“Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”--John 10:7-10, NIV
I’m sure that there are deeper theological implications to this passage, but as I read this recently I was struck by the dual purposes of a gate. A gate can serve to exclude or to retain--it can keep things out or keep them in. Either function is important, depending on what you desire.
In this case, Jesus is teaching about his role in allowing believers into the fold of the church and providing protection there, but in the larger context, he refers to taking them out through the gate and leading them to pasture. I would like to think about the idea of the gate, and its implications for us.
In a meeting of Bible study leaders a couple of years ago, my pastor talked about the tension we deal with in our Bible study classes. On the one hand, we want to be open and accessible to new people, making them feel welcome. On the other hand, we are trying to develop a sense of community where people will be open to listen, share, and apply scripture to their daily lives. This creates something of a tension. We seek both easy access and deep commitment. He talked about a “semipermeable membrane” that will allow ready entry into the organism, but then will retain what has entered. This is not easy to do. We want a gate that swings open easily but discourages departure.
We face the same tension in theological education. We have a gate that includes and excludes. We must set certain standards for those who seek to enroll as students in order to raise the potential for their success but we don’t want to be so rigid that those who have a sense of calling are excluded. Once they have been accepted and brought into the fold, we find ways to encourage their engagement and formation. We want them to feel at home but not to camp out for too long. Ultimately, we want the gate to swing open so that they can pursue their ministry in the world, hopefully after successfully completing their degrees!
The same is true of the church. The sheep gather for worship and formation but then they are scattered into the world. The gate swings both ways.
Perhaps the key to this is the identity of Jesus as both the “gate” and the “good shepherd” whose desire is to call but also to deploy. He gathers the sheep for protection and growth but he also sends them out to do “sheep things.” He desires what is best for the sheep.
This may help us to we handle the gate that we control or embody. Do we use that ability to accept or exclude as well as the ability to protect and deploy with wisdom and sensitivity? This is a great privilege but also a great responsibility. May we handle it well.
Holy God, provide us with wisdom so that we may learn from the Good Shepherd and embody his love and grace in our lives. Amen.