May 7, 2017
Fourth Sunday of Easter
The passage we have heard is taken from Chapter 10 of the Gospel of John.
It is the celebrated chapter where Jesus describes Himself as the Good shepherd, who gives His life for the sheep.
In the first part of the chapter, however, it’s not so much the figure of the shepherd that is central, as another image where Jesus compares Himself, rather, to that of the gate (Jn 10:1,2,6,9).
Yes, He also speaks of the shepherd, but only to say that the shepherd is the one who enters the sheepfold through the gate. All others, who try to enter by another way and not by the gate, are thieves and robbers (Jn 10:1).
Therefore, once they have entered, the sheep do not recognize them: they are strangers, and the sheep run away from them (Jn 10:5).
The shepherd, instead, the one who enters by the gate, enters legitimately, without subterfuge: he enters into something that is his, and so it’s normal that the sheep recognize him. So they hear his voice and follow him (Jn 10,4).
Why is the figure of the gate so important?
To understand this image we can try to think of two adjacent rooms. If there was no door between them, those who are each room are near, but cannot communicate. They are close, but separated.
On the part of both, there can be many desires to meet each other, but if there is no door, all is useless. If, however, there is a door between the two, then it’s possible to meet.
Besides, if there is no door in one room, if the door has been barred, those who are within are no longer free to leave. They are prisoners, inside the room. The room may also be very beautiful, comfortable; but it is like a prison.
This picture is the image of our life: sin has made these two rooms, two worlds – that of God and man – separated from each other. Death intervened to distance God from His creature: man no longer had, as his final destiny, communion with the Lord, but simply the void and nothingness of death. The door was closed.
And man, alone, could not open any door.
This is the real drama of existence, and the entire Word of God carries the echo of this drama, of an interrupted relationship, marked by human fear.
Which is why St. Paul gets to exclaim: “What a wretched man I am! Who will free me from this body doomed to death? (Rom 7:24). Who will open the door?
A door was needed that would open the world of man to the world of God.
This door is Jesus.
It is not coincidental that all the Gospels at the beginning of the earthly life of Jesus, speak of the opened heavens, of the angels descending among men to announce the presence of the Kingdom of God on earth: the way is re-opened.
And the Gospel of John repeats over and over that Jesus comes from the Father and returns to the Father: Jesus tells Nicodemus, no one has ever ascended to heaven but the Son of man who descended from heaven, (Jn 3:13).
But it is not only the door that permits God to descend among men. In the Gospel we have heard, the image of the door is used for two purposes: in verse 1, it’s the shepherd who enters there, who uses the door to enter the sheepfold, to reach the sheep.
But in successive verses the door serves to let the sheep go out from the sheepfold, and to follow the shepherd who leads them to pasture. Because some sheep that always remained in the sheepfold would be destined for death.
Instead, the Lord came so that whoever believes in Him has life, in abundance (Jn 10:10).
Actually, verse 9 is still more precise: “I am the door; if one enters through me, he will be saved, he will go in and will go out, and will find pasture.” Whoever recognizes the grace of Christ enters to become part of the saved people; but salvation consists in going out, in the possibility of opening our world, destined for death, to full communion with God, to another life, eternal life.
If Jesus is the door, if there is a door, then it means that we are not destined to remain slaves of this world, rather we are destined for death. It means that life does not end here, within the four walls of this earthly existence: our life comes back to being infinite.
And since this door is not so much at the end of life, but as of now is an open door, then it means that right now we can live this way, we can remain in this tension: a continuous passage from our life of slavery to ourselves, closed in our egoism, to a life that from now on can be true, good, and eternal.
The fact that we read this Gospel in the midst of Easter time is important because we do not forget that this door was opened in the Passover of Jesus. Better still, that His very Passover is the true door.
And that we, also, passing from death to life, must pass through it: everything that is old in us can die united to the death of Christ, and will find itself, already, in the other room; and what has passed from there does not die anymore.
Original version in italian