Christ the Gatekeeper

Published on 30 Apr 2020

I am the gate of the sheepfold [1].  Jesus is our access to where we want to be.   He welcomes us, first, to himself.   We go in, not brushing past him, but being helped through by him.   He is gate and gatekeeper.  At this entrance there is a new beginning.  Our way to new life is the way of the Lord.  He shows us what to do.  Our saviour guides us from death to life, from lifelessness to new life.  We pass the gate of the sheepfold more than once yet there is always a baptismal newness about our entering, once more, the domain of the Lord. 

I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full [2].  Jesus helps us to seek, find and live the best kind life.  The Father sent him to bring us back to the fullness of what he has always wanted for us.  Closeness to Christ enables us to go further and deeper into the mystery of divine life. In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell, forever and ever [3].  If the gate seems narrow, we should not be deceived about the dimensions of the vastness which awaits us.  If the gate-keeper seems over-selective, let us not overlook the splendour of that to which he is admitting us.   If the flock seems unduly supervised, we nevertheless do not underestimate the extent to which we need to prepare freely to receive so great a gift.

We come to the gate of the sheepfold seeking safety and peace.  This retreat within is not prompted by cowardice but by prudence.  Outside the Lord, there is danger. We seek refuge in Jesus from what threatens and bruises.  It is not that, once secure, we never again emerge from where the gatekeeper has sheltered us.  We will be allowed out again when the trouble is past.  Jesus is gate, gate-keeper and also the good shepherd who gathers the flock.  He confers on us the healing, the security and the peace which we need. The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want [4].   He strengthens for all that we have to do. Near restful waters, he leads me to revive my drooping spirit [5].   Having rested in the fold, and having had our wounds tended, we return to the fray.

The sheep follow because they know his voice [6].  Our knowledge of the voice of Christ comes from our familiarity with his word.  We read it in the scriptures.  His word echoes through sacramental life.   Over the word of the Lord we pray.  The teaching, which he steadily presents, orders our life.  The voice of the good shepherd guides us through all that happens including unexpected and difficult things. If I should walk in the valley of darkness, no evil would I fear [7].  There is familiarity and reassurance in the shepherd’s voicing of the well-known commands.  He guides me along the right path [8].  There are also surprises, some delightful, some challenging as he helps us to focus on the tasks of the day. What must we do? [9]  The terrain is largely familiar and yet astonishing things happen along those accustomed contours. In a short time, it seems that everything can alter.

Jesus told them this parable but they failed to understand what he meant by telling it to

them [10].   The disciples are also the flock.   Like everyone else they are slow to understand Jesus, the good shepherd.  In the mosaics in the churches and baptisteries of Ravenna the sheep are sharp and intelligent-looking.   They hang-on what the shepherds is saying and they are prompt to divine his meaning. Some have always found it much harder to hear and understand. The Lord speaks to us in a language we can understand but we have trouble tuning in.   Our to-ings and fro-ings in and out of the sheepfold of Christ are, when we are left to ourselves, haphazard and meandering.  However they also represent our efforts to assimilate and to interpret rightly what is being said to us.  The sheep can be lost.  They err.  The flock tries to do what is wanted and quite often fails. You had gone astray like sheep but now you have come back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls [11].

They never follow a stranger but run away from him [12].  In ordinary life it may take some time to identify the good shepherd and to spot those thieves and brigands[13] who might mislead.  Seeming strangers can turn out to be members of the flock.  The number of those being looked after by the good shepherd is increasing all the time.   Newcomers are welcomed joyfully.  Yet some whom we encounter turn out to be opposed to us. Wisely we step back from some battles.  To some dangers, however, we must square up.  A world health crisis obliges some people to retreat to safety and others to battle in the various front lines.

One by one he calls his own sheep and leads them out [14].  The good shepherd gathers us together and looks after us a whole.  His word is addressed to us all.   The life we lead here is genuinely shared with many others. In the heavenly fold, we will be in a great number in the presence of God.  However sometimes the good shepherd deals with us one by one.  We know his readiness to leave the entire flock to search us out if we stray [15].  Even safe in the fold, he has occasion to address us individually.   The narrowness of the gate facilitates a customised welcome.  The One who is gate and the shepherd is also the fold. To be in the flock is to be part of the body of Christ.  The Lord unites us and loves us all but he directs his counsel to us one by one.

There enters throught the gate the shepherd of the flock; the gatekeeper lets him in [16].  The good shepherd has some help.  His assistants have the privilege of involvement in the dealings of the Jesus with other members of the flock of which they themselves are part.  The word that is addressed to all is addressed to them.  The good shepherd’s indiviudal word is demanding. Christ suffered for you and left an example for you to follow the way he took [17].   The faithful trust the Lord completely. There is confidence in the assistants because the good shepherd has given them their work[18].  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy [19].   Disguissed as a shepherd, an intruder can do great damage.  Anyone who enters through me will be safe : he will go freely in and out [20].  The freedom that Christ gives us can be abused. He persists in treating in this generous way so that we may truly flourish.

So that they may have life and have it to the full [21].  Jesus reveals the Father and leads us onwards into the life of God.   We recognise his word addressed to us and, with his grace, we endeavour to live by it.  Joyfully we find ourselves in a great throng of fellow-believers. Christ joins us to them, making us all his body.   God has raised the body of the Lord from the dead.  He also lifts us up out of danger.  We are allowed great freedom.  Jesus is gate, gate-keeper, fold and good shepherd.   He is everything to us.  With him risen, we start again.   He is the door by which we enter.  A new way of life opens to us.  Help, guidance and all the needful explanation accompany our efforts. Anyone who enters through me will be safe [22].  Each day the good shepherd welcomes us and addresses his word to us.

Homily by Fr Peter Gallagher SJ

[1]      John 10.7

[2]      John 10.10

[3]      Psalm (23) 22.6

[4]      Psalm (23) 22.1

[5]      Psalm (23) 22.2-3

[6]      John 10.4

[7]      Psalm (23) 22.4

[8]      Psalm (23) 22.3

[9]      Acts 2.37

[10]     John 10.6

[11]      1 Peter 2.25

[12]      John 10.5

[13]      John 10.8

[14]      John 10.3

[15]      Matthew 18.12-14  and Luke 15.3-7

[16]      John 10.2-3

[17]      1 Peter 2. 21

[18]      John 15.16

[19]      John 10.10

[20]      John 10.9

[21]      John 10.10

[22]      John 10.9