Christ the gate
by Rev. Steven G. Oetjen
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
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."
There are many gates in Scripture. Cities and fortresses have gates. The Temple has gates. Even Hades has gates, and Christ said that those gates of hell would not be able to withstand the church he founded on Peter the rock (Mt16:18).
Today we hear about a particular kind of gate, the gate of a sheepfold. This entryway is the only way for the sheep to go into the sheepfold to be protected from predators at night, and it is the only way for them to go out during the day to be led to pasture. The Pharisees stood by, perplexed, as Our Lord spoke to them of sheep and the sheepfold, the shepherd and the gatekeeper, and thieves and robbers. So, Jesus explained further, "Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep." As he hear this discourse, our thoughts usually jump to Christ as the Good Shepherd. He is the Good Shepherd, of course, and he would say as much just four verses later. But he first says, "I am the gate."
Let's take this as an opportunity to look at two psalms that mention gates, Psalm 24 and 118. I invite you to get your Bible and to read these two psalms. We can appreciate their victorious spirit, especially fitting for the Easter season. And we can also look back at them through a new lens, the lens of the risen Christ who tells us, "I am the gate."
Psalm 24 is a song about entrance into the holy Temple. There is first a question about who is worthy to enter: "Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?" The psalmist answers immediately: "He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false, and does not swear deceitfully' (Ps 23:3-4). That answer makes sense to us, but it ought to be intimidating as well. Do you or I have clean hands and a pure heart? Who is truly worthy to enter the holy Temple if this is the criterion? It would seem that the gate is locked shut, and that you and I have no hope of raising it. But a few verses later, we gat an answer. "Lift up your heads, O gates!" we hear the psalmist exclaim, "and be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is the King of glory? The Lord, strong and might, the Lord, mighty in battle!" :(Ps24:7-8) The Lord himself is the king of glory, worthy to pass through the gates into the holy place.
Next, let's look at Psalm 118, a triumphant song of victory. After the psalmist had been surrounded on every side, he found that the Lord was his salvation (Ps 118:10-14. He then sings, "Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord" (Ps 118:19). In the last psalm, we heard the criterion for entrance thro ugh the gates: clean hands and a pure heart. The Lord, who alone is holy, is worthy to pass through the ancient doors. But here, one whom the Lord has saved from death asks to enter those portals as well.
Today's Gospel unlocks the depth of meaning of those ancient songs of triumph, or rather it shows the future victory that they were pointing toward. Yes, Christ is the one who passes through the gate. He is the king of glory, who "entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption" (Heb 9:12). But he also made himself the gate, so that we may pass through him. Christ himself is that gate what the psalmist longed to pass through, the "gate of righteousness."
He says elsewhere, "Strive to enter through the narrow gate" (Lk 13:24), and today, hw can we fail to see that Christ himself is that gate? "If anyone enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture." Strive to enter through him, conforming your life to the pattern of his, so that one with him, you may partake of his life for all eternity.