John 10:1-10 “Ticket-Takers and Open Gates”
Caitlin Trussell on May 11, 2014 at Augustana Lutheran Church
John 10:1-10 Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
So which one is it?! Is Jesus the gate or is Jesus the shepherd? So which one is it?! Are we the sheep? Or are we the thieves, bandits and strangers? This text is loaded with imagery as Jesus tries to communicate who he is with his disciples. No wonder the disciples are confused. To give us a place to focus, I really want you to hear Jesus’ gift to us as he says, “I am the gate.” He says it twice. “I am the gate.”
Think for a moment about gates that you come across in your day-to-day. Picture the gate in your mind and who controls the gate and whether the gate stands opened or closed. Think about what the gate is for, who is allowed to go in and go out of that gate and what it costs to move in and out of the gate.
Now, picture another gate. It’s made of iron, as sturdy as a gate can be made. This gate is open, wide open. It’s so open that it’s welded open. There is freedom of movement as it stands open. The gate cannot be closed or manipulated in any way. It simply…stands…open… this is the gate I would like you to have in mind for the next few minutes. A gate that stands open.
A few weeks ago, Pastor Pederson preached to us about the story that comes right before our verses today about Jesus is the gate. About the story of the man born blind to whom Jesus gives sight. The man born blind, who can now see because of Jesus, is asked all kinds of questions by the religious leaders of the temple and they ultimately drive him out of the temple when their questions aren’t answered to their expectations. And Jesus receives that man who had once been blind. The experience of the man born blind being given his sight by Jesus which launches the man into a maelstrom of questions asked by the community is the entry point to Jesus naming himself as the gate.
How many times has a new experience led us to new questions? And those new questions to new answers? Answers that challenge how we think about life and how we think about God. Time and time again as children our minds stretch and grow to absorb all the new stuff we see and do and hear. Time and time again as teenagers and, hopefully, if we’re lucky, time and time again as adults. We are challenged to either understand something new or take on something new in the face of new information that arrives on the scene. It is the way of life. And for Jesus followers, it is a way of faith as we try to figure out what in the name of God…literally, in the name of God…we’re talking about when we talk about Jesus.
But it is also the way of life to not let in all the possibilities and information. It is also the way of life to be overwhelmed by it. It is also the way of life to be knocked down by the sheer quantity of information and experience that blow our minds and leave our expectations in tatters. And it is the way of life to close ourselves off and create our own sheepfolds – sheepfolds that set-up our own beliefs about Jesus as the gate. We set up a gate so that we might feel some small glimmer of hope that our right faith keeps us safe from that which would harm us or destroy us. And, very quickly, we fall to the same temptation as the religious leaders did with the man born blind and we drive people out as if we ourselves are the gate.
And then I like to take a big breath as Jesus says to his disciples, “I am the gate.” Because Jesus as the open gate in this passage is very, very different than thinking about Jesus as the faith-ticket-taker. You know, like I have my ticket of faith which gives me entrance to the right church and then, at the just the right time, I hand my ticket of faith over to Jesus so that all will be well, so that I will be well.
I’m pretty sure there are no tickets of faith-in-Jesus that purchase protective outerwear for deflecting the worst kind of pain. Perhaps to confirm this we could check in with a few of our most faithful brothers and sisters in the nearest ICU or hospice.
And I’m pretty sure that there is no ticket-of-faith in Jesus that unleashes a cash windfall – perhaps we could check in with some of our poorest and most faithful brothers and sisters, numbering in the millions across the planet, who wonder where their next meal is coming from.
In fact, what these faithful brothers and sisters all over the world experience is what we experience. We all experience some moments in life and other people at their worst. We experience faith living in the shadow of the cross while clinging to the promise of the Easter resurrection. In the season of Easter, we live on this side of the resurrection although we see it through a glass darkly. The realities of the cross are real even today. Jesus does not describe a world free of bandits and thieves. Jesus names the bandits as real, as the powers that rob us of life and health.
So then, Jesus is the gate to the abundance of what? He says, “I came so that you may have LIFE and have it abundantly.” That he says this through the specter of the cross is key. Jesus lives a truth about the mess of human reality on the cross. Jesus overcomes that reality not by ignoring it but by dying on it. Lighting up our vulnerability through his own – vulnerability that cannot be ignored. So then we can stop pretending that we know enough and are strong enough to be our own gates, our own gods. Jesus promises an abundant life that is the power of the love of God in the midst of real threats, in the middle of thieves and bandits who kill and destroy, who show up in the valley of the shadow of death.
Jesus is the gate through whose death and resurrection we enter and emerge into life abundant.
Jesus is the gate who sees the truth of the whole you – the image of God in you and the worst of the brokenness in you.
Jesus is the gate with whom you enter into the valley of the shadow of death, fearing no evil.
Jesus is the gate who promises that death, when it comes, may win the moment but does not win the day when you breathe your last in this body and awake in the next.