I Am the Door
Gospel Reflection for April 30, 2023, the Fourth Sunday of Easter - John 10:1-10
Amen, amen I say to you: He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up another way, the same is a thief and a robber.
But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.
To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.
And when he hath let out his own sheep, he goeth before them: and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice.
But a stranger they follow not, but fly from him, because they know not the voice of strangers.
This proverb Jesus spoke to them. But they understood not what he spoke to them.
Jesus therefore said to them again: Amen, amen I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.
All others, as many as have come, are thieves and robbers: and the sheep heard them not.
I am the door. By me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved: and he shall go in, and go out, and shall find pastures.
The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly. (John 10:1-10 DRA)
In the Gospel reading for this Sunday, Christ gives His Church another beautiful and endlessly fascinating parable which, like all His others, has been a fathomless mine for treasures ever since and remains as relevant today as when it was first spoken. The Church Fathers are invaluable in unpacking the deeper meaning and signification in this parable.
St. Augustine explains precisely who are the thieves and robbers referred to by Our Lord: “Understand, All that ever came at variance with Me. The Prophets were not at variance with Him… His humble advent in the flesh was preceded by just men, who believed on Him as about to come, as we believe on Him come. The times are different, the faith is the same.” He also reminded that many people in the world and throughout history have claimed to be “good people” and to lead to their own version of Paradise, even to “correct” the Gospel given by Christ with their new, more tolerant and accepting “kindness,” yet without the Law and grace, the rod and staff of Christ, charity becomes merely a pointless humanism prone to error: “A good life only profiteth, as leading to life eternal. Indeed those cannot be said to lead a good life, who are either blindly ignorant of, or wilfully despise, the end of good living. No one can hope for eternal life, who knows not Christ, who is the life, and by that door enters into the fold… Such men generally try to persuade others that they may live well, and not be Christians.” (Catena Aurea) St. John Chrysostom also connects the thieves and robbers “to Antichrist, and to certain false Christs who had been, and were to be” while Theophylact teaches, “Mystically, the thief is the devil, steals by wicked thoughts, kills by the assent of the mind to them, and destroys by acts.” (Catena Aurea) These are thus equivalent to the world, the flesh and the devil as the sources of sin.
The identity of the porter is more mysterious. Chrysostom connects the porter to Moses, as the one by whom the Law was given, while Theophylact sees the porter as the Holy Spirit who opens the Scriptures for us and St. Augustine believes the porter could be simply Christ, just as both the door and the shepherd (verse 11) refer to Our Lord. However, St. Augustine also notes that the question remains open. (Catena Aurea) In my opinion, the porter is the Magisterium, the apostles and their bishop successors, since it is from the apostles that we receive Scripture and Tradition, as well as the grace of the Sacraments, and by whose arbitration are the signs of the times discerned and judged; the Magisterium is thus the one who opens the door for the shepherd, recognizing Him and only allowing Him through the door. Heretics and those who mislead the faithful are the “strangers” who attempt to violate the authority of the Church and bypass its protective walls. This imagery is reminiscent of an Eastern iconostasis, whose central doors only the priest, the representative of Christ, can go through.
From this, the Church Fathers further reasoned that Christ, as Son of God and Son of man, is the door as the Scriptures, through which we receive the Word in human words, as well as the shepherd who knows His sheep by name and, unlike an ordinary shepherd who follows behind the sheep, leads us from the front as our High Priest, and He is also the sheep themselves as we are the Body of Christ: “According to the office which He bears, He is in one place the Shepherd, in another the Sheep. In that He introduces us to the Father, He is the Door; in that He takes care of us, He is the Shepherd.” (Chrysostom, Catena Aurea) This further illustrates the infinite depths of Christ’s parables.
Finally, St. Augustine gives a poignant reminder: not all sheep follow the shepherd, nor are all wolves outside the door: “Sometimes they who are not sheep hear Christ’s voice; for Judas heard, who was a wolf. And sometimes the sheep hear Him not; for they who crucified Christ heard not; yet some of them were His sheep… He calls it a stray sheep, but yet a sheep all the while; though, if it strayed, it could not have heard the voice of the Shepherd, but the voice of a stranger. What I say then is this; The Lord knoweth them that are His. (2 Tim. 2:19) He knoweth the foreknown, he knoweth the predestinated. They are the sheep: for a time they know not themselves, but the Shepherd knows them; for many sheep are without the fold, many wolves within. He speaks then of the predestinated. And now the difficulty is solved. The sheep do hear the Shepherd’s voice, and they only.” (Catena Aurea)
The sheep are those whom God has called and predestined for union with Christ, who recognize His voice; some are already in the fold, some are not, awaiting evangelization, for the porters and the sheep to “go out” and lead the outer sheep “into” the true fold and the pasture of salvation. However, there are also wolves, as strange robbers and thieves, impersonating Christ and seeking to steal the sheep, wherever they are, and to kill them through eternal damnation. The porters of the Church, especially the pope and bishops, and all Christians are called to point out and defeat these wolves for the sake of the sheep. Likewise, one joins the true sheepfold of Christ by imitating Him, and this is the true meaning of discipleship, as St. Peter taught in the Epistle: “He enters by the door, who enters by Christ, who imitates the suffering of Christ, who is acquainted with the humility of Christ, so as to feel and know, that if God became man for us, man should not think himself God, but man. He who being man wishes to appear God, does not imitate Him, who being God, became man. Thou art bid to think less of thyself than thou art, but to know what thou art.” (St. Augustine, Catena Aurea)