[Jesus said,] ‘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. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’
It’s no wonder that those who have gathered around Jesus to hear him give this lesson are a little confused. He starts off talking about the shepherd and the sheep, the gatekeeper and the gate. If I was in the crowd, I would have been scratching my head too…”so which one are you, Jesus? The shepherd? The gatekeeper? Are you any of the characters?! What the heck are you talking about, Jesus?!” Well, we’re three weeks into our Lenten season and by now we know that Jesus came up with a variety of ways to describe himself using his familiarly known “I am” statements. Jesus liked to describe himself using a variety of expressions. Why? Because he, like all of us, is a complex person. Very few of us, if any, can define ourselves strictly with one description. “I am a salesman,” “I am a banker,” “I am a mother,” “I am a child,” “I am an athlete”…are any of us strictly defined by only one description?! No, of course not! Each of us is defined differently by whatever situation or relationship we find ourselves in. Jesus was no different than you or me, accessible through a variety of titles and descriptions. Some of us understand him better as a teacher than a healer, a miracle worker than a friend. He plays a different role in each of our lives at any given time in our lives. Sometimes we need him to heal us. Sometimes we need him to teach us. Sometimes we need him to lead and protect us. By using a variety of descriptions and expressions for himself, Jesus makes himself more accessible to more of us. Accessibility is of utmost importance to Jesus. Jesus wants us to access him…to understand him…wherever we find ourselves in life. Why? Because Jesus wants to be a part of every part of our lives. Jesus wants us to rely on him and trust in him in good times and in bad times. Jesus is the knowable, the relatable entity of the Trinity. Jesus is human precisely so that we might better understand and be understood by God. A father is often a difficult person to understand and relate to. I know…I am one and I have one! And a spirit is, well, almost impossible to understand. But a friend, a friend is someone we can understand. Jesus is that friend to us. And like any good friend, he plays different roles in our lives as our lives unfold.
So what does this have to do with tonight’s reading on Jesus declaring himself as the gate. Our reading started with confusion about sheep and a shepherd, a gatekeeper and a gate. But Jesus makes it very clear in the last few verses when he states, “very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.” Very truly he tells us…he is the gate! And as good Lutherans, we boldly ask, “What does this mean?” Well, remember that Jesus is all about accessibility. He wants us to access him as we need him when we need him. Jesus wants us to access the love and assurance of the Father and the Spirit. Jesus wants us to access a better understanding of who the Father and Spirit are. Jesus opens the way to love and awareness. Jesus opens the way to joy and contentment. In and through him we know ourselves and God better. Jesus is an access point, much the same way a gateway is. Jesus wants us to access all that he has to offer. As we continue along our path through Lent, let us seek to go through his gateway into better understanding and deeper contentment. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.