Some years ago there was a television quiz show called “Let’s Make a Deal,” in which contestants were given an opportunity to exchange a modest prize for a chance at a grand prize. Suspense built as they were asked to choose: door number one, door number two or door number three. Two doors concealed “zonk,” or gag prizes. Behind the third door was something very desirable, like a trip, a car or large amounts of cash. Every once in a while someone would get lucky and choose correctly.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of himself as the door that leads to the most desirable of gifts. Unlike the quiz show designers, who for their own gain might deliberately try to mask the location of the grand prize, Jesus shows himself openly to be the gateway and declares his desire for all to choose this door.
At the beginning of today’s Gospel selection, Jesus speaks about himself as the shepherd of the sheep who enters the sheepfold properly, through the gate. He contrasts himself to the thief or the robber who scrambles into the sheepfold some other way and who will have no success in getting the sheep to follow him out. He is a stranger, and the sheep will run away from him; they do not recognize his voice. Later in this chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus elaborates further the image of himself as the Good Shepherd, but in today’s Gospel the focus is on himself as the gate for the sheep.
An important aspect of this image is that the gate swings in two directions. Not only do Jesus’ followers come into the sheepfold through him, but they are also led out by him. All who are led in by him find in the embrace of the believing community a place of refreshment and rest, a space where wounds can be healed and where all can be nourished by the word and at the table. But whoever enters is also led out to find pasture, the verdant space of mission. Jesus is the gate that opens in and out.
Later in the Gospel, the image of the open gate takes another form. Jesus’ open side, pierced by the soldier’s lance (19:34), also beckons us to enter, so that we can then go out in the power of his risen life. All who enter into his way of life, which offers the most forgotten and downtrodden verdant pastures of plenty, risk reprisals from those who try to enter another way. Even should one’s life be taken for entering into this sheepfold, Jesus’ open side also provides a portal outward to life birthed anew. Before his death, Jesus spoke to his disciples of his passion as labor pains that would give way to joy when the new life was born (16:20-22). The blood and water that flow from his open side recall the “rivers of living water” that Jesus promised would flow from within (literally “from the womb of”) him and from the heart of each believer (7:38).
The open tomb on Easter morning completes the image. The gates of death have been breached by the One who came so that all “might have life and have it more abundantly” (10:10). The door now lies wide open for all. The invitation to enter through Jesus and his way of life is difficult for some to accept. The Pharisees, representing those who choose not to understand, do not accept Jesus’ invitation to come in and go out with him and through him. They think there is another way over or around the gate.
But there is no trick to choosing the correct door. It stands wide open before us.