“I am the door, whoever enters through me will be safe.”
The meaning of the image of Jesus as the Sheepgate or Door may elude us if we are not aware of shepherding methods. At night fall, the shepherd would lead his sheep to the sheepfold, a place of safety. The sheepfold was a pasture enclosed by a rock wall in the shape of a horseshoe. The narrow entryway had no door, the door or gate being the shepherd himself. One by one the sheep would come to the shepherd to be let in to the secure pasture for the night’s rest. This was an intimate encounter between shepherd and sheep; often he would speak to them by their pet name as he carefully inspected for burrs or wounds. Any cuts or scratches were soothed with anointing oil. The shepherd then hand fed each sheep tender leaves and sweet berries that he had collected throughout the day. Safe within the rock walls the sheep could rest knowing that the only way a wolf or thief could get to them was to go through the gate who was their shepherd. Only goodness and kindness, not wolves or thieves, would follow them as they dwelt in the house of their Lord Shepherd.
Recently, I visited a maximum security institution for youth offenders. The walls there were also rock, topped with coils of razored barbed wire. The doors were heavy gauge steel, electronically controlled, closing behind me with that cold sound that means you’re trapped — no way out without armed approval. Inside the doors were boys thirteen, fourteen, fifteen years of age, who had heard that cold sound of doors closing and would never have approval to go out through them again. What does it mean to be fifteen years old and know that you have been sentenced to natural life behind bars? You have no one to call you by name — you are a number in an overcrowded system. You who inflicted wounds, who cares for your wounds? What carefully selected menu and thoughtfully prepared meal is pushed under your door each evening? How do you sleep at night when, in all your life, goodness and kindness have never come near?
With Peter, Jesus has called each of us now to be shepherd, sheepgate, door for the sheep of His pasture. Shepherd those who are wearied by the hounding pursuit of political oppression. Feed those whose fair portion has been routed by the thieves of greed, civil strife, and war. And, yes, be a sheepgate to those whose only door to the outside world is through your eyes and love.
Fourth Sunday of Easter Acts 2: 14, 36-41; I Pt. 2: 20-25; Jn. 10: 1-10
Peace Connections: Making the connection between the Sunday Readings and issues of peace and justice. Copyright 1995, by Thomas L. Garlitz. “Not for profit” permission to reprint granted.