Weekly Seeds: By the Gate

Sunday, April 30, 2023
Fourth Sunday of Easter| Year A

Focus Theme:
By the Gate

Focus Prayer:
God our Shepherd, lead us into abundant life. Amen.

Focus Reading:
John 10:1-10
10 “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. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

All readings for this Sunday:
Acts 2:42-47 • Psalm 23 • 1 Peter 2:19-25 • John 10:1-10

Focus Questions:
Are you led by God?
Do you resonate with God as shepherd, gate or gatekeeper?
How do these metaphorical roles influence your perspective on the Holy One?
How do they impact your role as a disciple?
What thieves and bandits threaten abundant life in your life and/or your community?

By Cheryl A. Lindsay

As we enter this passage, it is clear that a conversation has already begun and we arrive at a significant point. Jesus is explaining who he is using the metaphor of the shepherd in a Johannine style parable. This passage alone omits his conversation partners; and therefore, it raises questions about subject and object. Jesus clearly seeks to distinguish himself from the “thieves and the bandits.” Who are they? When he talks about the “voice of strangers” is that limited to those thieves and bandits or are there other strangers at work in this parable?

Typically, in reading a parable, we restrict the lesson to what’s contained within the brief story. If it’s not mentioned, it’s not important or relevant. A parable is not a complete story and there will be gaps and holes; they are not meant to be explored. Yet, this passage provides no context to the telling of the parable and limits our ability to understand its meaning. Skimming the passages before it begins, helps us understand the point Jesus makes.

Jesus had healed a man born blind. The assumption was that this man was born into sin. His blindness could not just be a condition, it had to be a judgment either against him or his parents. When Jesus heals him, religious leaders question the man about Jesus, and they engage in a spirited discourse over the legitimacy of Jesus and his healing of the formerly blind man.
“30 The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’” (John 9:30–33)
Offended by the healed man’s defense of Jesus, the religious leaders drive him out, but Jesus encounters the healed man again who becomes his disciple. The religious leaders overhear their conversation and enter into it:
39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains. (John 9:39–41)

Our focus scripture continues Jesus’ response to the religious group and their questioning of his acts of healing. Recall that John’s narrative emphasizes signs as revelation of the divinity of Jesus as well as the “I am” statements are declaration of not only his identity but also of his ministry aims. In this passage, Jesus illuminates his encounter with the formerly blind man (sign) by making a declaration, “I am the gate for the sheep) (v. 7)

Jesus repeats the “I am” pronouncement, just as he repeated, “I am the Bread of life” (6:35, 47), and “I am the Light of the world” (8:12; 9:5), and just as he will shortly repeat “I am the good Shepherd” (vv. 11, 14). “I am the Door,” he continues, “Through me, if anyone goes in he will be saved, and will go in and go out and find pasture” (v. 9). The difference is that now he presents himself as an open door, open not to “thieves and robbers” but to the sheep. It is no longer a matter of coming “before” the door (v. 8) and being denied entrance, but of going “through” the door60 to a place of safety. As in 6:35, 47 and 8:12, the “I am” pronouncement is followed by an invitation and promise, introduced by “if anyone,”61 recalling such classic promises as 6:51 (“If anyone eat of this bread, he will live forever”) or 7:17 (“If anyone chooses to do his will, he will know about the teaching”), or 8:51 (“If anyone keeps my word, he will never ever see death”).62 Like these others, it is an invitation to “anyone” to believe in Jesus and thereby gain eternal life. But because it stands within the metaphorical world of sheep and shepherds, its vocabulary is distinctive. To “go in” and “go out” implies an enclosure, in this instance the “courtyard” (v. 1) housing the sheep. The promise of being “saved,”63 uncommon in John’s Gospel,64 is probably chosen here to highlight the thought of sheep being “rescued” or “kept safe” from harm, whether from “thieves and robbers” or natural predators (see v. 12).65 Those addressed, therefore (and “anyone” implies a very general invitation), are promised entry to Jesus’ “courtyard,” with all the benefits of a shepherd’s care. The “courtyard,” however, is neither a prison nor a fortress, for the sheep, Jesus promises, “will go in and go out and find pasture”—another way of saying, “if the Son sets you free, you will really be free” (8:36). The metaphors of shepherds and sheep and the courtyard are still at work—not least in the term “pasture,”66 which sustains animal, not human, life—but the reality to which the metaphors point is also clearly visible, and becoming more so. As the discourse continues, the metaphors will begin to fade, having served their purpose, and Jesus will speak more and more straightforwardly of his mission and his relationship to the Father.
J. Ramsey Michael

At the same time, this parable amplifies the relationship between Jesus and humanity. It should not be surprising that he expresses two distinct roles–shepherd and gate. In his divinity, he is the shepherd who cares for and protects the sheep. They are drawn to him, able to identify and follow his voice. The shepherd may also denote human leadership anointed and appointed by God in the tradition of Moses and David as Adele Reinhartz notes. As the gate and gatekeeper, Jesus presents the tension and immense possibilities of his dual roles of being both fully human and fully divine at the same time. It would seem contradictory and unbelievable, but as presented throughout John’s narrative, those who choose to follow Jesus believe in him even when they do not understand. It is the relationship that centers and anchors their commitment.

They trust him even when he confuses and confounds them. When they cannot explain his power, they simply point to the results. The signs, for the disciples of Jesus, speak for themselves. The declarations serve to articulate what his actions have already proclaimed. They follow him for the promise that life with Jesus offers—abundance and flourishing—by the gate.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.

“At the Closed Gates of Justice”
James D. Corrothers

To be a Negro in a day like this
Demands forgiveness. Bruised with blow on blow,
Betrayed, like him whose woe dimmed eyes gave bliss
Still must one succor those who brought one low,
To be a Negro in a day like this.

To be a Negro in a day like this
Demands rare patience—patience that can wait
In utter darkness. ’Tis the path to miss,
And knock, unheeded, at an iron gate,
To be a Negro in a day like this.

To be a Negro in a day like this
Demands strange loyalty. We serve a flag
Which is to us white freedom’s emphasis.
Ah! one must love when Truth and Justice lag,
To be a Negro in a day like this.

To be a Negro in a day like this—
Alas! Lord God, what evil have we done?
Still shines the gate, all gold and amethyst,
But I pass by, the glorious goal unwon,
“Merely a Negro”—in a day like this!

For further reflection:
“Sometimes just getting up in the morning and standing at the gate can bring the gate down.”— Joan Bauer
“Which gate to enter? Which path to choose? Which stairs to take? Which direction to go? These questions can be very depressive! And sometimes the solution lies in being bold, in being imprudent!” ― Mehmet Murat ildan
“Sadie walked under the gates, one by one by one. At first, she felt nothing, but as she kept moving ahead, she began to feel an opening and a new spaciousness in her chest. She realized what a gate was: it was an indication that you had left one space and were entering another. She walked through another gate.” —Gabrielle Zevin

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.