Swinging on the gate is fun, but how far does it get you?

Signpost for Sunday 7 May 2017: Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10.

I read this week that many scholars believe that Hebrew boys in the first century had to memorise the whole of the Torah for homework. They learned by heart the whole of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. I’m impressed by anyone who can recite Psalm 23.

The thing is, though, that all the men listening to Jesus in this week’s reading (disciples and Pharisees) should therefore have spotted the link between Jesus’ words and Numbers 27: 16-18. Numbers says that the Lord God will appoint someone “who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in”.

And yet John 10:6 tells us that nobody understood what Jesus was saying; they didn’t spot that he was identifying himself as that special someone appointed by YHWH.

Which just goes to show that history and literature are not the same thing. John’s gospel is arguably the most literary of the gospels. I think his account of the empty tomb, for example, (John 20) is particularly moving, with its repeated phrase “Woman why are you weeping?”

When I looked at this week’s reading again I saw more clearly that Jesus isn’t just the good shepherd, he’s the gate. In fact, he says so twice (John 10:7 and 9).

Most of us have a lovely image of Jesus as the shepherd, but do we have as clear an idea of him as something you climb over or swing on? Of course, he says if you do that you’re a thief or a bandit in this instance.

But actually, I wondered what the image of Jesus as the gate could help me think about.

I don’t like the idea that some people pick up on which suggests Jesus is the only gate. That simply excludes people who through no fault of their own never get to hear of his existence. Anyway it also goes against the whole point of this gospel expressed in John 3:16 (For God so loved the world…)

The image of the gate draws a picture of inside and outside. The man who had been blind in chapter 9 was thrown out by the Pharisees. But when Jesus restored his sight he was letting him in – into a better world, where at the very least he could from then on see what he was eating, who was speaking to him. He could again take part in life rather than being an outcast left to beg.

Maybe that’s one meaning of Jesus the gate – he’s asking us to take part in life, not just sit on the sidelines.

Paul

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