I AM THE GATE
When Mass was in Latin, the Gospel readings always had the words In illo tempore…. (‘at that time’) attached to the beginning, even though these words were not in the Gospel itself. One wonders what purpose it served. We know that it was ‘at that time’ that Jesus spoke, but we need to hear the Gospel now.
Many people today think of the faith as a thing of the past. If you are reading this, it is likely that you are still connected with it and believe that it has a future. But I think the reason someone comes to see it as a thing of the past, with no future, is that it is so seldom a thing of the present. This puts an urgent question to us all. Am I, are we, now being imprisoned, or set free? Is the word of God setting me free in fact, on a daily basis? Looking back on my life, can I truly say of God, deep in my heart, “God brought me forth into freedom” (Psalm 17)?
What is the way to freedom that my faith speaks so often about? Is it something I can credit, or is it a dead account? How do I access it? I know it must be more than a matter of signing my name.
For a start, let’s study the gate! Jesus said, “I am the gate of the sheepfold” (John 10:7). It doesn't seem at first a very personal image: a gate. But for someone seeking a way out of prison or out of slavery of some kind, it is a thing of passionate interest. And it is a thing of equal interest to someone trying to find a way in – not into prison, of course, but into security or well-being.
There are several similar images in the New Testament: the way, the door, the keys, the doorkeeper…. All of these have this in common: that they are perfectly ambiguous - they can mean opposite things.
- You can travel in two different directions along a way.
- A gate or door can lock you in or out, include or exclude you. (And even inclusion is ambiguous: it can be protection or imprisonment.)
- Keys symbolise power, but it can be power for or against you.
A basic question, then, is: when is freedom really freedom? And when is it another form of enslavement?
I've learnt this much in my life: freedom isn't freedom unless it is freedom from myself. The very thing that sets another free could make a slave of me, if I have no inner freedom. Many things are advertised as new freedoms that are really just new forms of enslavement. Parents agonise over these questions in relation to their teenage sons and daughters. They worry that the new social and personal freedoms young people have may lead to addiction and self-destruction. But these are not questions affecting only teenagers: we all have to think about them in relation to ourselves. Have we found the true gate to freedom? Are we going through it? - are we actually being set free?
Another thing about a gate is that it is not the size of the whole wall; it is a relatively narrow opening in a wall. Finding the gate to freedom is not like knocking down the whole wall. Western people today tend to be wary of restrictions. That could not lead to freedom. “I am the gate,” Jesus said. The following of Jesus entails restrictions: I cannot pretend to follow him and then follow my every whim and base instinct. But following him leads through that narrow place into the wide world of genuine freedom. Meister Eckhart, the 14th-century mystic, put this well: “God leads us through narrow paths to the highway, that we may come out into the open”. And “The more the soul is concentrated, the narrower she is, and the narrower, the wider.”
"I am the gate." We need to choose well the gate we go through: if it is not the gate that is Christ, it could easily be a gate into a prison.