02 June 2009

The Door Of The Sheep

From the Gospel of Saint John (10:1-10)
Amen, amen I say to you: He that enters not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbs up another way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that enters in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter opens; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out. And when he has let out his own sheep, he goes 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 enters in, he shall be saved: and he shall go in, and go out, and shall find pastures. The thief comes 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.

A Homily by Saint Augustine
There are many who, according to a custom of this life, are called good people -- observers as it were of what is commanded in the law -- observing all that the law requires, yet are not Christians; and for the most part ask, "Are we blind also?" The Lord has set forth the similitude of His own flock, and of the Door that leads into the sheepfold. Pagans may say, then, “We live well.” If they enter not by the Door, what good will that do them? For to this end shouldn’t good living benefit every one, that it may be given to him to live forever? For to whom eternal life is not given, of what benefit is living well? No one has the true and certain hope of living always, unless he knows the Life, that it is Christ; and enters by the Gate into the sheepfold.

The Pharisees were in the habit of reading, and in what they read, their voices re-echoed the Christ, they hoped He would come; they boasted, of being among the wise, and they disowned the Christ, and entered not in by the Door. Whoever would enter the sheepfold, let him enter by the Door; let him preach the true Christ. Not only let him preach the true Christ, but seek Christ's glory, not his own; for many, by seeking their own glory, have scattered Christ's sheep, instead of gathering them. For Christ the Lord is a low Gateway: he who enters by this Gateway must humble himself. But he that is not humble, but exalts himself, wishes to climb over the wall; and he that climbs over the wall, is exalted only to fall.

The Lord Jesus speaks in covert language; not as yet is He understood. He names the Door, He names the sheepfold, He names the sheep. All this He sets forth, but does not yet explain. For He gives us what is plain, for food; what is obscure, for exercise. “He that enters in by the Door is the shepherd of the sheep: to him the porter opens.” Concerning this porter we shall make inquiry, when we have heard of the Lord Himself what is the door and who is the shepherd. “And the sheep hear his voice: and he calls his own sheep by name.” For He has their names written in the book of life! “He calls his own sheep by name.” Hence, says the apostle, “The Lord knows them that are His -- and He leads them out. And when He brings forth His own sheep, he goes before them, and the sheep follow Him: for they know His Voice. And a stranger do they not follow, but flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.” These are veiled words, full of topics of inquiry, filled with sacramental signs. Let us follow then, and listen to the Master as He makes some opening into these obscurities; and perhaps by the opening He makes, He will cause us to enter.

“This proverb Jesus spoke to them; but they understood not what He spoke to them.” Nor we also, perhaps! As we listen to these words with a pious mind, in as far as, before we understand them, we believe them to be true and divine. It has said the truth, and what it has said is good, but we do not understand it. He that believes knocks, that he may be worthy to have it opened up to him, if he continues knocking.

Jesus Himself is the Door. We have come to know it; let us enter, or rejoice that we are already within. “All others, as many as have come, are thieves and robbers.” Before His coming came the prophets: were they thieves and robbers? God forbid! They did not come apart from Him, for they came with Him. When He was about to come, He sent heralds, but retained possession of the hearts of His messengers. If He is the truth, with Him came those who were truthful. As many, therefore, as were apart from Him, were "thieves and robbers," that is, had come to steal and to destroy.

“But the sheep did not hear them.” This is a more important point, “the sheep did not hear them.” Before the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ, when He came in humility in the flesh, righteous men preceded, believing in the same way in Him Who was to come, as we believe in Him Who has come. Times vary, but not faith. He is to come, has one sound; He has come, has another: there is a change in the sound between He is to come, and He has come: yet the same faith unites both -- both those who believed that He would come, and those who have believed that He has come. At different times, indeed, but by the one Doorway of faith, that is, by Christ, do we see that both have entered. We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin, that He came in the flesh, suffered, rose again, ascended into heaven. In that faith a partnership is also held with us by those fathers who believed that He would be born of the Virgin, would suffer, would rise again, would ascend into heaven; for to such the apostle pointed when he said, “But we having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak.” The prophet said, “I believed, therefore have I spoken.” The apostle says, "We also believe, and therefore speak.” But to let you know that their faith is one, listen to him saying, “Having the same spirit of faith, we also believe.” So also in another place, “For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea: and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat, and did all drink the same spiritual drink.” The Red Sea signifies baptism; Moses, their leader through the Red Sea, signifies Christ; the people, who passed through, signify believers; the death of the Egyptians signifies the abolition of sins. Under different signs there is the same faith. As many, then, at that time believed, whether Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob, or Moses, or the other patriarchs or prophets who foretold of Christ, were sheep, and heard Christ. His Voice, and not another's, did they hear.

Why is it, then, that I have said: This is a more important point? What is there about it obscure and difficult to understand? Listen, I beseech you. See, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself came and preached. Much more surely was that the Shepherd's Voice which was uttered by the very Mouth of the Shepherd. For if the Shepherd's Voice came through the prophets, how much more did the Shepherd's own Tongue give utterance to the Shepherd's Voice? Yet all did not hear Him. What are we to think? Those who did hear, were they sheep? Judas heard, and was a wolf: he followed, but, clad in sheep-skin, he was laying snares for the Shepherd. Some, again, of those who crucified Christ did not hear, and yet were sheep; for such He saw in the crowd when He said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then shall you know that I am He.” Now, how is this question to be solved? They that are not sheep do hear, and they that are sheep do not hear. Some, who are wolves, follow the Shepherd's Voice; and some, that are sheep, contradict it. Last of all, the sheep slay the Shepherd. The point is solved; for someone in reply says. But when they did not hear, as yet they were not sheep, they were then wolves: the voice, when it was heard, changed them, and out of wolves transformed them into sheep; and so, when they became sheep, they heard, and found the Shepherd, and followed Him. They built their hopes on the Shepherd's promises, because they obeyed His precepts.

“The Lord knows them that are His.” Such sometimes do not know themselves, but the Shepherd knows them, according to the foreknowledge of God. According, then, to this Divine foreknowledge, how many sheep are outside, how many wolves within, and how many sheep are inside, how many wolves without! How many are blaspheming Christ who will yet believe in Him! Nevertheless at present they are hearing the voice of another, they are following strangers. In like manner, how many are praising within who will yet blaspheme; are standing who will by and by fall! These are not the sheep. For we speak of those who were predestinated -- of those whom the Lord knows are His; and yet these, so long as they keep right, listen to the Voice of Christ. These hear, the others do not; and yet, according to predestination, these are not sheep, while the others are.

One has come to Christ, and has heard word after word of one kind and another, all of them true, all of them salutary; and among all the rest is also this utterance, "He that endures to the end, the same shall be saved." He who has heard this is one of the sheep. But there was, perhaps, some one listening to it, who treated it with dislike, with coldness, and heard it as that of a stranger. If he was predestinated, he strayed for the time, but he was not lost for ever: he returns to hear what he has neglected, to do what he has heard. For if he is one of those who are predestinated, then both his very wandering and his future conversion have been foreknown by God: if he has strayed away, he will return to hear that Voice of the Shepherd. A good voice, brethren, it is; true and shepherd-like, the very voice of salvation in the tabernacles of the righteous. For it is easy to hear Christ, easy to praise the Gospel, easy to applaud the preacher: but to endure unto the end, is peculiar to the sheep who hear the Shepherd's Voice. A temptation befalls you; you endure to the end, for the temptation will not endure to the end. And what is that end to which you shall endure? Even till you reach the end of your pathway. For as long as you do not hear Christ, He is your adversary in the pathway, that is, in this mortal life. And what does He say? “Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are in the way with Him.” You have heard, have believed, have agreed. If you have been at enmity, agree. If you have the opportunity of coming to an agreement, keep up the quarrel no longer. For you do not know when your way will be ended, and it is known to Him. If you are a sheep, and if you endure to the end, you shall be saved.

According to my ability, as He gave me, I have either explained to you or gone over with you a subject of great profundity. If any have failed fully to understand, let him retain his piety, and the truth will be revealed. Let all of us be guided by Him to Whom we say, "Lead me, O Lord, in Your way, and I will walk in Your truth.”