Archive for the ‘Thirty-Fourth Bundle’ Category

JOHN 10:11-18

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

We have been reflecting on a deeply profound early Christian perspective on what we might call the larger identity of Jesus. According to this view, the human being whose feet left prints in the sands of Judea two thousand years ago was also the embodiment of the grace of God which transcends time itself.

It’s important we see this as a deeply creative and metaphorical way of interpreting the higher meaning of Jesus, rather than taking it as a literal description of fact. The “fact” is, there was and is a mystery connected to Jesus that simply defies all attempts to contain it with definitions and doctrines – however orthodox.

In John’s Gospel, the association between Jesus and God (as son and father) is so close and intimate that Jesus is frequently portrayed as the visible act of God’s will and the audible word of God’s voice. It is not God who raises Jesus from the dead, as in the other New Testament biographies, but Jesus-God who takes up his life of his own accord. These are not two separate beings, but two aspects of the One Being – the visible and the invisible, the temporal and the eternal, the particular and the universal.

To look at Jesus, then, is to regard him as the “door,” the “way,” or the “light” through whom the disciple is invited to pass into the abundant life and joy of the Spirit. There is no need to make an exclusive claim on behalf of Jesus, of the kind that must render all other revelations without substance or validity. Instead, by having our devotional focus trained and refined through the lens of Jesus’ gospel and living presence, we can have our vision thrown open to the grace that is everywhere present and always available.

And the way through, once again, is love.

JOHN 10:11-18

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

Who were, or are, the “other sheep” outside the fold of the twelve, for whose sake also Jesus had come? By the time the Fourth Gospel was written (c. 95 CE) the early Christian movement had been forced into a clean break from the parent traditions of Judaism, so it may be this non-Jewish mission field that the author has in mind.

The mystical tone and content of this Gospel enabled his community to see in Jesus the revelation – or more accurately, the incarnation – of an eternal and universal reality. If Jesus was the name these early Christians gave to the timely event in history that opened out to include something that was also above or behind history, then might this same outreaching grace of God have been actively present elsewhere and at the same time, but in different circles, throughout the world?

If so, then because God is at work for the redemption of all people, this single divine initiative, refracting into the many rainbow colors as it breaks into the world of time – experienced as red here, green there, and violet somewhere else – can all be known by the name of Jesus.

This is not to say that “all religion” are equally true. But those that propagate a vision for the human future that centers on genuine community, and that inspire their devotees to lives of compassion and forgiveness, might meaningfully be regarded as sheep of other folds, who recognize and respond to the voice of the good shepherd.

JOHN 10:11-18

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

The telling difference between the good and true shepherd and a hired hand is that only the former cares enough for his sheep, rather than for the reward of his earnings, to risk injury and death for their protection. When danger comes, the hired hand decides that the sheep are only “so much an hour” in value anyway, and saves himself instead. The good shepherd, on the other hand, knows his sheep and values them as having intrinsic worth – that they are “worth saving.”

In just about any life domain you can easily tell between those who are there because they believe in the cause, and those who are in it for the payoff.

One of the things that dawned on the disciples in that revolutionary moment of realization called the resurrection, is that Jesus had been genuinely committed to his cause. When the cross appeared on his horizon he didn’t calculate in the interest of his own safety and individual survival. Whereas other self-proclaimed messiahs had appeared around the same time – the named “Barabbas” of the Gospels may have been one – many had forsaken their apocalyptic visions and promises by abandoning their followers at the eleventh hour.

Not so with Jesus. He had remained focused and faithful to the bitter end, and this courageous integrity on his part authenticated his gospel in the very instant of his self-accepted martyrdom.

1 JOHN 3:16-24

16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

Now we can see that believing in the name of Jesus Christ and loving one another are really two ways of saying the same thing. In other words, Christians believe that “Jesus” names the gracious outreach of God in the form of a love that brings us to the heart of the divine Mystery itself. In naming the core we name the center around which all the other qualities and facets of God are coordinated and unified.

For that reason, Peter had been bold (but not narrow-minded!) enough to claim that there is “no other name” by which we are saved. “Jesus,” then, names not only the unique revelation of unconditional love profoundly demonstrated on the cross, but by association every form of grace, even grace itself. Importantly, such belief is not so much dogmatic as it is practical: we show we “believe in Jesus” by loving as he loved. It’s not a question of which religion is true, but how love was and is made real.

That’s why, despite the tendency in so many churches and traditions toward some type of gnosticism where correct doctrine is necessary to salvation, the authentic New Testament view is that, not the purity of our doctrine (“word and speech”) but the integrity of our love (“truth and action”) is the determining factor. And the Spirit that indwells the one who truly loves is, according to the core Christian experience (resurrection), none other than the spirit of Jesus. Our acts of love thus become present-day appearances of the risen Christ and fresh incarnations of divine grace.

1 JOHN 3:16-24

16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

The divine Mystery shows itself to be multifaceted by virtue of the countless facets (or faces) through which and by which it is felt and known. While standing here on the near side of the threshold, the symbols that have revealed and embodied the divine are a variety as numerous as the world is wide and the imagination deep.

But on the far side of the threshold, behind the symbols as it were, all this nearly overwhelming diversity resolves into a single reality – or rather, it is seen as converging in and then pouring forth from the one gracious outreach of God. Sponge away the foreground array of symbols and you are left with a Mystery wholly unknown and unknowable, but lose sight of the reality beyond and all you have is a litter of competing idols.

Throughout history, what we are calling the gracious outreach of God has brought human beings into a progressively deepening encounter with the divine reality. At first, the power of God was experienced through the events of nature, then increasingly it became personified in more human-like qualities and actions. When Jesus came, we were shown the depths and energy of love to a degree never before witnessed (or even suspected). Christians experienced this radical love of God in the person of Jesus, and that has been their name for it ever since.

PSALM 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
    he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff—
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    my whole life long.

This divine shepherd in whom the psalmist found his life, peace, and hope – is this reality continuous or possibly even identical with the saving grace that later Christians found in Jesus? We must not lose sight of what is probably the central precept of religion: that the ultimate reality and divine Mystery at the heart of things is revealed to us not directly but only through the mediation of the world itself.

In his early life as a shepherd himself, David found a relevant analogy for his relationship with and dependence upon God: his deeper security, rest, salvation, and joy were visibly revealed through the otherwise ordinary realities of a shepherd’s world. The poet’s sense of God’s loving providence was not merely an abstract notion “illustrated” by some objects round about, but rather was touched and known as materialized in these meaning-laden forms of experience.

Was it wrong for the early followers of Jesus to see in him the incarnation of this self-same grace and divine power? The symbol that reveals the Mystery behind all things itself becomes incorporated into the Mystery, as one of its “names.”

ACTS 4:5-12

The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11 This Jesus is

‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;
    it has become the cornerstone.’

12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

In order not to lose sight of the larger context of this passage, we are still dealing with the aftershocks of the miracle that Peter performed on behalf of a crippled beggar by the temple gate (Acts 3). After Peter had delivered his sermon to the thousands assembled in Solomon’s Portico, the religious leaders of the Jews had him taken, along with John, into custody for interrogation.

The next day, when they stood before the high-priestly family to profess the authority in whose name they were creating such a ruckus, Peter seized still another opportunity to speak in the name of Jesus. And it is here, in the apostle’s claim that “there is no other name given among mortals by which we must be saved,” that the Christian doctrine of exclusive salvation found its surest anchor in scripture.

Without denying the obvious meaning of the claim, we need to carefully consider the further question of what Peter and the emerging Church believed was included inside the boundaries of this reality named Jesus. Does the name refer only to the flesh-and-blood personality who walked the hills of Galilee, or is there more to it than that? In other words, was Jesus a discrete and isolated act of God at a particular point in history, or can we see him also as a manifestation in time of an eternal and timeless reality? Is it possible that “Jesus” is the name by which the early Christians came to understand the outreaching and saving grace of God – present and at work throughout the world?