Sunday Sermon for May 7, 2017, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A
Readings: Acts 2:14a,36-41; 1Pt 2:20b-25; Jn 10:1-10
In the Gospel reading today we hear Jesus explaining to His disciples about the sheep gate and that anyone who enters through this gate is with the shepherd while anyone who enters into the sheepfold through another means is a thief and a robber. When His disciples did not understand what He was trying to tell them, our Lord stated explicitly that He Himself is the gate. In other words, He is the only means by which anyone can enter into the sheepfold.
This idea of being the gate might strike us as being very strange, but we have to understand this in the context of the time. Often there would be a fenced in area which would provide not only boundaries for the sheep, but also protection. The opening would not have a gate on it the way we normally think of such an enclosure. Instead, the shepherd would lie in the opening, sleeping there throughout the night. In this way, multiple shepherds could use the pen to hold their sheep and serve not only as guards at the gate, but as the gate itself.
Needless to say, a thief would not be interested in trying to enter through the gate because the shepherd would be ready to fend off anyone who would threaten the safety of his sheep. This becomes important because there is no way for the sheep to enter and exit except by the shepherd who serves as the gate. If we want entrance into the Lord’s sheepfold, there is only one way to do it: through Jesus. He told us this when He said “No one comes to the Father except through me.” St. Peter reiterates the point when he said there is no other name given to humanity by which we will be saved.
While our Lord is the way into the Kingdom of God and He serves as the gate or the door, the reality is actually more profound than this example provides. St. Paul tells us in his Letter to the Hebrews, that we have confidence to enter into the sanctuary through the new and living way, through the veil which is the flesh of Jesus. So, in order to enter into Heaven, it is not sufficient to step around, over, or past Jesus, we literally have to go through Him. As the veil in the sanctuary was torn at the moment of our Lord’s death, so now the veil separating us from Heaven has been torn open allowing us entrance.
However, while everyone is invited, not everyone will be able to pass through this entrance. Our Lord, for instance, used the analogy of the wedding garment that one had to wear in order to enter into the wedding feast of the King. So, if we are not clothed in the garments of salvation, we will not be welcomed into the banquet.
That salvation begins with the forgiveness of our sins, which St. Peter tells us in the first reading, is given in the Name of Jesus Christ. With our sins forgiven we will be clothed in the garments of grace and salvation or, as St. Peter puts it in the first reading, repent and be baptized in the Name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the Holy Spirit.
All of this sounds great and many people were convinced by what St. Peter said, but anyone can make whatever claim they wish about anyone, so there has to be some clear proof to back up their claims. This is why St. Peter would say that God has made both Lord and Christ this Jesus Whom the people had crucified. The verification of his claims is not the Cross and death of our Lord, but in His resurrection from the dead. Of course, there is no resurrection without a preceding death.
Since this is the case if we want to gain entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven, that is, into the marriage banquet of the Lamb, we have to enter through the torn veil of which St. Paul speaks. In other words, we have to enter through the Passion and death of our Lord in order to share in the resurrection. To enter any other way makes us thieves and robbers.
This is why St. Peter tells us in the second reading that when we suffer for doing what is good, it is a grace from God. More that this, he says for this we have been called because Christ suffered for us and left us an example to follow in His footsteps. So, to enter through the wounds of Jesus we have to participate in His wounds. To be crucified with Him opens the gate; to rise with Him is to enter into eternal life.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.