Monday, April 27, 2015

The Sheep Gate and the Doors of Wal-Mart

I went down to look at the doors at Wal-Mart the other day.  I kept walking in and out and watching how the doors worked.  They looked at me really funny, but no one stopped me because I was wearing a collar.

I wanted to see how the doors worked.  What makes a good door.  For those of you who are carpenters or builders this is probably rather elementary, but for me it was a discovery.  What makes a good door?  I drew three conclusions:

First, the door has to be able to open and close.  It’s really cool if it opens like magic, without your even having to push it or pull it. This is especially true if you’re visiting Italy.  I’m pretty fluent in Italian, but I still have to stop and think every time I see the words Tirare and SpingereTirare means pull and spingere means push.  That’s not so much of a problem in this country since by law all doors to public buildings have to open out after that awful fire in Boston so many years ago.  But in any case, every door must open and every door must close.

The second thing that makes a good door is that it is easy to enter and easy to find.  No sense hiding the door to Wal-Mart out by the loading dock.  It must be close to where you park your car and look inviting.

And finally, Wal-Mart executives would approve of a door that leads you into someplace you would like to be.  That’s why that nice lady stands right by the door to tell you where the dish-towels are hidden.  It’s worth walking through the door to hear her answer.

So a good door must open and close, be easy to find, and lead to a place I’d like to go.

That’s what Jesus means when he says that he is the Sheep Gate.  

Out in the middle of a field, every shepherd knows he needs to have a way of keeping their sheep together through the night, so he rolls rocks and logs to form an enclosure.  But what does he do about a gate to this sheep pen?  Most shepherds would lay down across the opening, his head on one rock and his feet on the other.  That way, if a sheep attempted to escape, he would walk over the shepherd and wake him up.

That’s what Jesus means when he says that he is the Sheep Gate.  

Jesus is the door that opens and closes. All who knock, all who are willing to turn away from sin, all who seek to join the flock of God’s holy people can enter through him.  In fact, this shepherd goes looking for sheep. (Lost sheep).  And he is the only way to enter!  He is the way, the truth, and the life.  There is no other way to salvation and to eternal joy except through him  He’s the door that opens.

But Jesus is also the door that closes.  A door that closes when we refuse to be like the shepherd.  Make no mistake about it: there is a road to hell and any one of us is capable of choosing it.  Sin, selfishness and a refusal to love lead as surely to hell, as Jesus the sheep gate leads to the Kingdom of heaven.  Remember the story of the rich man who refused to love the beggar Lazarus: how he called to Father Abraham from across the abyss?  Remember the words of Jesus on the last day to those who refused to clothe the naked, visit the sick and the imprisoned, and feed the hungry? “Depart from me your accursed into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels!” 

Oh yes, the door opens wide for those who approach it on their knees, the but door slams shut for those who refuse to do God’s will.

 And like the door at Wal-Mart, this sheepgate is easy to find.  He is present to us in his word proclaimed.  He is present to us to his own Body and Blood, given to us as food for the journey.  This sheepgate is present to us in the shepherds of the Church: the Bishop and his Priests.  And this Jesus, the way to the Father, is present to us wherever two or three gather in his name, and in the poor and the forgotten.  This door is easy to find and a constant invitation to enter in.

Lastly, this Sheepgate leads to a place beyond all our imaginings.  It is a place, as Saint Paul tells us, which we cannot even imagine.  “What we shall later be, has not yet come to light.”  But we know that even now, those who seek to enter God’s Kingdom, his holy Church, know the peace the world cannot give, the joy of the children of God, and the assurance that keeps us from mourning like those who have no hope.  Inside this door is not the lady from Wal-Mart, But Saint Peter, and Saint Paul and all the angels and saints, and all who have gone before us loving God and his church.  In that place we will know refreshment, light and peace.

Jesus is the Sheepgate which opens and closes, which is easy to find and which leads to joy unimagined.  But one last thing.  This gate is not suspended by hinges that neatly swing open and close. This gate is formed by him who laid down his life, that we might enter.  By his passion, death and resurrection this Sheepgate has been constructed of his Body and his Blood and the wood of the Cross.