Yesterday, for Mother’s Day I preached about sheep. One of those weird things that happens when you follow both the holiday and lectionary calendar at the same time. It works, the connection between being a mother and being a shepherd is not a long stretch to make.
Jesus makes an interesting, if not confusing, statement when he tells the Pharisees:
“I am the gate for the sheep.”
What kind of gate is Jesus? A city gate? A gate to a private neighborhood? A playpen gate?
Well, we can see from the text that this a sheep gate…for the sheep. The bandits are not trying to get into the sheepfold by the gate, they are scaling the walls. The gate doesn’t exist to keep bandits out, or other sheep, but rather, the gate exists that the sheep may come in and go out. Its not really exclusionary at all. In fact, a shepherd exists that the sheep may go in and come out. The sheep need a place to live in safety, but also need to go out to pasture so that they can graze.
Sheep need a shepherd, do humans? Moses says as much when he is looking for a successor: “whom shall lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of The Lord may not be like sheep without a shepherd.” We need a shepherd, because without a shepherd, we will never go out to pasture.
Jesus is the gate not because he wants to keep anyone out of the sheepfold. We are all sheep and belong in the flock, or we are bandits. Jesus is the gate, because only through him can we truly go out to pasture. For a sheep going to pasture means getting to eat, but for us, it means fulfilling that purpose for our lives, the one Christ entrusted us with: to love God and neighbor.
If the sheep had no shepherd, they would be happy and comfortable until they ran out of food and they would die. Just like humans! Without a shepherd beckoning us out of the comfortable sheepfold, we would be content until we die. That is life, but Jesus came that we might have abundant life. The only way to live abundantly is to hear the voice of the shepherd, and to venture outside through the gate of Christ. Sometimes the voice of the shepherd is a yell and sometimes it is naught but a whisper, but we have to keep struggling to hear his voice, for he has not given up being our shepherd.
Look for the holy around us, seek out ways to show God’s love in this world. Be good sheep and go to pasture!