Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Hoodosh E'tho, Dedication of Church, End Times
Volume 7 No. 445 November 10, 2017
 
II. Lectionary Reflections: John 10:22-38

The Voice of New Life

by Phil Hamner

Gospel: John 10:22-30

We live in a world where lots of voices demand our attention. Sometimes they come to us one at a time, but other times they come all at once. A few years ago my wife and I were on an anniversary date at a new restaurant that was recommended to us. We were excited for the meal, the conversation, the night together.

We asked for a table out of the way, where we could talk, laugh, and enjoy just being alone with each other. We were seated in an area, where the ceiling above us was a dome shaped and decorated beautifully. We thought it was perfect. Very few people were in the restaurant at the time, so it was generally quiet and peaceful in that corner. A strange thing happened, though, over the next thirty minutes or so. As the restaurant filled up with people, the noise of conversation seemed to grow intensely as it echoed off of our dome-roofed area.

It finally became a bit overwhelming. Our conversation had to get louder and louder in order for us to hear each other. At times we could hear specific voices as crystal clear as if they were sitting next to us. We finished our dinner, and decided to take dessert home, where we knew only our voices could be heard.

As our passage opens the scene of the story has shifted to winter time at the festival of the Dedication in Jerusalem. The festival of Dedication, also known as Hanukah, was a relatively new festival for Israel. Like Tabernacles it was a feast celebrating God's protection in the wilderness. It recalled God's care during the Exodus, but it's more specific focus was the celebration of God's ongoing care for his people by restoring the Temple, the place where God dwelt among his chosen ones.[1]

The evangelist tells us again that the Jews have gathered around Jesus at another important festival. This time they ask their question again, as if Jesus had ignored them up to this point. Their question: Are you the Messiah? At another feast the Jews argued among themselves as to whether Jesus had the credentials to be the Messiah. Now they ask him directly. They want to know just who he thought he was.

There is a fair amount of humor in the question, however. He had already answered their question three months previous. His answer is unambiguous, but it is not the answer they were looking for:

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 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. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 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 (John 10:14-18).

The voice of Christ is once again loud and clear, but the Jews seem to be hearing other voices. They are wanting to hear him declare a military overthrow, a political coup, a religious rebellion. Like that restaurant we mentioned earlier in our message the voices are getting louder and louder. They are making it impossible to hear the voice of Jesus. He keeps telling them who he is, and they keep hearing other voices. They keep pressing him, and he keeps repeating his message.

The problem is you can "hear" a message, and be unwilling to respond to it. You can "see" something, and still not discern what it is you are seeing.[2] This is their problem. They refuse to hear Jesus and respond to him. They are requiring his answers to fit their preconceived notions about life with God. Their unwillingness to genuinely listen and respond takes them outside of his flock. It's not because he doesn't want them. It's because they won't receive him.

For those who hear and respond they will know eternal life with him. Those who follow him are not lost, but this is only true for those who respond favorably to his voice. This means listening for his voice and agreeing to his demands. Life in the kingdom is not life on our own terms. Rather it is life with Jesus as the Messiah on his terms. The other voices we want to hear have to go away. We must avert our ears, our eyes, our lives from alternative ways of living in the world.

The Jews could not accept this, and we always run the risk of being just like them. Sometimes we wish Jesus would be against the people we don't like, but he says, "…the Son of Man must be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3:14). Sometimes we want Jesus to take up our political views and support "our" political party, but he says, "I am the Way, the Truth, the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do known him and have seen him" (John 14:6-7).

The voices are very real, and they seek to drown out the clear and definitive voice of God at work in Jesus Christ. Here at the festival of Dedication the Jews are ready to celebrate with great pride the reconsecration of the Temple. In this festival they are only listening to the voice which says "the Temple is the physical evidence of their belonging to God, and in some way of belonging to them."[3] The religion is their possession, they insist. We are not much different.

We come to faith in Christ, and over time we are tempted to imagine our salvation is our possession. We too easily see it as something we have accomplished. Thus, the voice we hear can too quickly be co-opted, coerced, and made to sound like our voice. Yet, here in this story, Jesus cuts through it all, and makes his voice crystal clear. The Temple is no longer the location of the presence of God. He is. The voice that comes from the Temple has been replaced by the voice of the Mary's son, who is the Messiah on his terms, not theirs or ours. No messianic expectation of the day would have imagined the irrelevance of the Temple. No messianic hope then or now could have dreamed of the work of God being accomplished by a Father and Son. The voice we are listening for is not our own, or our culture, or even our church. We are listening for the singular voice of the Father and the Son, who are one in purpose and united by an act of love and obedience deep in the heart of our God.[4]

References:

[1] Francis J. Moloney, SDB, The Gospel of John. Sacra Pagina. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1998, 313.
[2] Marianne Meye Thompson, John: A Commentary. The New Testament Library. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, 232.
[3] Moloney, 315.
[4] Moloney, 316.

© 2017 by A Plain Account. 

Jesus and the Father are One: Commentary on John 10:22-30

Gospel: John 10:22-30

Bible Text

[22] It was the feast of the Dedication at Jerusalem; [23] it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. [24] So the Jews gathered round Him and said to Him, "How long will You keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." [25] Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father's name, they bear witness to Me; [26] but you do not believe, because you do not belong to My sheep. [27] My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; [28] and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. [29] My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. [30] I and the Father are one."

Commentary by Members of the Faculty of Theology, University of Navarre, Spain

22. This feast commemorates an episode in Jewish history (cf. 1 Maccabees 4:36-59; 2 Maccabees 1-2:19; 10:1-8) when Judas Maccabeus, in the year 165 B.C., after liberating Jerusalem from the control of the Seleucid kings of Syria, cleansed the temple of the profanations of Antiochus Epiphanes (1 Maccabees 1:54). From then onwards, on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev (November - December) and throughout the following week, all Judea celebrated the an- niversary of the dedication of the new altar. It was also known as the "Festival of Lights" because it was customary to light lamps, a symbol of the Law, and put them in the windows of the houses (cf. 2 Maccabees 1:18).

24-25. When these Jews ask Jesus if He is the Messiah, "they speak in this way", St. Augustine comments, "not because they desire truth, but to prepare the way for calumny" ("In Ioann. Evang.", 48, 3). We have already seen Jesus reveal, by His words and deeds, that He is the Only Son of God (5:19ff; 7:16ff; 8:25ff). In view of their good dispositions, He explicitly told the Samaritan woman (4:26) and the man born blind (9:37) that He was the Messiah and Savior. Now He reproaches His listeners for refusing to recognize the works He does in His Father's name (cf. 5:36; 10:38). On other occasions He referred to works as a way to distinguish true prophets from false ones: "You will know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:16; cf. Matthew 12:33).

26-29. Certainly faith and eternal life cannot be merited by man's own efforts: they are a gift of God. But the Lord does not deny anyone grace to believe and be saved, because He "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the Truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). If someone tries to avoid receiving the gift of faith, his unbelief is blameworthy. On this point St. Thomas Aquinas teaches: "I can see, thanks to the light of the sun; but if I close my eyes, I cannot see: this is no fault of the sun, it is my own fault, because by closing my eyes, I prevent the sunlight from reaching me" ("Commentary on St. John", ad loc.).

But those who do not oppose divine grace do come to believe in Jesus. They are known to and loved by Him, enter under His protection and remain faithful with the help of His grace, which is a pledge of the eternal life which the Good Shepherd will eventually give them. It is true that in this world they will have to strive and in the course of striving they will sustain wounds; but if they stay united to the Good Shepherd nothing and no one will snatch Christ's sheep from Him, because our Father, God, is stronger than the Evil One. Our hope that God will grant us final perseverance is not based on our strength but on God's mercy: this hope should always motivate us to strive to respond to grace and to be more faithful to the demands of our faith.

30. Jesus reveals that He and the Father are one in substance. Earlier He proclaimed that God was His Father, "making Himself equal with God"—which is why a number of times the Jewish authorities think of putting Him to death (cf. 5:18; 8:59). Now He speaks about the mystery of God, which is something we can know about only through Revelation. Later on He will reveal more about this mystery, particularly at the Last Supper (14:10; 17:21-22). It is something the evangelist reflects on at the very beginning of the Gospel, in the prologue (cf. John 1:1 and note).

"Listen to the Son Himself", St. Augustine invites us. "'I and the Father are one.' He did not say, 'I am the Father' or 'I and the Father are one [Person].' But when He says, 'I and the Father are one,' notice the two words '[we are]' and 'one' ... For if they are one, then they are not diverse; if '[we] are', then there is both a Father and a Son" ("In Ioann. Evang.", 36, 9). Jesus reveals that He is one in substance with the Father as far as divine essence or nature is concerned, but He also reveals that the Father and the Son are distinct Persons: "We believe then in the Father who eternally begets the Son; in the Son, the Word of God, who is eternally begotten; in the Holy Spirit, the uncreated Person who proceeds from the Father and the Son as their eternal Love. Thus in the three divine Persons, "coaeternae sibi et coaequales", the life and beatitude of God perfectly One superabound and are consummated in the supreme excellence and glory proper to uncreated Being, and always 'there should be venerated Unity in the Trinity and Trinity in the Unity'" (Paul VI, "Creed of the People of God," 10).

Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries by members of the Faculty of Theology, University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland, and by Scepter Publishers in the United States.

Listening For God

by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm

Gospel: John 10:22-30

The church in our day is known for a lot of things. Unfortunately, not many of them are positive. At least not in our culture at large. In our day, the church is known for things like covering up serious abuses by the clergy. And at the same time, it is known for heaping loads of guilt on people who don't seem to "fit in." The church in our day is known for manipulating well-meaning people into giving what amounts to huge sums of money. Almost in the same breath we could say it is known for spending extravagant amounts of money on itself. Or it is known for the extravagant amounts of money its "leaders" spend to create their own versions of the lifestyles of the rich and famous. I'm not sure much of what the average person on the street thinks about church seems very positive.

In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus makes some interesting remarks about what characterizes those who at least claim to follow him. He says, "My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me" (Jn. 10:27). Earlier in this chapter, he makes a similar statement: "I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father" (Jn. 10:14-15). Those who belong to Jesus know him in the same way that Jesus and the Father know each other.[2] They hear his voice and follow him. That seems to me to be a remarkable way to describe the church: the fellowship of those who know Jesus, who hear his voice, and follow him.

Of course, that's easier said than done. Talk of hearing voices in a religious or spiritual context can make people think you've lost touch with reality. And, of course, the claim that "God told me" has been used and abused in every conceivable way. And yet, when it comes down to it, what Jesus says distinguishes those who believe from those who don't believe is this: "I know my own and my own know me" and "My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me." It would seem to me that some kind of spiritual relationship with God is at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Christ. And that includes an active attempt to know God, to hear God's voice, and to put into practice what we hear.[3]

I don't think that means that we turn loose all moorings and leave the church at the mercy of whatever someone claims God told them. For one thing, I think we can assume that the voice of God in our day will not speak in a significantly different way than the generations before us have experienced it. This particularly relates to Scripture as the primary witness to the living interaction between God and the human family over the centuries. So paying attention to Scripture can help us in our effort to listen for the voice of God. Another check on an "anything goes" approach to spirituality is that we tend to hear God's voice better when we do so in community with others than when we are listening alone. I think a final test for the quality of our attempt to listen for God's voice has to be the fruit it bears in our lives. If our discernment of God's voice leads us to be more patient, more kind, more merciful, more understanding, more loving--in short, if it leads us to live in a way that is more like Christ--then I think we're on the right track. [4]

At the end of the day, however, there has to be some kind of effort on our part to actually seek God: his presence, his truth, and his will for our lives. That is an inherently personal endeavor. You can do it together with others, but no one can do it for you. Somehow, sometime, somewhere in your being you have to make the decision that seeking God's presence is a vital part of your life.[5] Somehow, sometime, somewhere in your heart you have to decide that aligning your life with God's will and God's way is of central importance. Somehow, sometime, somewhere in your soul you have to come to the place where you realize it's essential to at least try to listen for God's voice.[6]

I think this is one more way that we can bear witness to our new life through faith in Jesus Christ. [7] Can you imagine the response from our world if the church came to be known as the people who truly seek to listen for God's voice? Can you imagine what would happen if the church became known as the people who know Christ and who truly seek to follow him? I'm not sure I can. But I'd like to try. I think we have to begin by making the decision that listening for God and seeking to follow Christ is something vital to our ability to experience what Jesus called "eternal life."[8] When we are living out the mercy and compassion of Christ, it seems to me that we're doing a pretty good job of listening for God. Then maybe we can become the kind of people who are known for knowing Christ truly and for seeking to follow him sincerely.

References:

[2] Cf. Ernst Haenchen, John: A commentary on the Gospel of John, 48. He points out that this kind of relationship "does not mean to be acquainted; rather, it means to have a living bond." Cf. also Margaret Guenther, "Known by the Shepherd," The Christian Century (Apr 26, 1995): 453, where she points out the double edge to this: "To be known, fully known, is both painful and profoundly comforting. We accept the humble status of sheep, let our masks and defenses drop away, and allow the shepherd to carry us on his shoulder and occasionally poke us with his staff."

[3] Cf. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 2.2:279: "The voice of Jesus Christ is the voice of God Himself, who wills to have us for Himself, to make us free and ready for eternal life."

[4] Cf. Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 33, where he says, ""In prayer, real prayer, we begin to think God's thoughts after him: to desire the things he desires, to love the things he loves, to will the things he wills."

[5] Cf. Diana Butler Bass, Christianity for the Rest of Us, 121: "From the earliest Christian thinkers onward, tradition has insisted that faith, rightly understood, is a quest to know oneself in God. To run from the self is to run from God. People need silence to find their way back to interior wisdom."

[6] Cf. Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, 34: "To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude." He says further (p. 44), "In this solitude we can slowly become aware of a a presence of him who embraces friends and lovers and offers us the freedom to love each other, because he loved us first."

[7] Cf. The Book of Order 2007-2009, G-3.0200, where we say that we believe we are called to be "a sign in and for the world" of the "new creation, a new beginning for human life" that has occurred in Jesus Christ.

[8] Cf. Henri Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit, 69, where he reminds us that "Jesus says: ‘Dwell in me as I dwell in you.' It is this divine in-dwelling that is eternal life. It is the active presence of God at the center of my living--the movement of God's Spirit within us--that gives us the eternal life."

Source: The Waking Dreamer © 2013 Alan Brehm

What Do You Think the Messiah Should Be Doing?

By Nancy Rockwell

When Jesus walked around Jerusalem, the Great Temple was still standing in its full seven-story glory. The ancient, first temple, that Solomon built had been destroyed by the Babylonians in their conquest. Remnants of it remained, and were part of the campus of the Great Temple: The Tower of Siloam. The Portico of Solomon.

And some made it a point to worship in these remnants, rather than in the Great Temple itself, because of their intense dislike of the Herod dynasty, which had been placed in power by Caesar about fifty years before. The Great Temple priesthood worked hand in glove with the Herods, serving their interests with prayers, public honor, and by turning a blind eye to their greed and corruption.

The worst Temple offense, to the devout, was that the priesthood allowed the reigning Herod to draw heavily on the Temple bank, money that was supposed to be for the poor and needy. (This was roughly the equivalent of Congress allowing Ronald Reagan to use the Social Security Reserves for military spending.)

All this is an unspoken part of the conversation John retells, between Jesus and the Pharisees, in the Portico of Solomon, a remnant of Solomon's ancient temple, which, in the minds of the people, held the Messianic tradition with open pride.

Are you the Messiah or not??!! the Pharisees ask him urgently, daringly. The whole Messianic tradition is considered dangerous by the Herods, and by the Roman Governors. It's a Black-Lives-Matter kind of prayer-group cum political movement. Revolutionary language is spoken here. For the Pharisees to raise this question in public is a risk. And they do so with yearning.

There is an agenda for the Jewish Messiah, and everyone knows it: the Messiah will become king and: rule with justice for the poor and weak, restore right worship (since the Romans pulled down the Great Temple in 70AD, this has become rebuilding the temple), and build peace with all Israel's neighbors.

Why is Jesus in the Portico of Solomon? The place cloaks him with its majesty and its Messianism.

Yet his answer confounds them. He knows they mean, by their question, mighty doing, Messiah-deeds of power and light. But he answers only about being. About being beloved. About enfolding those who love him in the pure light and life of belovedness. About those who love him being beyond confusion about who he is. About his complete unity with God.

He has spoken often, and in many places, about justice for the poor, true relationship with God, and peace for all. Yet the power of the unjust, the corrupt, and the violent remains unaltered. Is Jesus the Messiah?

Those who ask are longing for a sea change in the order of the world they know. An Apcalyptic battle and Victory. Not for the presence of God in a world going along as it always has. Not for a reign without a sword. Not for embracing Rome as a friendly nation. The redemption of Rome is not on the Messiah's to-do list, according to the prophets.

And what of us? Will we accept, in our struggle with ISIS, a victory that is not decisive? Will this fulfill our longing for a just world? Will we offer prayers of honor for God's eternal love and for eternal life within that, when the world we live in is still violently unjust? Is Jesus Messiah enough for us, in his oneness with God? Or do we still believe we are kept free and made safe by great generals and vast armies?

Is the Messiah accountable to our human expectations? To the agenda of the ancestors? To expectations of an End Time? To the prayers of the suffering and the frightened?

Aren't these paramount questions in the 2016 election? In both parties, isn't there a war of words being fought over these questions?

Yet, the strongmen who have assumed the thrones of the world have turned into evil men, over and over. From Hitler to Batista, from Mussolini to Papa Doc Duvalier, the poor have languished under their cruelty, and they have extinguished the fires of faith in many places. Does this still remain the image of the Messiah for whom we pray?

And haven't we, every single day, the opportunity to sit down at the tables of the world where peace can be made and war ended, and the opportunity to work with the poor to bring about justice?

How, then, shall we worship? Is Jesus the Messiah? Or not?

Source: The Bite in the Apple, Pantheos

Sheep Know Their Shepherd
In her book 'The Preaching Life', Barbara Brown Taylor tells of a conversation she had with a friend who grew up on a sheep farm in the Midwest.

According to him, sheep are not dumb at all.

"It is the cattle ranchers who are responsible for spreading that ugly rumor, and all because sheep do not behave like cows.

Cows are herded from the rear by hooting cowboys with cracking whips, but that will not work with sheep at all. Stand behind them making loud noises and all they will do is run around behind you, because they prefer to be led. You push cows, her friend said, but you lead sheep, and they will not go anywhere that someone else does not go first-namely, their shepherd-who goes ahead of them to show them that everything is all right."

Sheep know their shepherd and their shepherd knows them.

He went on to say that "it never ceased to amaze him, growing up, that he could walk right through a sleeping flock (of sheep) without disturbing a single one of them, while a stranger could not step foot in the fold (of cattle) without causing pandemonium."

Sheep & shepherds develop a language of their own.

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