Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.”
In this part of the world, we know about cattle. I read about the recent dedication of a monument to Capt. John T. Lytle, who is recognized as the first to drive a herd of 3500 Longhorn cattle from South Texas to Fort Robinson, Nebraska, in 1874, blazing what is now known as the Great Western Trail. It’s also called the Lonesome Dove Trail by fans of Larry McMurtry.
The trail crossed the Red River at Doan’s Crossing, a ghost town about 13 miles North of Vernon. The original adobe building that was Doan’s store that sold supplies to the cowboys still stands there.
An interesting note is that the 140th annual Doan’s May Picnic will be held on May 6 on the lawn of the historic Doan’s Adobe. The picnic is the oldest continuously celebrated event in Texas.
I think it’s the same place that the Dutton family crossed the Red River in 1883.
Cowboys knew how to drive cattle. Shepherds, on the other hand, lead their sheep. And in fields of the promised land of the Israelites, they knew sheep.
In the first part of this Gospel reading, Jesus begins by teaching about a shepherd and his sheep.
He says, “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.”
Shepherd’s typically built pens for the sheep for protection from predators at night, and the gate served a very important function. It not only allowed the known sheep into the pen, but it also keep the thieves and other predators out.
Only the Shepherd enters by the gate. If there are other flocks of sheep, each with their own shepherds, then it seems they would all get mixed up. How would a shepherd know which was his?
The sheep know their shepherd’s voice. He talks to them, and knows them by name. They will not follow a stranger, but will run from a stranger’s voice.
Shepherd’s don’t drive their sheep; they lead their sheep. There is a trust relationship between them.
Then John says, “Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”
Now, in part two of this reading, Jesus begins with a more direct teaching.
“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.”
We are the sheep of his pasture. If we know our Shepherd’s voice, we will follow him through the gate. We will reject the voices of strangers who try to lead us away.
As you know, the Gospel according to St. John has many statements of Jesus that begin with the words, “I am.”
And as you also know, this is God’s name as revealed to Moses, in Hebrew, Yahweh, which in English is translated as I AM.
There are seven of these in the Gospel,
I am the Bread of life.
I am the Light of the world
I am the Gate (or the Door) for the sheep
I am the Good Shepherd
I am the Resurrection and the Life
I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life
I am the true Vine
Plus there is one that is phrased a little differently:
And Before Abraham was, I am.
In this way, Jesus was telling them that he is God, and that he and the Father are one.
And he is saying that he is the gate that leads to the Father, and he is the only gate. This is similar to what he said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Some might say this is limiting the power of God to save people. Some might say this is putting God into a small box. There are multiple paths to God, they say. This is wrong. If there were multiple paths to God, why would Jesus want us to go into the world baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit? Why would he tell us to go to work and not look back? No, there is one way, and that way is Jesus Christ our Lord.
Besides, all other world religions see God as a mighty King in the heavens, who we really have no chance of meeting. Enlightenment does not save. The Law does not save. Killing others in the name of your God does not save. These things lead to death.
No other religion makes the claim that God actually came to us, became incarnate, was tempted in every way that we are, and yet without sin, because he loves us that much.
Then Jesus caps off this wonderful teaching with a summary of this purpose on earth, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Life abundantly! Not just a life sort of! Good life! And not an abundance of stuff, but an abundance of love! An abundance of grace!
An abundance of peace! That is the life that Jesus offers us. It you want that life, just ask him for it, and accept it. Let the spirit of Christ dwell within you richly for life!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.