On December 8, Pope Francis will inaugurate the year of Mercy for the Catholic Church. The announcement was made months ago in front of the doors of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. And it will begin with a symbolic opening of these doors. In John 10: 7 Jesus says that he is the door.
Doors can be a means of exclusion or place of invitation. Martin Luther nailed his thesis onto the Cathedral doors of Wittenberg and so began the Protestant Reformation. In Greek, the language of the New Testament, the word for door “Θυρα” (pronounced Thura) is also a root word for the word shield. But Jesus spoke Hebrew. And he called himself a door. To the ancient Jewish ear, this would have been a very strange idiomatic expression. As door in Hebrew is “deleth.” We think of the word “door,” and we might have a modern understanding of a fancy wooden entryway. But “deleth” comes from the root word “dâlâh” which means to hang down and it also means weak, feeble and delicate. Finally, another word in this word family is “dâlîyth” and it means boughs or branches, as hanging from a tree.
But as with many things in Christianity, we find the genesis of our faith in the signs and the symbols in Ancient Judaism. One of these is the symbolism of the door. The rabbinical wisdom teaches that doors, in addition to providing shelter and protection, provide privacy. The door is that which separates the public person from the private person, the external self from the internal self. In the privacy of one’s home a person lets down his or her defenses, where a person can let go of things, and his or her facades tend to fall away. Through the door, a person is free to be the best or perhaps even the worst, of who he or she is. The true self is revealed. The door to one’s home is that threshold — from the superficial “you” to the real “you.”
On the first Passover, the Jewish people were admonished to place blood on the doorposts so that they may be delivered from death and go on to the Promised Land. Not on a window, or on the floor. What is the symbolism of this? The Christian thinks of the horizontal beam and the vertical beam and the blood of the cross and how the Angel of Death will pass them over so they too may enter the eternal promised land of heaven. The Jews had to be ready. They had to eat the lamb. They had to be prepared. But more than that, they had to be ready to bring their “real” selves from the privacy of their home into the wilderness before they could go into the Promised Land.
Jesus said he is the door, but he is also the shield, and he also hangs from a tree offering mercy to all who come to him. Many still bang their grievances against this door . . . but they will find his heart isn’t closed. But we have to give some things up before we can get to the Promised Land. We enter the year of Mercy. The door is open.