It is odd, I think --- that on these Sundays following Easter during the year we are to be mostly reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew – we don’t read St. Matthew’s Gospel. . .
We did read Matthew’s account of the Resurrection on Easter, then we have 4 Sundays in the Easter season when we read from John’s Gospel, one Sunday from St. Luke’s Gospel – and we will read again from St. Matthew’s Gospel on the feast of the Ascension.
But then it is back to St. John for Pentecost and the two feasts that follow – then, finally back to St. Matthew when we get to the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time on June 21st – which seems like a long way off (maybe we will be back together by then!).
But that’s just the way--- not--- just this Easter season works – but also other Easter seasons in other years –we always read a good dose of St. John’s Gospel.
St. John structures his Gospel around seven statements of Jesus – which all begin with Jesus saying “I AM” – which of course gives us insight into who Jesus is.
In the course of this year – when we celebrate Sunday Mass – we hear five of these seven statements –
We already heard one – back on the 5th Sunday of Lent when Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the grave – and Jesus told Lazarus’ sister, Martha: “I AM: the resurrection and the life.”
Next Sunday we get one – when Jesus tells the apostle Thomas: “I AM: the way, the truth and the life.”
On the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ on June 14th: we will have another of these sayings, when Jesus tells the crowds: “ I AM: the living bread come down from heaven.”
And, as you may have already figured out – we heard two of Jesus’ I AM sayings in today’s Gospel:
“I AM the sheep gate // and // I AM the good shepherd.”
So every 4th Sunday of Easter, no matter what the year -- is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday” because in each of the three years of the lectionary – we read a part of John’s Gospel in which Jesus proclaims that he is the good shepherd.
Over my 30+ years of preaching, without fail, that is the image I have always focused on and preached about – that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and we are his sheep, following obediently after him.
But this year, I wanted to pay attention and focus on the other I AM saying we hear today – the one that is so easily passed over:
when Jesus tells us: “I AM the gate to the sheepfold – and whoever does not enter through the gate, is a thief and a robber. . .”
In addressing the rural folk gathered to hear him speak that day – Jesus knew the image that would come immediately to the minds of his hearers when he said, I AM the gate.
In Jesus day, a shepherd was literally the gate or the door to the sheepfold. . . When sheep were kept in a town or village, there was a pen with a real gate.
But when the sheep were grazing out in the fields and on the hillsides – at night, for protection – the shepherd created a makeshift sheep fold with branches and brambles.
Once the sheep were safely in the fold, the shepherd himself (as shepherds were always men) would lie across the opening – so the shepherd was literally the gate – and as the gate, the shepherd could control the coming and going of the sheep and keep the flock safe from wolves and other predators.
So, what do we know about doors and gates? And I include doors because in Greek – door and gate are the same word. . . they are portals: exothrya
We know, for instance -- that there are all types of doors and gates – all sizes, all materials, some are warm and welcoming – others are cold and frightening.
We know that doors and gates keep us safe. We know they always lead us somewhere. We know that they indicate movement in our lives – when we pass through a door or gate we are going from one place to another – the portal connects us to what is next.
We know that doors and gates might reveal a mystery on the other side – as we never know for sure what we may find on the other side.
If we do understand that doors and gates, portals – lead us somewhere and indicate movement in our lives then---- education, is certainly a door. . . so is opportunity, and even sheltering in place can be a portal – leading us somewhere we may not have expected – because we would have never chosen it on our own. .
If we understand that portals lead us somewhere, and indicate movement in our lives – then should we not also consider prayer a door or gate – or service, or faith, or baptism, or Eucharist?? Because all lead us somewhere. . . helping us to become someone we weren’t before. . .
Last week we used the power of our imaginations to understand the Emmaus story just a bit better – let’s do the same with the image of a door or gate – the portals of our lives:
If I allow my mind to wander, some of the images that come to my mind are:
--The door to the house where I grew up-- in Southern Indiana – it was black, and had three windows across the top. An image for me of home/warmth/acceptance/love/safety.
--I picture the gate to one of our barnyards that a bull once tried to jump over – but didn’t quite clear --- and so it bent the gate down in the middle.
My mom took a picture of my little brother in his superman cape with his hands on the gate – as if he bent it down! So an image of strength/destruction/ and family frivolity. Maybe even of abandon/curiosity/and recklessness if we focus on the bull. . .
--I picture the doors of the churches I have belonged to or have led. So images of faith/belonging/community/peace and serenity.
--I can imagine the little doors of an Advent calendar – images of surprise/assurance/anticipation/ presents – s-e-n-t-s and presence – s-e-n-c-e.
--I can picture a prison door – so an image of being frightened/locked in/confined.
--I can imagine a friend of mine who is a bouncer at a bar – so a human gate, like a shepherd – allowing some to come in while keeping others out –
Fortunately I never picture Jesus as a bouncer– for Jesus is always welcoming us into the fold. . .
Although, unfortunately, I can picture some Church officials with their rules and regulations as bouncers: allowing some in – and keeping others out. . . If the Church strives to be a field hospital as Pope Francis calls us to be – then everyone should at least get their foot in the door of our Churches. . .
So if portals: gates and doors – indicate movement in our lives – and lead us somewhere – where does Jesus – who says I am the gate to the sheepfold: lead us?
Well, Jesus leads us to God – and to the Father’s house (as he will tell us next week).
Jesus leads us to abundant life. To eternal life. To a better life than we could ever dream of.
Only when we live in Christ – only when we enter through him – who is the gate to the sheepfold – does life on this earth truly become worth living, and life in the world to come is truly fulfilled.
There is no easy way into the sheepfold – if we think we are just going to hop over the hedgerow – then we are thieves or robbers – we don’t really belong. . . The only way in is through Jesus – and as Jesus told us many times in the course of his earthly life – the way to follow him – is to take up our cross – daily. May God give us the grace we need to do this – so that we can walk clearly and confidently --- in the light of Christ.
Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament:
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