“I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved …” – Jesus
The Bible calls us sheep with attendant needs – to be cared for, need to be healed and led, need for protection and provision, hence the need for a shepherd. In the Bible, “shepherd” was often used as a political title to stress a king’s obligation to provide for his subjects.’ A “shepherd” as a title ‘connoted concern for and dedication to others. The image of the shepherd … expressed great authority.’ To care, to led, and to protect means the shepherd must protect the sheep ‘from heresy, ever ready to defend the sheep from marauders’ – spiritually, theologically, and morally. Jesus, while making references to sheep and shepherd, two types of sheepfolds, identified himself as the Sheep gate. Beyond the “communal sheepfold” which the shepherd returns their sheep each night, there is another sheepfold ‘usually consisted of a circle of rocks, with an open end’ and the shepherd serves as the gate, ‘laying across its entrance to sleep.’
Jesus’s self declaration as the Sheepgate points to Him as the ONLY One with exclusive power, rights, and title to deliver and protect us from the power of deaths and pandemic. Jesus in an exclusive way, ‘a choice in a manner that no other religious founder does, said, “I am the gate.” In essence and using the words of Bishop Barron, a Roman Catholic leader, “we are either with Jesus or we are against him. No other founder forces that choice as clearly as Jesus does.” Jesus as the Sheepgate warns that ‘anyone who does not enter the sheepfold to care for the sheep through this gate … is a thief and a bandit.’ Jesus is the gate for effective leadership and authentic shepherding of the sheep and since the Pharisees do not come through Jesus, they amounts to thieves and bandits in leadership.
Jesus’s exclusive claim as the “gate” and not as the familiar “good shepherd,” reminds us that only those sheep and shepherds (leaders) who come through Jesus can experience the benefits of his abundant life and leadership (v 10). Jesus’s analogy of the gate, the shepherd, and the sheep brings to focus two key elements of Jesus’s sheep, namely: Abundant life, now and eternally, only be found in Jesus, and that, his sheep know his voice and follow him, in believing and obeying his teachings,
Sheep have always been vulnerable to thieves, rustlers, bandits coupled with the fact that historically, sheep like any other animals were originally kept for sacrifice. This reminds us of the fact that, ‘animal husbandry, in the first place, was a function of the sacrificial system. The economics of livestock was based on the need to rear them to be sacrificed.’ In John 5, Jesus went up to Jerusalem and there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool. The Sheep Gate was ‘a place of victimisation of vulnerable people and animals in a society which functioned with sacrifice at its centre.’ The religious and political leaders of the day were known for making victims of others, making people sacrificial lambs.
There is the story of how Eliashib the high priest and his brothers rebuilt the Sheep Gate. The Bible says, “Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate…” (Neh 3:1). Being the first gate they built during the reconstruction of Jerusalem, it was designed for animals to be brought through it from the countryside for sacrifice. The idea was that ‘once inside the city and within the temple courts, there was only one door where the sheep went in, and no lamb ever came back out after entering the temple. They travelled in only one direction, and there they were sacrificed for the sin of men and women.’
The necessity of Jesus’ proclamation as the gate is based on the failure and hypocrisy of the religious and political leaders of their days who refused to recognise Jesus as the one who had come from God to bring light and life to all. Jesus’ self proclamation as the gate for the sheep is to challenge and overturn the need for sacrifice, ‘and in its place to offer salvation, and the freedom for victims to come and go ‘and find pasture,’ and live abundant lives.’
The society of Jesus’ time resonates with our society today especially in the global pandemic, with the death of thousands of people at its centre. Millions of people as sheep are increasingly becoming COVID-19 sacrificial victims, just as ‘the scriptures are full of the blood of those creatures, led through the one-way gate to their death. Jesus’ proclamation 2000 years ago resonates with our need today. Jesus said, “The gatekeeper opens the gate for the shepherd, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” [John 10.3]. Jesus, in one day at the Pool by the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem healed ‘a paralytic man who had been been ill for thirty-eight years, who was lying there among the other invalids – the blind, lame, and paralysed.’
Jesus Christ as the Sheepgate beyond the pandemic challenges the people who are controlling the way things are working. Jesus is challenging and calling us despite the pandemic tensions to return to Him as the gate to the sheep. To all the rulers, doctors, researchers, all essential workers, Jesus is saying, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep,” and shepherds (John 10.7-10). Jesus as the Sheepgate suggests him as the healer. Jesus is turning things around and anew in his revolution of boundless love with the assurance that He came that we may have life, and have it abundantly. Our hospitals and Care homes shall no longer be The Sheep Gate, place of no return or place where people are abandoned to.
The tough experience of pandemic is increasingly traumatic and frustrating, people are making sacrifice, under lockdown ‘and invariably the first to be sacrificed for the good of all are society’s most vulnerable people, abandoned to their fate just like those Jesus met at the pool by the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem.’ There is no alternative to the the world’s spiritual and physical pandemics. There is only one way, only one gate. God is calling us to enter and be saved. Only Jesus can heal the world from the pandemics and the people from the power of the sacrificial democratic system which continue to isolate and lockdown the people to stay by the pool by the Sheep Gate, in pain, in sickness, in wars, in divisions and corruption. Salvation comes through Jesus alone and true spiritual leadership comes through Jesus alone. In world of pandemic just as the temple filled with sheep on their way towards death, Jesus is saying, there is a way out: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. I am the Good Shepherd.”(v 5). Jesus, the Sheepgate stands based on his redemptive suffering and pleasing in God’s eyes guards over the creatures, including you and me.