February 14, 2018
Normally when we hear today’s passage, it is divorced from its context, that is, from the sign that appears just before this that precipitates Jesus discourse. But this time around, we are hearing it in relative sequence – the context was this past Sunday’s reading. Anyone remember the story we heard on Sunday? It was about the man who was born blind, whom Jesus healed and no one could make any sense of it. The formerly blind man’s friends don’t even recognize him now that he can see. The Pharisees are put out by Jesus having healed on the Sabbath, saying he is a sinner. The formerly blind man insists that Jesus can’t be a sinner if he can heal like that, and the Jewish authorities kick the man out of the synagogue. It’s a story of being in, and being out, a story of what it means to be blind, or to see, and a story of how resistant we can be to someone offering something different from what we have always known to be true.
So now, what we’re about to hear is the discourse that follows that sign and the people’s reaction to it. Jesus will offer us some familiar images, calling himself the Door (which is translated here as Gate, to fit better with the pastoral imagery) and then the Good Shepherd, but let us remember as we hear them the context to which he offers them: a man has received his sight, but been thrown out of his community, the bystanders aren’t sure what to make of someone completely shifting their worldview, and the Pharisees have just been told that although they think they can see, they in fact still live in sin (which for John mean, they lack an abiding relationship with Jesus). Now, let’s hear what Jesus has to say about that. Please rise for the Gospel acclamation.
A friend of mine from high school spent a year studying aboard in Brazil. My mom had been sort of a mentor to him, and so to thank her for helping him see some of his potential, he brought her a gift from Brazil. It was a photograph he had taken of a door. It wasn’t especially beautiful or ornate, but it was stunning in its color, its ruggedness, and in the fact that it did not seal very well so you could see the light shining around it. As I’m imagining it, I remember it maybe even being slightly ajar. When I picture the image of that door in my mind’s eye, the word that comes to mind is: possibility.
Perhaps that image is responsible for my intrigue with doors. Beautiful or plain, large or small, rugged or ornate, they all carry that same potential – when you walk through them, you walk into something different. For better or worse, what you find on the other side of the door is different from where you currently are. Inside to outside, narthex to sanctuary, hallway to classroom, cold to warm, dark to light… I often stand outside my kids’ bedroom door (they share a room), and listen to them talking together in their toddler gibberish, realizing that on the other side of that closed door they are in their own world, where they play games and have conversations to which only they are privy… and then I walk through the door and they greet me with their beautiful grins and welcome me into their world.
Walking through a door always brings with it that potential of walking into something new and amazing.
In today’s Gospel reading, we might be focused on the known and loved good shepherd image. But before Jesus calls himself the good shepherd, he calls himself the door, or the gate. He calls himself that thing by which one enter into a new possibility, a new reality. “I am the door,” he says. “Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” And then he goes on to explain what it means to be saved: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
It’s what we’ve been hearing from Jesus since he turned that water into wine even before his ministry began. When Jesus is involved, there is abundance. There is life. There is the possibility of walking through a door, and entering something new, abundant, and life-giving.
There is a particular church in the South Bronx – in a neighborhood that is high crime, and high poverty, a “bad” neighborhood. The church is located below street level. They never finished construction on the church building; they just roofed over the basement, and all that appears on the street is: a door. To some, perhaps that is all that it is – just a door – but to others, it is a very special door. For when you enter that door, you leave the peril of the street life, and you enter into a different realm: a realm in which people have identities, where they are called by name, where there is compassion and mutual support. You leave the high-tension street environment, and go into a reality of love. That door is much more than a door. It is an entry-point into a different life.
Jesus said, “I am the door.” There it is.
I find this door image to be an incredibly powerful one for us as we begin this Lenten season. A moment ago you came forward and heard those words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” as an ashen cross was traced over the oil cross you received at baptism. That’s pretty profound. I mean think about it, you willingly came up here and let me say to your face, “You are dirt,” and then smudge that reality across your forehead. Your willingness to do that tells me that in your soul you know something very important: that the only way you can ever have abundant and eternal life, is Jesus. That the only hope you have is to step through The Door that is our Lord. That if you truly want to live life abundantly, you must walk through that Door, again and again.
Today, on Ash Wednesday, we stand on the doorstep. We have gotten this far. This season of Lent is a time when we focus on what it will take to step on through the doorway. The mood and practices of the Lenten season make space to do that: It is a time when we lament and grieve where we have fallen short of our calling as disciples of Christ. It is a time when we repent of these shortcomings, and return to God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. It is a time when we keep our focus on the cross. All of these things help us know how to take that step through the Door.
As I mentioned before, this whole exchange about Jesus being the door happens by way of explanation of his healing the man blind from birth. How perfect that we are beginning our Lenten journey this year with a healing story, since our focus this year is on healing and wholeness. When we hear Jesus say, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly,” we must think about that formerly blind man. For him, the healing he craved that would offer him abundant life was to be able to see. It compels us to think for ourselves: what sort of healing do I crave? What sort of healing would help me to live into the abundant life that Jesus came to give? Or said another way, what brokenness is keeping me from walking through that door? What brokenness keeps me from having as full and abiding relationship with God as I could? In the coming days and weeks, I hope you will join me in reflecting on these questions for yourself, and seeking during these 40 days how you might find healing in whatever brokenness you experience, whether it is of body, mind or spirit. Could it be healing in an important relationship? Could it be deepening your prayer life? Could the healing you seek be in the form of more gratitude or generosity in your life? Or in seeking forgiveness for yourself or someone who has hurt you?
Christ came that we would have life and have it abundantly. Let us walk through the Door this Lenten season, following in the way of our Good Shepherd, so that we might also walk into the newness of the whole, healthy, and abundant life that God promises us in love.
Let us pray… Christ, our Door, we stand at your doorstep, eager to step into the abundant life you offer. Be with us in this Lenten season, showing us the way toward health and wholeness. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.