The Living Gate: A Homily by Deacon Alan Doty

For most of us, the only time we see a shepherd is in the movies. And, of course, the only time we ever see a lamb is at a petting zoo, or perhaps served at Easter dinner.

My own most vivid encounter with sheep was when I was driving on a narrow lane in the Lakes District of England, a little nervous to begin with as I concentrated on staying on the left side of the road. Suddenly we came around a bend in the road and had to hit the brakes to avoid a collision with a flock of sheep that were blocking the road. They were not in any hurry to get out of the way. Nor was the shepherd who was leading them.

Unless there is a mass breakout from the Aggie, I doubt any of us will encounter a flock of sheep or a shepherd in Walpole. And yet we feel like we know all about shepherds, we feel like we love shepherds and sheep and all that goes with the image. And it’s all because of Jesus, of course.

Our modern sense of what a shepherd is has been shaped by our culture and our separation from our agricultural roots. We have the popular images of Jesus the Good Shepherd carrying a sheep over his shoulders, or we have a smiling Jesus sitting under a tree, with a little lamb on his lap. This image of the shepherd appeals to us because it shows the tenderness of Jesus and his compassion. The sheep followed him because they recognized his voice, and they trusted him. An image of Jesus as a Good Shepherd is reassuring us that he is always our support on our journey through life.

Old Testament people, when thinking of a shepherd, would think first of God’s message to the prophet Ezekiel: “I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest… The lost I will search out, the strays I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, and the sick I will heal… Yes, you are my flock: you people are the flock of my pasture, and I am your God.” (Ezekiel 34:15, 31)

They would remember the patriarch Abraham, who was a shepherd, as were his sons. Moses was a shepherd when he encountered the burning bush. King David started out life as a shepherd. And so to the Israelites the role of shepherd had a very unique and very important meaning.

The people of Jesus’ day knew that shepherds and the sheep traveled together. Shepherds did not have clean warm houses to sleep in. They would attend to the flock sometimes two, three, or four weeks before returning home.

Night is when the sheep needed the most protection. The shepherds would build a ring of rocks large enough to hold the sheep together and as protection against the wild animals. And he would leave a gate.

The gate wasn’t made of iron that you carried around. It didn’t have hinges or a latch. The gate was just an opening among the rocks that the shepherd had piled up all around to protect the sheep. The gate would be just a few feet wide because the shepherd would sleep in the gate. Sheep would have to step over him to wander off. Wild animals would have to get past him to attack the flock. 

And that’s why Jesus can say, “I am the gate,” because the gate isn’t a thing, the gate is the living flesh of the shepherd. “I am the shepherd, and I am the gate. My sheep know me, and I know my sheep, and I give my sheep life, life itself.”

Jesus is the gate, the only Way in or out. He is the One Mediator between God and mankind. All must go through Him to arrive in Heaven. Jesus is the living gate to His Father’s house and Father’s family, into the fullness of life. It is through Jesus, the living gate, that we come into the sheepfold where we are protected from the wolves of life. There is a spiritual, emotional, and psychological security and safety when we live within Jesus and his Church, within the protectiveness of Christ, a Christian family. 

We do not think of ourselves as sheep, and of course we have the grace of free will that sheep do not. Yet there is so much in our times and culture, including materialism, hypersexuality, indifference and hostility to the things that are of God, that can harm us as Christians. The prevailing culture we live in is no longer explicitly Christian. Because of God’s gift of free will, we are lovingly invited to hear and heed God’s voice, every day and every hour, to “return to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls,” as the First Letter of Saint Peter says in our second reading this Sunday.

Today’s Gospel provides us with an important truth that may be uncomfortable for some – in a marketplace of ideas, only the Good Shepherd, the living gate, can offer us saving truth “so that they may have life and have it to the full.” Therein is found our peace.

One comment

  1. Thanks Alan. I finally get the “Gate.” It all makes sense now and so logical. I just kept missing it. Thank you 😊



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