Word on Wednesday – by John Mason
“I am the Gate…” – March 29, 2017
Blaise Pascal, 17th century French mathematician and philosopher asked: ‘Is life simply a journey… a great mysterious search for the unknown and unknowable? We desire truth and find in ourselves nothing but uncertainty. We seek happiness and find only wretchedness and death. We are incapable of not desiring truth and happiness and incapable of either certainty or happiness.’
It is one of life’s ironies that men and women choose to reject the voice of a man who stands unique in history. I’m speaking of Jesus. Yet, ironically, despite the riches of his teaching, the depth of debate he brought against some of the sharpest minds of his day, the remarkable powers and compassion he showed for people in need, many of ‘the elites’ today reject him – usually on the basis of secondary opinion.
In the interests of recovering the words of Jesus himself, let me quote John 10:7-10: So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly…”
These are amongst the most startling words we find in John’s Gospel. In saying, “I am the gate”,
Jesus distinguishes himself from others, who are not just rivals, but thieves and robbers – criminals.
Who were these people? The Jewish leaders of his day were his contemporaries – they didn’t come before him. Rather, Jesus is referring to the false messiahs who had arisen in Israel and with whom he was constantly in danger of being confused. We know from other sources that there were many charismatic leaders in the century or so before Jesus’ ministry.
It’s not surprising Jesus references them because he was so unlike the political and religious activists of his day. John the Gospel writer wants us to understand this. He doesn’t want us to think that Jesus was a political Messiah. He certainly was not.
We see the force of Jesus’ words: the false messiahs used violence. They attempted to free Israel from Rome’s rule by revolution. Most of them were freedom fighters, even terrorists. Sometimes they even spoke in messianic terms; some even used the title, ‘Shepherd’, because Ezekiel had used this term in speaking of the Messiah.
When Jesus said, “All who ever came before me are thieves and robbers” he was saying that everyone who had claimed messianic titles had been imposters. So when he says, “I am the gate”, he is saying that he is the only one who is the true Messiah. The way to the promised Kingdom of God, and therefore to life, is through him alone.
When we think about it, Jesus’s words have a direct relevance for us today. The only real hope for a future that liberal progressivism has to offer is some kind of humanistic utopia – which can only be temporary at best.
Indeed, there are hints of Karl Marx’s thinking when he said people could only discover their true happiness or fulfillment through liberating themselves from economic oppression and exploitation. He taught thata only when all the old alienations are dissolved could men and women be free to develop their full human potential.
The false messiahs in Jesus’ day had a similar theme. For them imperialism was the problem. ‘If we can overthrow the Romans then the kingdom of God will arrive.’
It’s against this false messianic voice that Jesus speaks. ‘Don’t be duped’, he says. ‘These people have no respect for personal property – they come to steal. They have a ruthless indifference to human life – they come to silence, and if necessary, to kill. They have an irrational contempt for anything of value – they come to destroy.’
The 20th century witnessed the appalling criminality of revolutionary movements. Millions perished under Lenin, Stalin and Mao, under Pol Pot and Idi Amin, not forgetting Hitler. Yet no perfect society of peace and justice has emerged.
In fact Jesus’ words are vindicated. And even more so through his death and resurrection! The progressive humanist dream of a radically new society will not provide long-term, satisfying answers to our questions about life.
“I am the gate,…” Jesus said. He, and nobody else, has come that we might have life. When we go his way we find true liberty – we can come and go; we find true deliverance – we are rescued from the curse of self; we find meaning and fulfillment – we find pasture. Significantly, to fulfil his words Jesus didn’t wield a sword: he carried a cross.
Prayer: Almighty God, the protector of all who put their trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply your mercy upon us, so that with you as our shepherd, ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal that we finally lose not the things eternal: grant this, heavenly Father, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. (BCP, Trinity 4 – adapted)
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