A newlywed California couple were arrested several days ago for violating the state mandatory traveler self-quarantine mandate. Basically, they failed to keep their hotel door closed and to remain in their room. Several times they went ‘out and about’ in violation of the order that most of us have adhered to for about six weeks.
Gates and doors play a major role in the symbolism of our spiritual lives. Holman Hunts, The Light of the World, is his painting depicting Jesus knocking on a long-neglected door which has no handle on His side. The Romans were famous for erecting triumphal arches to honor their victorious generals and emperors. Then let us not forget the traditional image of life after death and those ‘pearly gates’ with St. Peter there to greet and check people in. This is a symbol that celebrates the threshold to something new, but it also carries with it the thought of closure and no entry.
The parable told by Jesus to His disciples, in today’s Gospel, tends toward the positive image of gates or entryways being always open. He tells them that He is the gate to the sheepfold, the gate to protection and safety. Even when someone like St. Thomas says that he does not know ‘the way’, how does Jesus respond? He simply says of Himself that ‘He is the way, the truth, and the life.’ He further stresses that He has come to give life and to give us life to the fullest. He is not talking about living forever on this planet. He is talking about living life to the fullest in an even better world beyond the grave. We know that we are created in the image of God. All the qualities that make up God: holiness, completeness, and life in its fullest sense. All these qualities are a great part of our makeup. We are created to know God and to live at peace with God. Life, both in this world and the world to come, is Gods greatest gift to us. So, what does a focus on eternal life do for us?
First, it should free us from all anxiety. Because eternal life will be life in God’s presence, there we know we can handle anything that comes our way. Through Jesus Christ, God gave His life to remove any separation between us and Him. Then focusing on eternal life also frees us for generosity. It is not about money or things of this world. We are talking about a generosity of spirit that is motivated by love. Knowing that our life belongs to a loving and generous God frees us to live with a generosity of spirit that we have inherited from Him. This is what ‘fired up’ the early disciples to be so bold in proclaiming Jesus Christ, risen and freed from human death. That was the guarantee given to His followers who believed and remained faithful to Him.
Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles places a great deal of importance on Baptism as a sign of the activity of the Spirit of God, upon the ‘breaking of the bread’ as a unifying meal, and following the Apostles teaching, prayer-life, and sense of fellowship. These are to be the keys or tools that one needs to get through to the gate-of-heaven. The sense of awe that permeated the lives of the first disciples not only bound them to God but also to one another. The phrase that is repeated oftentimes these days… “we are in this together” is what they believed and proclaimed back in the first century. Therefore, eternal life included everyone in seeking and sharing in it.
Gates and doors can also represent openness and closure. We now lock our doors much more than we did in the past, and even church doors are kept locked for security reasons. These fears and habits inevitability make it much more difficult for us to understand or live by the practices offered by Jesus. When we look at the life of Jesus, we do not have to question Gods existence and His purposes anymore. Gods purpose is for us to live eternally in God’s presence where there is joy and peace and rest from all forms of anxiety and want. That is what Jesus lived for and died for. Don’t you want to know there is something worth living and dying for that is greater than this ordinary life? If you are not sure, then have you ever said of a loved one who died “that they are in a better place?”
That newlywed couple from California hopefully learned an important lesson about our quarantine rules. There are times when closed doors help ensure life. We Christians hopefully have learned another lesson. Jesus always keeps the door open that leads to eternal life. He has given us the necessary keys, use them!