Frankie’s Deli and Lessons About Gatekeeping
May 3 2020 Easter 4
Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:1-10
My first year in NYC I was in a Dorm room. There was no kitchen. Not on my floor, no in the dormitory. There was a refectory that feeds us lunch and dinner but not on the weekends. So, I pretty much got fed by a guy named Frankie and his employee Jose.
A counter, and 112 different sandwiches.
Frankie ran the deli on the corner of 9th ave and 20th.
Egg Bacon sandwich 1.60. 8 oz coffee 50 cents for 2.50 I had breakfast, walked the dog and Zack the wonderdog would get a slice of roast beef. Frankie would shop in New Jersey, where he lived and would bring everything in with him in his van. That is why it was so inexpensive.
Frankie, fed a lot of people, there was a woman from the DR that he fed twice a day and I am pretty sure she got a cheaper rate than I did, she was poor and in a rent-controlled apartment and Frankie and his guys took care of her.
Frankie fed everyone, some paid full price, some did not, and often some of us got a bigger portion. If Jose liked you, you got a bigger sandwich. Some of the people who came into the store were newish and rude. Seminarians were so earnest wanting to be nice we did okay in making a good first impression.
Frankie and Jose were not Jesus, they were Gatekeepers. You were rude or unhelpful to the others in the bodega well, you got less, there was not a way to set back in his good graces.
This gospel of John could be read as Jesus as a gatekeeper and obviously we struggle with Jesus as a gatekeeper and by extension the church as a gatekeeper. Because it is not helpful. We do not have a punishing religion the gate cannot be a border that closes or a metro turnstile we have to pay for to get thru. If it is it does not work for me. It does not fit with my theology.
Yet, what if there is something that I am missing about this gospel? I mean when you have clearly been told that you are out, that is the only way that you have heard the story. Yet if we can think about Jesus as not the gatekeeper but the gate. John’s gospel clearly says that I am the gate, and you hear my voice. So we make Jesus the gatekeeper…it makes sense in a literal way. But if we look at it as a metaphor and hear the image.
What if all the aspirational things that we are called to do and be in the world, our High mindedness, our desire to bring more love more light more god, more goodness into the world. What if our desire for a good orderly direction is the moving in and moving out of the sheep gate. What if it is our life with goodness and grace that we have as we move back and forth.
The Metaphor of being called to move back and forth by the calling of Jesus, or wanting to create more good in the world needs to be what we focus on. It is not the saved and the unsaved.
Our sense of marking time and place is why the metaphor can work for us because it is so deep within us. The disruption of time and place by pandemic and stay at home orders hits us at the core of our being. Added to that the uncertainty of this whole situation. And we have stepped into grief that is profound and that we have to deal with it.
Frankie and Jose had all sorts of unwritten rules about who they would help and reach out to, and yet on the week of 9-11 in NYC, all those rules went out the window. They fed all of us and since we did not have cash, there was no cash the ATMs were empty for a couple of weeks. They ran a tab and we paid them back as we could. No one got a bigger sandwich that month we all got the same. These two guys running a bodega with rock bottom prices stopped being a gatekeeper and became the gate, everyone flowed in and flowed out. We all were the same. IF you were hungry they fed you until they were out of food too.
Things slowly went back to normal after the crisis of 9-11. 2 months after the towers came down, things were back at the Deli. It was a human reaction. We are called people and we are called into living more as a gate than a gatekeeper. So we work towards that, reaching out to each other, checking in on each other, and trying to stay connected.
We need to also work on setting aside time to take a little bite of the grief we are feeling, to feel sad about the world, and those who are suffering, it is the way in which we move from being a gatekeeper to being a gate.
And for that I say thanks be to God.