Easter 4 at Aston Abbotts
Gospel John 10.22-30
I am the first and the last, says the Lord, and the living one; I was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore.
When the Gospel is announced the reader says
Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.
The time came for the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews gathered round him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no-one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.
We read today from John 10, verse 22 to verse 30. It’s the festival of lights – Hanukkah. Jesus is walking through Solomon’s Porch. This portico was on the east side of the Temple. The location is not just a detail thrown in by John. It’s important. Solomon’s Porch was also known as the Porch of Judgement. This was where the king held court, forming judgements and dispensing justice to complainants who came to him.
Here is Jesus walking round this historic place, representing fairness and justice for all in his own person and through his ministry to the poor and disadvantaged. That’s what so much of his life and teaching was all about.
The Jews—says John—by which he means the religious authorities I suppose—have another agenda in mind. “Stop keeping us in suspense” they say. “Tell us plainly who you are. Are you the Christ, the Messiah?”
This constant questioning of his identity must have become a constant annoyance to Jesus. He snaps at them. “I did tell you, but you don’t believe me.” Which is not really fair, because Jesus never unequivocally stated who he was—nor does he answer plainly here.
This is what theologians call the Messianic Secret. In the gospels, Jesus tells those he has healed not to reveal his identity, in case the crowds overwhelm him and prevent him moving freely around the countryside or allowing the authorities to see his Messiahship as a military or political threat to their relationship with Rome.
The reply Jesus gives the Pharisees here is that they do not believe in him because they are not numbered among his sheep. It must have sounded odd at the time and it seems strange to us, until we put this passage in context. You see—chapter 10 is all about sheep. Unless we understand what Jesus is saying about sheep, we cannot understand his reply to the Pharisees.
The Parable of the Good Shepherd, as its name implies, tells us more about Jesus the shepherd than it does about us, his sheep. The Pharisees do not belong to the flock because they do not behave like sheep act towards the shepherd.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd, of course. Sheep will not follow anyone, but only the shepherd. They recognise his voice and follow him. Not only do the sheep recognise the shepherd, but the shepherd knows them all by name. Jesus calls us all by name. He goes before us, facing danger with us and giving us eternal life in his name, so that we will never perish whatever might befall us in this transitory life here on earth.
John the Evangelist makes it clear the Pharisees do not understand. In verse 6, it says: 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them. That’s why the Pharisees asked Jesus to tell them plainly whether or not he was the Christ, the anointed one.
Eventually, at the end of our gospel reading, perhaps in frustration, Jesus puts himself at great risk by abandoning the pastoral metaphors and admitting that “I and the Father are one.” It is God who has given him the sheep of his flock. We are his sheep, and no one can snatch us from the care of the Good Shepherd. The sheep do not die—they are not ravaged by thieves who come only to steal, kill and destroy. No—the Good Shepherd is the one who will die, because the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, so that we may have life and have it in all its fullness.
No wonder the crowd immediately pick up stones to mete out on Jesus the traditional punishment for blasphemy. What greater sin could there be but to claim that I and the Father are one. As yet, his time had not yet come, and Jesus escaped from their grasp.
We of course know the end of the story, or maybe it is only the beginning as we are still celebrating the resurrection of Jesus in Eastertide. There are two marks to being in his flock. We hear his voice and follow him. As his followers, we are protected by the One who is all-powerful against anything that threatens to do us harm, whether spiritual or in any other sense.
Many of us have known hard times. We may have been afflicted by disease. We may have tragically lost loved ones. We may have been abused or belittled. During these darker times, very likely we have not felt protected or cared for. But this is the context into which we able to bring the gospel message of grace. This is the context into which we bring a message of reassurance and hope. We are called to minister to others, and help them hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and to follow him in their lives.
In another parable, the Lost Sheep, we learn more about the sheep than the shepherd. It maybe should be called The Sheep that was found. Because the lost sheep could do nothing. It was lost. All the sheep could do was wait to be found, and accept help when it came. Then Jesus, the Good Shepherd, brought the sheep home. So it is with us and those to whom we minister. There’s nothing we can do in our own power. No action we can take to save ourselves. We can only have the grace to permit ourselves to be found, and brought back into the fold. Amen