A Poem and a Meditation for Good Shepherd Sunday

AgnusDei

The Lamb of God, from a c. 7th century altar in Rome. Source.

First, the poem, “Here in the Psalm,” by Sally Fischer:

I am a sheep
and I like it
because the grass
I lie down in
feels good and the still
waters are restful and right
there if I’m thirsty
and though some valleys
are very chilly there is a long
rod that prods me so I
direct my hooves
the right way
though today
I’m trying hard
to sit at a table
because it’s expected
required really
and my enemies—
it turns out I have enemies—
are watching me eat and
spill my drink
but I don’t worry because
all my enemies do
is watch and I know
I’m safe if I will
just do my best
as I sit on this chair
that wobbles a bit
in the grass
on the side of a hill.

I first discovered the text thanks to Brian Miller, who keeps up one of the better Conservative and Anglo-Catholic blogs I know.

Next, a quick thought. Today’s Gospel, taken from St. John, reads:

Jesus said:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own,
he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.” Although Jesus used this figure of speech, the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them.

So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

When I heard this passage read tonight (at my last 9:00pm Chapel Mass, a venerable UVA tradition), I had a sudden realization. Our Lord is making a point about the Church Universal. Christ says that He is the Gate, though any sensible exegesis would have to account for the verse that follows immediately after the conclusion of today’s Gospel: “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11 KJV). That’s all very well, but who is the “gatekeeper,” mentioned briefly before disappearing immediately into the wings? We are told that he “opens” the gate, Christ, for the Shepherd, also Christ. Only this one figure remains unexplained as Our Lord answers the Pharisees. Who, then, is the gatekeeper?

The Fathers hold differing opinions on this matter. To quote the Catena Aurea:

Chrysostom: The porter perhaps is Moses, for to him the oracles of God were committed.

Theophylact: Or, the Holy Spirit is the porter, by whom the Scriptures are unlocked, and reveal the truth to us.

Augustine: Or, the porter is our Lord Himself; for there is much less difference between a door and a porter, than between a door and a shepherd. And He has called Himself both the door and the shepherd. Why then not the door and the porter? He opens Himself, i.e. reveals Himself. If you seek another person for porter, take the Holy Spirit, of whom our Lord below said, He will guide you into all truth. The door is Christ, the Truth; who opens the door, but He that will guide you into all Truth? Whomsoever you understand here, beware that you esteem not the porter greater than the door; for in our houses the porter ranks above the door, not the door above the porter.

All of these are possibilities. St. Augustine’s insight, combined with that of Theophylact, is particularly helpful, as it opens the text to a Trinitarian exegesis. It is, of course, dangerous to depart from the Fathers. Nevertheless, I must put forward yet another opinion. I considered that perhaps Our Lady of St. John the Baptist might be good candidates, but ultimately, I found both of these options lacking for a singular reason.

Who is the gatekeeper? Who but the one who holds the keys? Who but St. Peter? For do we not read Our Lord’s words in St. Matthew’s Gospel,

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Mat. 16:18-19 KJV)

The Gatekeeper is the Roman Pontiff, successor of St. Peter, he who keeps the keys to the kingdom of Heaven.

St.PeterApostle

Prince of the Apostles and Vicar of Christ. Source.

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