Jesus the gateway

One of the joys of returning to King’s Lynn after a trip out (do you remember them?) is driving through the South Gate. In medieval times the town was surrounded by walls, ramparts and gates, that controlled entry into the town, where tolls could be collected and undesirables kept out. It was also a prestige piece designed to impress visitors, especially kings and queens and dignitaries coming up from London. There is a wonderful sense of continuity that we still enter the town in the same spectacular way, and what foresight our medieval forebears showed by building the arch high enough for a double decker bus to pass through!

Jesus, in our gospel reading today, compares himself to a good shepherd and a gate. We will be familiar with the idea of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The 23rd Psalm is one of the most familiar pieces of scripture and its setting to the tune of Crimond, became popular after being sung at the wedding of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1947.  But the idea of Jesus being a gate is rather more obscure. We see many images of Jesus with a sheep on his shoulders, but I don’t recall ever seeing him depicted as a five-bar gate.

In the Middle East, in Jesus' time, a shepherd spent all his time with his flocks, they meant the world to him, they were his livelihood. And when at night they were gathered together in the sheepfold, the pen, it might not actually have had a gate. The shepherd would himself act as the gate by lying across the entrance. For any thief or wild beast to get to his sheep, they would have to get past him first.

The gateway separates two areas, the place where the sheep are protected by night, and the place where they go out to graze by day.  If Jesus is the gate, then he is something that his flock passes through to find protection, sanctuary and peace, and through which we pass back out into the world to seek our daily bread in everyday life.

Jesus, the gate, is a good image for prayer. He is the way to the Father, no one comes to the Father, he says, except through him.  We are spiritually strengthened in prayer to the Father by the Holy Spirit and through Jesus, and then go back to our daily lives. But being the good shepherd that he is, keeping watch on his flock at all times, whichever area we are in, whether praying or working, whether thinking of Jesus or not, he watches over us always.

In fairy tales going through a doorway marks a transition into another world. In  Mr Ben, the children’s programme from the 1970's, Mr Ben would go into the changing room of the fancy dress shop and come out into a fantasy world: a jungle, outer space, or a medieval castle depending on what costume he had put on. In the programme Stars in their Eyes, the contestants go through the doorway as themselves and come out through the smokescreen as the star whom they are impersonating, as Englebert Humperdinck, Dolly Parton, or, if you’re the Rocking Bishop of Lynn, Reg Presley from the Troggs.  

It is said that if you dream about a locked door, and you can’t open it, or you can’t find the door to the house in the first place, this means that there are parts of your life which you are out of touch with, and shut out from. Knowing Jesus as the gateway opens up all parts of our lives.

Like Mr Ben, the contestants on Stars in their eyes, like those sheep in the pen and in the field, we have two sides to our lives: the interior life, our thoughts, feelings, and emotions; and our exterior lives, what we do and say, what we show of ourselves to other people. All people have a public and a private persona, but seeing Jesus as the gate between them, helps us to see ourselves as we really are in both aspects and unite them.  

If we can picture Jesus as the gate, then we see that he is there in all areas of our lives. Through him we gain the freedom and the confidence to know ourselves and be ourselves, to freely pass in and out of the private and the public spheres of our lives. Jesus there at the gateway between them gives us inner peace, and accompanies us as we adventurously step out in faith.

With Jesus at the gateway, our inner life and our outer life are held in balance,

With Jesus at the centre of our lives, we can see what it means to know life in all its fullness.


John 10.1-10