“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.” John 10:9-10
The sheep in Jesus’ time were kept during the night in enclosures fortified on three sides against wild animals and thieves. On the fourth side these folds were open. At the opening the shepherd would make his bed each night, blocking entry and egress with his body. He was himself literally the gate of the pen, and he protected the sheep nightly with his presence. This is Jesus’ metaphor as he explains who he is.
We have come to think of The Church as “the fold”. Within, Christian sheep are cared for and protected. Outside, people are lost in confusion, disbelief and heresy. But Jesus was not talking about the church in this imagery of the shepherd, the sheep and the sheep fold. He was not envisioning any social organization at all.
Imagine in the realm of the heart a gate to a new way of looking at things. To enter that perception we have to die to ourselves. But, ironically, when we have we feel as though we have come home. Within the deeper understanding we are one with everything that is. Though we are unique and loved for our particular blend of the qualities of humanness, we know that we are not separate little entities. Our individuality is like one strand of harmony in a grand music in which everyone and everything sings. The music itself becomes the focus.
The gate is love. We recognize the voice of the shepherd in the same way we recognize our beloved when we fall in love. “This is the one,” we say. And everything else in our lives takes second place to being with that one. Our hearts crave God with exactly the same energy. We have only to listen beyond our own and others’ expectations of us and we will hear.
The church is a place – but certainly not the only place – where people who have fallen in love with God can share their experience, celebrate and worship together. The Eucharist, that mysterious sacrament of belonging, is an expression of what Christ means when he says, “I am the gate.”
Jesus calls the awareness of being one with everything that is “having life and having it abundantly.” And so it is. We lift our heads out of the dissatisfying pursuits that have occupied our days and let our hearts lead us to what is really important: singing with angels and all the company of heaven – an affiliation that includes you, me, the Mormons and Muslims, the dog, the cat and the wolf spider that makes her home on the porch. How satisfying is that!