The Jesus Door
I can’t remember the first time I watched The Wizard of Oz. Surely, it was sometime early in my childhood. What I do remember vividly is being absolutely petrified whenever the wicked witch of the west would cackle or her flying monkeys would darken the sky. I sat anxiously as Dorothy and her traveling company arrived before the massive door to Emerald City, praying that the doorkeeper would let them in quickly so that they would be out of harm’s way.
I can’t remember the first time I read the Gospel of John. Whenever I did, I remember feeling as if I were visiting a different world than the one presented in Mark, Matthew, and Luke. John’s Gospel is a world where Jesus reveals identifying secrets about himself. He says, “I am the bread of life.” “I am the living water.” “I am the resurrection and the life.” “I am the light of the world.” And, just after today’s text, Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.”
While I did not grow up in an agrarian setting, I have learned to appreciate the poetic beauty of being shepherded by God, being tended to by God’s loving care like a wandering sheep. The Psalmist declares, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” The old church tune implores, “Savior, like a Shepherd lead us, much we need your tender care.” Worried about who would succeed him, Moses asked God, “Who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep without a shepherd.”
Chapter Ten is full of sheep and shepherd imagery, but it begins with a related but a different image. Jesus says, “I am the door. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”
The Bible has a lot to say about doors. In Genesis sin hovers at the “door” like an interloper awaiting entry. At the other end of the Bible, in Revelation, Jesus stands at the “door” and knocks, awaiting our welcome. But, nowhere other than here in John’s Gospel does Jesus say about himself, “I am the door.” At Christian funerals, you will hear, “I am the resurrection and the life” and during communion, you will hear, “I am the bread of life.” But, “I am the door” falls rather flat on the ear. The finest poets and musicians have left this image alone, doubtful that the image of the door will stir anyone’s religious passion.
Some doors, though, do stir passion but not necessarily of a welcome kind. In fact, many of my memories of doors are images I would love to erase. One summer in my childhood when I was helping my cousins harvest tobacco in eastern North Carolina, I remember seeing what was written on the door to a public restroom. It read, “Whites Only.” It is a door I have never been able to forget.
Early in my ministry, I remember standing before a door, a gate really, that separated Romania from Hungary before the Iron Curtain fell. The sign on the door/the gate read, “Illegal Entry” and soldiers with machine guns were positioned in nearby trees to reinforce the message, each with a weapon aimed at our delegation.
Too many doors in the world are like those doors; designed to close people out or to keep people trapped within. Some are the locked door of psychiatric units, formidable doors reminding us of the demobilizing struggle of mental illness. Some are the invisible and immense steel doors of poverty that block children from having any more hope in this life than what a pair of name-brand sneakers can give.
Too many doors close out or lock in. More than a few of those doors slammed in Jesus’ face. He responded not with a call to take up arms, not by writing a manual on how to get retribution, not by insisting on having all that was rightfully his. Jesus looked around at both walled in and closed out people and said, “I am the door; anyone who comes in the fold through me will be safe. She will go in and out and find pasture.”
Peter Marty tells the story of a door in San Francisco that leads to the dining room of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church. Hundreds of hungry homeless citizens eat in that dining room and pass under that doorway each year. As they do, they pass under the inscription that reads, “Caritate Dei.”
“One day a young mechanic, just released from jail and new to St. Anthony’s, entered the door and sat down for a meal. A woman was busy cleaning the adjoining table. ‘When do we get on our knees and do the chores, lady?’ he asked. ‘You don’t’, she replied, ‘Then when’s the sermon comin’?’ he inquired. ‘Aren’t any’, she said, ‘How ‘bout the lecture on life, huh?’ ‘not here’, she said.
“The man was suspicious. ‘Then what’s the gimmick?’ The woman pointed to the inscription over the door. He squinted at the sign. ‘What’s it mean, lady?’ ‘Out of love for God’, she said with a smile, and moved on to another table.” “Caritate Dei.” Out of love for God. Jesus stands at that door for anyone who has ever been or is now shut out or locked inside.
You and I walk through all kinds of doors in this life. Some saunter through University doors convinced that more education equals more happiness. And sometimes it does. Some stroll through corporate doorways certain that the next promotion will lead to prosperity and joy. And sometimes it does. Some strut through socially or racially or gender exclusive doorways confident that by keeping people out that all will be happy within. And, sadly, sometimes they are.
Jesus invites us to rethink every door we have ever seen, ever walked through. He says, “I am the door. Open the door and there is no lecture waiting for you. No sermon you must sit through. No monthly dues you must pay.” No, the “Jesus door” swings open wider than any other door and stays wide open while people test all other allegedly superior doors.
Jesus says, “If you have lots of money, I am the door.” He says, “If you are in debt beyond belief, I am the door.” “If you live in the comfort of royalty,” says Jesus, “I am the door.” “If you live on the streets,” says Jesus, “I am the door.” “If you are straight, gay, transgender, white, Hispanic, black,” says Jesus, “I am the door.” “If you are Republican or Democrat, Libertarian or Socialist,” says Jesus, “I am the door.” The Jesus door opens wider the sum of all of our combined imaginations. Caritate Dei is the welcome mat for the “Jesus door.”
A word of warning, though. Open the “Jesus door” at your own risk. Open that door and you may find yourself spending hours helping a refugee family resettle in our area. Open that door and you may find yourself reading the Word of God more than you read the Wall Street Journal. Open that door and you may find your heart strangely warmed whenever the waters of baptism flow, knowing that someone has just entered the finest club in which any of us will ever belong.
Open the “Jesus door” and you may find yourself sitting with people you have been taught to avoid since childhood. Open the “Jesus door” and you may finally find your way home. And when you do open the “Jesus door,” you are also likely to find some family members and neighbors and colleagues looking at you like you have lost your mind.
When they give you that undeniable look of disapproval or disbelief, show them the door! The “Jesus door.” Caritate Dei. Out of love for God, show them the “Jesus door.”