Well, that was a little surprising. Here I was, ready at yesterday’s Fourth Sunday of Easter to hear another of the Resurrection accounts for the Gospel, when lo and behold, instead we hear Jesus talking about sheep and thieves. Even more strange than that, as he uses this imagery, he doesn’t say, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the shepherd,” like we might expect. Instead he says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.” He is the gate? Then who is the shepherd? Well, if I’m really paying attention when the Gospel is proclaimed, I’ll hear his answer: “Whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.”
I’m no exegetical expert, and I have no vast theology background in the Christian Scriptures, but it seems to me there must be something happening in this passage from the Gospel of John that is “bigger” than what I’ve noticed before now. If we were to keep reading (continuing where this Sunday’s Gospel leaves off,) we would hear Jesus immediately say, “I am the good shepherd.” But before I jump to that imagery with which I’ve been familiar since childhood, I feel the need to sit a little bit longer with the imagery of Jesus as the gate. Only those who enter through the gate do so with integrity, freedom, and understanding. Those who try to get in and out of the sheepfold other ways are “thieves and robbers,” trying to take by force what would likely be freely given them if they simply came in through the gate…since, according to Christ’s own words, anyone who enters through the gate is a shepherd.
So what’s the take-home value of this Gospel? For me, it’s about discerning whether I’m a thief or a shepherd in my spiritual life. Do I “go through” Jesus in order to gain life, or do I try to “steal” it in other ways? Do I pray through all aspects of my life, or do I only have recourse to God when my own efforts have come up short? Do I “play God” in my relationships and ministry by trying to fix things (or people!) and control outcomes, or do I place it all in his hands and allow him to take care of what is rightly his anyway?
Yes, yes…there are some powerful truths for me to learn in this weekend’s Gospel. Might there be for you, too?