My parents have a farm that has been their retirement dream since I was a little girl. I love to help with the animals. One of my favorite things to do is help my dad open a gate for new grass. The herd kicks up their heels with excitement at this new horizon every time. (It’s not like they are starving… they actually are fed quite well..but as they say “the grass is always greener on the other side.”)
If we could just as easily accept such simple gifts with such delight.
If we could slow down and just be: trust.
I think a lot of what Jesus is saying to the pharisees in this story about the shepherd has to do with trust. The sheep hear his voice and they trust. Trust is the relationship that is natural to a loving and trustworthy God.
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. It comes every year. We hear the famous parable that Jesus offers and we listen to Psalm 23: The Lord is my Shepherd.
It is important to remember that in the Gospel Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees just after he has healed the blind man. It isn’t clear why these two stories are separated from one another, because this passage is a continuation of the conversation Jesus is having with the pharisees on that day.
If you remember: The blind man hears Jesus voice and listens to him. Jesus and the disciples come across the blind man by the side of the road and everyone is debating what he had done to born blind - and whether his parents did something terrible for their son to have been born blind.
Jesus says neither one.
He intends to intervene, But the disciples are concerned because it is the Sabbath when no one can work. The Pharisees are appalled that Jesus would do so. He is breaking the rules…But Jesus says, while I am in the world I am the light of the world.
“6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.”
The man who was blind listened to his voice.
Jesus is impressing upon the Pharisees that life and abundance and healing is for all time and for all of us.
As the famous saying goes: “for those with ears to listen!”
In this Gospel Jesus uses a lot of metaphors to get this idea across: Sheep, Shepherds, gate keepers, gates…
The pharisees are confused… Which one is he?
I sort of think of it as Jesus trying to relate the different trusting aspects of a loving and trusting God to a shepherding metaphor …and ratcheting it up as he goes.
Eventually, he is fed up and exclaims: “don’t you get it?!
I am the gate!”
…he represents the gate to abundant life that is God’s gift to us…
…Not human made rules that wall and divide us with cruelty and judgment.
Although we associate psalm 23 with funerals, the psalm which talks about the good shepherd is about the promise of life (which is always Jesus’ first priority).
The Lord is my shepherd.
I shall not be in want.
He revives my soul
Surely his goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life
Psalm 23 is pastoral and comforting and speaks to life everlasting, but it also speaks very specifically to life now.
Abundant life is a life that is safe from predation, life that is nourishing with food and water, places to rest, places for revival and restoration.
That life is God’s promise.
The gate then in this story is almost synonymous with psalm 23s vision of abundant life… The gate provides closure for protection, for rest and revival. It also provides an opening and opportunity for newness of life, nourishment and abundance. That is its own kind of revival.
Revival is the improvement and betterment of our lives.
Jesus wants us to live into this revival.
Jesus is the gate to that life; We know him also as the light, and the way.
While he is in this world, he is the light of the world. I”m going to show you that loving way.
Jesus is not offering to construct a wall, or put a barbed wire fence, rather he is saying that he will be with the sheep building trust, for and with one another, embracing everyone. He is a guiding light, offering safe passage to a better life.
When Jesus tells this story to the pharisees who were suspicious of his healing a blind man on the sabbath, Jesus throws at them this metaphor which is a direct connection to the prophecy of Ezekial: The Lord will be Israel’s Shepherd. The Pharisees know this metaphor. Ezekiel was writing about the destruction of Israel in the 500s BCE. And Jesus is reminding these leaders that they are not being good trustworthy loving shepherds. In fact his metaphor is quite biting… because anything less than love we can recognize as thieves and bandits (stealing the joy of abundance from us).
According to Ezekiel “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. … I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. …16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
This is what Jesus has just modeled with the blind man. True justice. The justice of love. It is his model for how we may live with abundance. Open your ears and then your eyes may be opened.
Jesus is actually all of the metaphors he offers us in the parable…. Borrowing from writer Raj Bharat Patta : “The gate stays with his sheep as a lamb, opens the gates as a gatekeeper, and leads the sheep as a shepherd in caring for the world. As followers of ‘Jesus the gate,’ Christians are called to be a source of sanctuary, open to all people, particularly those seeking refuge(e), by offering care, trust, freedom and love. It is through such action ‘Jesus the gate’ comes alive today.
For those with ears to hear listen!…