In the movie Monsters, Inc. doors offered the passageway for monsters to travel from their world into the human world to scare children in their beds at night. Without the right door, there was no getting into specific child’s bedroom and racking up their monster scream score. There are about 36 million doors in the whole movie.
This provides an apt metaphor for today, when it feels like a monster is out there in the world and we do not know when, where or how it will strike. Like a child fearing a monster behind the closet door or under the bed, it scares the bejeezus out of us. The most difficult part is not having an end date to this crisis, knowing full well that what we used to define as “normal life” will not be that way anymore. It seems like there are 36 million ways to get this virus and until there is a vaccine, masks, gloves, distancing, and disinfecting are our new normal. We do not know exactly what the future will look like once we ease into some of our regular activities, how long it will take, nor what future impacts will be. Some days, staying under the covers hoping this will stave off the monsters feels like the best we can do.
“I am the gate of the sheep” says Jesus. It should really be translated, “I am the door of the sheep” but that sounds strange to our ears since, as outdoor animals, sheep do not go in and out of doors—they go in and out of gates. So consistent with the metaphor of sheep, the translation refers to Jesus as the “gate” rather than the “door.” But the point is the same. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who brings us into God’s fold, who seeks us out, claims us, loves us, and provides for us.
Jesus is not giving an abstract speech to the disciples, but rather, he is describing what he has just done from the man born blind described in the previous chapter. This man, blind from birth, was consigned to a life of begging—crying by the side of the road to get what little he could. He was at the mercy of those who walked by—sometimes monsters he could not see, but only hear as they rejected and derided him for his sin, yelling at him to stop bothering them, shoving him aside as they went on with their busy lives. But the Good Shepherd heard is cries for healing—spit in the dirt, made mud and put it on his eyes and told him to wash in the poop of Siloam. As he did, the man’s sight was restored. You would think this miraculous healing would give him a joyous life—a new normal that restored him to the community. But the powers-that-be rejected his testimony about Jesus and threw him out again—monsters indeed. Now he could see, but he was still alone and rejected, cast aside with the door of hope and community slammed in his face again.
But this was unacceptable to Jesus, so he went in search of the man and found him. The Good Shepherd sought out the man so he could enter into relationship and community with the living God and not be left outside the fold ever again. Jesus explains his actions to the disciples by saying, “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”
There were plenty of monsters, thieves or bandits ready and willing to steal this man’s life and peace and joy, and lead him astray---but this newly sighted man knew Jesus’ voice, he knew his healing and life abundant lay with Good Shepherd, so he entered the door that Jesus opened and followed him.
There are so many monsters ready to steal our peace and bandits ready to disrupt our life right now—so many conflicting voices telling us what to do and what to think and what is right and what is not. There are so many things we think we should be accomplishing at the same time that so many doors that are being shut in our faces. Who do we listen to and what do we do?
Jesus comes to us today as the Good Shepherd and says, I am the only voice you need to listen to and the only door you need to open. I am the gate. So listen to my voice—
“In me you shall not be in want. You can lie down in green pastures; and rest beside still waters; and I will restore your soul. I will lead down the right path as you listen to my Word and my voice. When you walk through this valley of shadows, you need not fear any evil, for I am with you, I will protect you and comfort you. I will prepare a table for you in the presence of your enemies. I will anoint your head with oil so that your cup overflows. Surely, my goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life and you will dwell in my house forever.”
When we are nourished by the Good Shepherd in body and soul, then we are equipped to discern which voices in the culture, news and medical reports are Christ-like voices and lead us to behavior that follows Jesus in how we live in the world—values that heal and preserve well-being for all, that love and care for our neighbor, that share our resources, that care for the vulnerable, that seek justice for the poor, that honor creation, and that reflect Jesus who came that we all might have life and have it abundantly.
We do so as a community who is called to join the Good Shepherd in loving others into the fold because they too, want a relationship with life-giving abundant shepherd of our life. In The Book of Joy, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, wrote “the goal is not to create joy for ourselves but, ‘to be a reservoir of joy, an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that can ripple out to those around you.’ ” That is what it is to enter the door of the Good Shepherd and to confidently, dwell in Jesus’ fold—to allow Christ’s presence in us to create a reservoir of joy, an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity—that cannot help but be a cup overflowing and drawing others into the fold of the Shepherd.
We have this overflowing abundance because the Jesus the Good Shepherd stands at the gate of the monster of death victorious. When at the last God looks at the whole of our life, marred by sin and brokenness and the door should be slammed in our face, Jesus will stand in our place, crucified and risen, proclaiming, “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me is saved. Enter into the joy of heaven for the free gift of grace is life eternal with God.”
Trust the Good Shepherd, for there are no monsters that can defeat the power Christ, or shut the gates of heaven!