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.
In a consumerist society such as ours, one based on the belief that more choice equals more truth, the words of Jesus in the Gospel appointed for the Feast of St. Timothy cannot but send a shiver down the back. We are taught, indeed groomed, to believe that only by keeping our options open, by having a wide array of choices, and through our opinions being consulted and valued, can we be content with our leaders. But Jesus has another vision.
He is the gate; he is the way into the sheepfold. He provides not a smorgasbord of options but a simple choice: either accept him as the Lord, or not. Why? And how can we proclaim this today?
He does this because there is only one way to gain entrance before God: that is to be like God. We were created in the Image and Likeness of God, but we have settled for something less, something ungodly. Christ offers the unique way back, and at the same time forward, to our identity. He makes possible the renewal of the Image and cleansing of the Likeness in us. He shares his life with that we might enter and stand before God again. But we must enter as he does: through the gateway of humility, mercy, compassion, love. This is the gate; this is the way to God. Jesus embodies it; he is it. There is no other way, no shortcut over the fence, or through a gap in the wall. There is only his way. This is why he must say these words. They are the truth we must hear and live.
Every time we focus on choices and options, we are really asking for the easy way of discipleship, the way that requires no personal transformation, no growth in hard-won compassion. The prayer for this day reminds us that it is through enduring hardship, not in avoiding it, that our holiness is wrought. The ‘godly and righteous’ lives of the saints we laud in our worship must set the standard and pattern for our own lives. Anything less is bleak hypocrisy.
A Christian is really a Christian when he or she knows that the disciple’s back is against the wall, and the time of choices has ended. There is only one way to the peace we seek: it is the way of Jesus, the way of love. When we accept this and then choose to love another person not because they are like us, but precisely because they are unlike us in every way except that Jesus has loved them as well…then we are taking the Jesus way, the unique way into the pasturage the human soul desires above all else. Only when Christians themselves have decided to walk through the Gate, and no longer make our own stolen entries on our own terms, will our witness to the world be righteous and godly. Pray this week we may live such conscious lives before our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Almighty God, you called Timothy and Titus to be evangelists and teachers, and made them strong to endure hardship: Strengthen us to stand fast in adversity, and to live godly and righteous lives in this present time, that with sure confidence we may look for our blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.