Posts Tagged ‘John 10’

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.

JOHN 10:1-10

“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.10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

This is where it becomes critical to keep in mind that the Gospel writer (of John) is giving us his presentation of Jesus after a half-century of history has already passed under the bridge. Any responsible reading of the Gospels needs to distinguish between the First Voice of Jesus himself and what the author might have Jesus say or do in response to his own (the author’s) context of challenges and concerns.

By way of illustration, just setting side by side the Gospels of Mark and John will reveal two very different Jesuses – however awkward that sounds. The direct, urgent, and concrete teaching of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel cannot be matched across the aisle with the lofty, abstract, and metaphysical teachings of Jesus in John. To put it baldly: they are not the same Jesus.

It helps to know that Mark was written during a time of rising apocalyptic expectations, out of the fray of the Jewish-Roman War that climaxed with the temple’s destruction in Jerusalem. John, on the other hand, came after the messianic sect of Christians had separated from Judaism and begun its productive conversation with Greek gnosticism and the mystery religions. Had the author of Mark opened John’s Life of Jesus, he would doubtless have been baffled and very possibly not even recognized the Jesus presented therein.

In the intervening decades much had happened that made a revision (or an altogether new telling) necessary. The Jewish-Roman War ended in the year 73CE, orthodox Judaism officially excommunicated Christians from fellowship by the mid-80s, and at least a few Roman emperors had tried to eliminate the Christian movement by legislation and persecution.

Along the way there arose a number of messianic pretenders, brave souls who claimed to carry the mantle of Jesus for the next phase in his kingdom campaign. Apparently, many had been taken in by these pretenders – these thieves and bandits. The shifting allegiances within the Christian community had resulted in division,  confusion, and more violent crackdowns. This was the historical context of the community for whom John is (re)telling the story of Jesus.

We should be careful, then, not to superimpose our contemporary questions and concerns and make them assumptions in our reading. (Although, in keeping with the New Testament Gospels as reconstructions of Jesus for their times, there is nothing in principle that should prohibit a fresh retelling for our own time and setting. In that case, the challenge would be to keep the First Voice of Jesus from getting lost in our portrayal.)

This passage is not about the superiority of Christianity to other religions. Instead it’s John’s answer (through the mouthpiece of his Jesus) to the then-pressing question: Who is the real Christ? Most of the pretenders were guerrilla leaders, wonder-workers, or esoteric spin-masters. John’s answer was simple: Just listen, really listen, and you will hear his voice.

This was – and still is – the First Voice of Jesus himself. Jesus didn’t come to lead a rebellion, do magic tricks, or reveal some secret truth. He taught love, loved life, and lived entirely in the moment.

That’s where abundant life flows.