Gate or Shepherd: Who is he?
Acts 2.42-47, Ps 23, John 10.1-10
This morning we stood on the jetty watching a group of pelicans and cormorants fishing. They were purposely drifting with the tide, one plucky cormorant leading the way, others diving, the pelicans gliding in their stately way. Moving with the flow they were feeding and being carried at the same time. Drifting towards the river mouth – simply being themselves; free and full of life.
Little wonder that Jesus disciples didn’t understand him. There can sometimes be a riddle like quality to his sayings. Today’s gospel has him tell us that he is the gate of the sheepfold through which the true shepherd leads the flock. Then immediately after he says he is the shepherd (Jn 10.11). Is he the gate or is he the shepherd? Or is he both? And how can that be?
Just as Jesus often responds to questions put to him with another question, so his sayings sometimes raise more questions than answers. And this is no bad thing. We are led to inquire more deeply into the text and its possible meaning. We need to stay with the words. Pray with them. Allow a kind of mulling over of them, not so much to arrive at a quick and definitive answer, as to allow the words to lead us to the Word in our heart. In this way we are more likely to realize the meaning for ourselves. When we stay with those words, which at first glance are difficult to understand, then we enter a process whereby we may encounter, or be met by, the one who is the Word. And, in this way we are transformed by the Word, through our living relationship with Christ Jesus, as the Word; the I Am who was in the beginning and who is now.
So, we need here to recognize that the scriptures can be read and understood at different levels. Some take the scriptures very literally. Or, we can read a scholarly exegesis and come to an intellectual understanding of the meaning of the text. Another way is to listen to the words with the ‘ear of the heart’. This takes time and a willingness to open our heart to new possibilities and even uncertainties.
So, is he the gate or the shepherd? Read literally, this is an absurdity. However, read literarily, it is a means of challenging us to hear with the ear of the heart which has a far more expansive capacity for understanding. To read in this way we need to spend time with the text. We need to become inwardly still and quiet. What better time than now for us to do so?
For today though let’s spend a few minutes unpacking this question:
How can Jesus be both gate and shepherd?
This is a paradox. Which means, ‘a seemingly absurd or contradictory statement or proposition which when investigated may prove to be well founded or true.’ It is our ‘investigation’, our prayerful meditation upon the words, that may, in time lead us to truth.
Jesus words suggest a paradox that leads us to truth. He is both gate and shepherd. He is the way in and out. And he is one who leads others in and out. Paradox suggests a both/and way of seeing as compared to an either/or understanding. He is both gate and shepherd at the same time. This way of seeing or understanding is non-dualistic. We understand Jesus as both fully human and fully divine. In this way he embodies non-dualism. To understand we must undergo a spiritual shift of consciousness; allow our usual way of understanding to be transfigured.
Remember, Jesus here is speaking to his disciples prior to his death and resurrection. They haven’t ‘got’ him yet. It will take the massive disruption of their usual way of understanding and knowing to realize who he is. And this only happens by way of his resurrection. Pauls’ vision was completely disoriented on the road to Damascus before he was re-oriented and came to see anew.
That Jesus is both gate and shepherd, both human and divine, may well confound our usual way of understanding. But the challenge is to stay with this sense of being confounded (if indeed we are!). Faith enables us to be with a kind of unknowing that can lead us to a deeper or more expansive knowing. Jesus’ humanity does not preclude his divinity and his divinity includes his humanity.
Jesus says he is many things. I am the gate, the shepherd, the true vine and so on. And these are helpful images for us. His way of using such everyday images is a significant aspect of his way of teaching. Before the images however are the words ‘I am’. And these are the words upon which I’d like to place some emphasis.
He is both the portal (gate) into abundant Life (the kingdom) and the one to follow through that portal. How are we to follow? And what is this gate?
We can follow by living the ethics of a Christian life. We can try to do the right thing as best we can. We can look to the life and teachings of Jesus as an historical figure and follow his example. We can struggle to live a Christian ethic in an outward sense. But perhaps the best way to live the ethical life is through the exterior expression of the interior life. There is a sense in which we might understand the ‘following’ of Jesus to be, not so much what we do, but rather our own self-discovery in another person – Christ. The ‘I Am’ of the God who spoke to Moses and the ‘I Am’ of Christ, is the ‘I Am’ of the true Self who resides within us – the Word who was in the beginning (Jn1.1). To follow Jesus is to discover our true Self in him; the I Am that resides in simply being-in-love and precedes any action. We are held in being by God’s love before anything we do or say. And God’s love is the reality that gives Life to everything. Jesus desire for us to know abundant life arises from his own knowledge of himself as abiding in God’s love. The same ‘I Am’ of God lives in and through him, and through us if only we would know it.
But perhaps all of this sounds like just more of a riddle! If so, then maybe all we really need to know is that God’s desire for us is to have abundant life – expansion of Spirit – by way of Love. We ‘follow’ by way of love. The shepherd is the gateway to Love. When we simply abide in that love then perhaps the answer to all life’s riddles is met and we can simply flow with the tide of God’s love. Simple and free.
And below is a lovely poem based on the gospel reading for today which says it all really!
Pasture (John 10.1-10)
There is a place we can find, a good place
Like quiet meadows where flowers spread,
Like green grasses by gentle streams;
A place where the heart feels nourished,
Where the mind is hopeful, unhurried,
Where the spirit is glad and at peace.
We’ll name this place fulfilment,
We’ll name it healing and thankfulness,
We’ll name this good place pasture
For there we seek to feed.
And there is a voice we can hear that calls us,
A gentle voice, melodious,
A voice like songbirds and laughter,
Like a mother comforting her children,
Like a shepherd calling his sheep.
We’ll name this voice acceptance,
We’ll name it mercy and forgiveness,
We’ll name it the voice of God’s love,
Inviting us gently to feed.
It invites us to enter pasture
When we think we are too hurting too listen,
Too angry or grieving or fearful
To hear the voice that calls us to peace.
It invites us to enter pasture
When we’re too busy to listen,
Too burdened or worried or pressured
To hear the voice that calls us to peace.
It says: Come in and go out and find pasture.
It says: We are safe with the shepherd of all sheep.
It says: Meadows await us, in this moment.
It says: Rest in love. Where you are. Joyfully feed.
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THE BALANCE POINT
The Assistant Priest, Rev'd Rebecca Newland, has a weekly blog where she reflects on spiritual disciplines including the practise of silence and contemplative living. She also occasionally writes about social, environmental and political issues. For those who are interested please click on this link below: