7 Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. John 10:7-10
A dear friend asked me what this passage from the Scriptures might mean. It is always interesting and instructive to turn to the Fathers of the Church and gain understanding. I read the words of St Cyril of Alexandria in his sermons on this passage, and the following words are my own understanding in reflection on what he says and on the words of the Scripture. They certainly provide a new and challenging insight to me as a priest.
Only through faith in Christ are we able to enter into a relationship with God. No one comes to the Father except by me. This is both objectively because of what he has done for our salvation, and subjectively, in that the relationship of interior union with God only becomes possible and effectual through the personal encounter with Christ.
But also, since he is speaking to the Pharisees who considered themselves very important, he wants to indicate that it is he, Christ our God, who admits those who are worthy to the leadership of the flock. No one can consecrate themselves. Christ both admits and also restrains and excludes. He chose the Apostles but most of the Pharisees, for all their self-righteousness and knowledge of the Law, were excluded.
The one who wishes himself to be a Shepherd without being admitted by Christ becomes a thief and a robber. But the Lord Jesus does not speak in such a way to condemn the Pharisees, rather it is with the desire for their salvation and that they might come to some insight about their true condition. Those who force themselves into some ministry or service, without the approval and will of God will become those who scatter the sheep and will do them harm.
Those who enter by the Door are known and recognised by the Lord of the flock. They have his authority and will come to no harm. While those climbing in through some other means will be recognised as robbers and will be apprehended and challenged for the sake of the flock. It is dangerous to the one forcing himself into the sheep-fold as well as for the flock. Those who enter in by the Door, into the service of the flock, and we can consider this as applying to any service, will be commended by the Lord, and will receive a reward. They are doing all their service before the eyes of the Master of the flock, and they come and go with no fear, and as causing no harm or distress to the flock, but rather producing benefit.
The thief will seek to be in control of the flock, but it will be for his own benefit, whether he sees it or not. He will steal and plunder that which does not belong to him, but belongs to the Lord of the flock, and he will use it for his own self-interest. It is possible to see if those in service, even priests, are taking from the life of the Church for themselves. It brings harm and distress to the flock. The Lord says this to the Pharisees who considered themselves among the leaders of the Jewish people, but it applies to all Christian service. When we choose it for ourselves, and demand it for ourselves, then we become harmful to others, whatever our skills and knowledge and experience, because we are acting, even unconsciously, for our own benefit.
The good shepherd, the one who is commended by God, and who is called by God, in whatever service, will bring health and comfort and peace to the flock. Everything they do will be for the advantage of the flock rather than for themselves.
That which the Pharisees and those with them offered was death. It was pride, and self-will. It was in opposition to the will of God. There was no life in it at all. But Christ came for the life of the world, and to fill men and women with the life of eternity. He came to give not only life, but something more, and this something more was participation in the life of the Holy Spirit. Those who are shepherds of the flock, in whatever ministry or service we have, are ministers of the gift and the grace of the Holy Spirit. There is life and more in the service of those who have entered by the Door. While those who have forced themselves upon the flock in self-will and in commending themselves, bring death and destruction.
How much this should cause us to consider our hearts if we have any service or rank, to be sure that we are not imposing ourselves. How much this requires humility of us, and obedience, so that we are preserved from climbing over the wall or forcing our way into the fold by some other means. When we act in obedience and humility, in the service to which God calls us, then there is life and the grace of the Holy Spirit, for ourselves and for those we serve. There is a sense of confidence and peace, and the strength of being one who does the work of a great Lord and Master.
But for those who are not in such a position of service, we should also see what the purpose of the ministry of Christ himself, and those who serve him in the Church, should be. He is the minister of life and more than life. Of the resurrection from the dead, and also of the gift of the Holy Spirit who becomes abundant life to us all.