Sunday, May 15, 2011
I'm fine with the others - well, "the Way, the Truth and the Life" always presents a problem of exclusion for me, but I understand the situation John was in at the time.
The 'People of the Way' were taking off on their own, beginning the 'Jesus Movement' that would later become 'the church'. He was trying to get as many people 'on The Way' - the Right Way - as he could.
Actually, I'm not so fine with the whole 'Shepherd/Sheep' thing either. That's mostly because while I'm fine with Jesus as Shepherd, I'm not so comfortable being a sheep.
Maybe it's my classism. I am an Anglican, after all. It's our 'original sin'.
I get Jesus as Bread of Life (John 6:47-51), and the Light of the World (John 8:12).
The Gate (John 10:9) and the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-12) - not so much.
Jesus as 'the Resurrection and the Life' (John 10:11-12) is wonderful. "The Way, the Truth and the Life" (John 14:5-7), well, not so much, but the image of "The True Vine" (John 15:1,4) has provided me and countless others with a measure of comfort during times of separation and loneliness or grief and bereavement.
I suspect John may have been throwing out a bunch of metaphors, hoping one of the seven might stick with someone of the flock.
'The Gate' sort of leaves me cold, you know? I really have a hard time imagining Jesus not letting anyone in through The Gate. Not if, as he says, they confess and truly repent.
Indeed, I think the church - The Body of Christ - functions more as 'The Gate' than does Jesus. And, I think that makes Jesus stand at the gate and weep. I mean, it just doesn't go with some of the other things Jesus reportedly said.
Like, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28). Not some. All.
That's not to say that gates aren't necessary in this life - on this side of Paradise. They are.
One of my early teachers in Pastoral Care once used the image of a gate as something I would need, as a Pastor, in order to set good, healthy relational boundaries.
"Think of the pastoral relationship as an open field," he said. "Sometimes, it's really important to allow yourself or your flock to wander freely, to find their own nourishment. Your role is to keep watch, making sure no harm comes into the field. Because, if there's no gate, harm can come in and out as freely as they can."
"It's also important," he reminded me, "to remind yourself that you can't do it all. You have to set boundaries around the areas you know that your skills and talents can best serve."
Seemed like wise counsel to me.
He continued, "Other times, it's really important to put up a wall. A firm wall. Stone or brick. Sometimes, you need very firm, very clear boundaries between you and some of your flock, lest they begin to eat your grass and drink your water, leaving you with absolutely no nourishment, depleting your ability to tend to the others."
"A wall," he said, "can also serve to protect the flock when there's a sense of danger - whether real or perceived."
"The best pastoral relationship," he said, "is one where I imagine a large, open field with a picket fence around it. It defines the area clearly, and yet, it gives a sense of openness. The important thing is to have a gate on that fence. With a latch. The latch should face you, so you have some sense of control over who comes in and who goes out and how many come to you at a time."
Those who are familiar with Ed Friedman's Family System's concept of the 'self differentiated self' will recognize it as a visual model of that idea.
I like that metaphor very much. It has, in fact, been the model I use for pastoral relationships in community. It allows the pastoral leader to have some sense of control over the defined area of ministry and how many of the flock come in at a time for specific tending or specialized care.
Not that I've always done it well, mind you. Nevertheless, it stands as the model that has been very helpful to me over the years.
I suspect John was more describing himself and, perhaps, the pastoral relationship Jesus had with his 'flock', than portraying an image of The Realm of God.
At least, that's how I've come to understand this gospel.
I'll be heading off to church in a few minutes, followed by a presentation at the Vestry Meeting concerning their ongoing development as leaders.
I'm looking forward to my rector's sermon to see how it is that she reads this passage from John and to feed on the Word she breaks open for us before I am nourished by the Sacrament.
So, "G'wan, as my friend Margaret says, "go to church".
Jesus is waiting for you.
That's Him, right there.
The little guy. The sort of scruffy one in the sandals and the long hair. Standing by the gate.
The latch is on His side, but He'll let you in.
No promises about the shepherds He's left to tend the flock, though.
Some of them are right onery.
Not to worry. There are lots of other fields and lots of other shepherds.
Just get yourself up out of bed or off that couch, finish that last mouthful of coffee, and get yourself to church.
There are six other metaphors you can feast on while you're waiting at the gate.