate
For Sunday, April 30th, 2023
Jesus said: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.” Although Jesus used this figure of speech, the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them. So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
Today’s Gospel may seem to be an odd shift from the images of the previous weeks’ Gospels; as you heard, Jesus goes from speaking of himself as the true bread to speaking of himself as a shepherd and a gate. But as Pope Benedict XVI observed, both images concern what we live on—where we get our life. Jesus is speaking to us over and over again about where we find our life in such images as bread, wine, vine, and shepherd. The true shepherd, the Lord tells us, is the one who gives life to the sheep.
The image of Jesus as a gate is perhaps a bit odder and less lifelike to us. Yet it is important, for it makes clear that the way to the Father and abundant life is through him alone: “Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” As the gate, Jesus is the way to heaven. As the bread, Jesus is the sustenance from heaven. As the shepherd, Jesus is the king of heaven.
The image of the gate here also tells us who true shepherds must be. They must be those who have entered the gate themselves. Those who will lead others and feed them must be those who follow Jesus and who gain their lives from him. We can see from John’s comment that the Pharisees do not quite understand what Jesus is saying to them—that they are not true shepherds because they reject him. But the Pharisees are not the only targets of this gate analogy.
Men who have families are designated shepherds—so, too, are any men in other positions of authority, such as in the workplace. In all cases, they will only be true shepherds if they enter the gate of Christ. Do you have a position in which you are a shepherd of some sort?
In your prayer today, ask the Lord to guide you so that you can be a true shepherd who feeds the sheep and tends to the lambs placed in your care. Your success hinges on these followers being able to hear the voice of the true shepherd in you. And hearing that voice is dependent upon your entering fully into the gate who is Jesus. Pray today that those entrusted to you might hear Christ’s voice in and through yours.
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