Monday, April 9, 2012

Sheep & Shepherds (part 3 of 3)

Expanding upon this thought in a way that plays into the sensibilities towards Gentiles that have been created throughout the narrative, and doing so in a way that would have been readily identifiable by the respective audiences (Jesus’ and John’s), Jesus says “I have other sheep that do not come from this sheepfold.  I must bring them too, and they will listen to My voice, so that there will be one flock and one shepherd” (10:16).  Without spending too much additional time with this story or attempting to unpack the final words of Jesus, it is abundantly clear that it is the willful laying down of His life that is a supreme manifestation of love.  This is what sets Jesus apart from previous messianic claimants. 

Now this is not to say that they did not act out of a love for God and His people, but it does indicate that there was a limiting factor with which Jesus does away, in that His love and His willingness to lay down His life due to that love, was not limited to Israel.  This would speak quite loudly to Jesus’ audience and to John’s community, while also speaking quite loudly (when its context and referents are well understood) to all that encounter this love-rooted narrative.  For the Johannine writings, which reflect the ongoing understanding of Jesus amongst the growing and persecuted Christian community, the fact that Jesus is God-manifest and willing to lay down His life for His sheep (encompassing all nations) speaks untold volumes about that which is expected from those that strive to rightly bear the image of God. 

Before offering up a change of scenery within Jerusalem, we find ourselves ushered out of this story with “Another sharp division took place among the Jewish people because of these words” (10:19).  “These words” were, presumably, His words about sheep, sheepfolds, laying down His life, and His taking that life back up again (10:17-18), along with His speaking about “the Father” (10:17) being “My Father” (10:18).  Not only had Jesus effectively castigated many of the revolutionaries that had come before Him who were looked upon as heroic champions of the Jewish people, which presents its own set of problems for Him, the Father language that He was employing would have been quite troubling for His hearers. 

Though John’s hearers are not troubled by such usage, they would have well-understood the reaction recorded within the story, which had “Many of them saying, ‘He is possessed by a demon and has lost his mind!  Why do you listen to him?’” (10:20)  Naturally, this response was not universal, as “Others said, ‘These are not the words of someone possessed by a demon.  A demon cannot cause the blind to see, can it?’” (10:21)  This last statement reminds us of the larger movement in which we come upon this discourse concerning Himself as the good shepherd.  Not only does this remind us of the fact that the setting in which Jesus is presented as speaking is the same setting in which He has given sight and standing within the covenant community (no longer ostracized) to the man blind from birth (who was looked upon as cursed---much like a Gentile, and even like Israel in its ongoing exile under the Romans), but it also informs us that the author is reaching back even further, tying this event to the events recorded in the seventh chapter, which is the point of commencement of this particular portion of John’s wider narrative. 

There, Jesus is reported to have said “My teaching is not from Me, but from the one who sent Me.  If anyone wants to do God’s will, He will know about My teaching, whether it is from God or whether I speak from My own authority” (7:16b-17).  This dovetails quite nicely with the Father language of the tenth chapter.  In the seventh chapter, in conjunction with His words about God, Jesus says “Hasn’t Moses given you the law?  Yet not one of you keeps the law!  Why do you want to kill me?” (7:19)  In the tenth chapter, Jesus speaks of laying down His life. 

Following His accusation that there are those that want to kill Him in chapter seven, the crowd responds by saying “You’re possessed by a demon!” (7:20b).  In chapter ten, we see the conclusion of a similar pattern, with the aforementioned reference to accusations that Jesus is possessed by a demon.  Back to the seventh chapter, we find “Then some of the residents of Jerusalem began to say, ‘Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill?’” (7:25), which will ultimately, within this story, culminate with Jesus’ declaration that He is willing to lay down His own life---no man takes it from Him.  From that point, an interesting exchange commences, in which we see a back and forth between and amongst Jesus, the Pharisees, and the Jewish leaders. 

Keeping in mind the close of the scene in chapter ten, we find questions about the geographic location from which Jesus has sprung.  Questions about His pedigree are raised because He is believed to be from Galilee, and it said that “no prophet comes from Galilee” (7:52b).  Let us not forget this use of “prophet” and its connection to Moses.  Jesus responds to this challenge by speaking of Himself as “the light of the world” (8:12b), contrasting following Him with living a life of darkness.  Darkness, of course, could easily be a euphemism for blindness.  Shortly thereafter, Jesus begins making repeated references to His “Father,” which will set the tone for its use in the tenth chapter, which forms part of this same extended story.  Also, the issue of the possibility of Jesus killing Himself is raised (8:22), which is answered by Jesus’ firm declaration in the tenth chapter that He will lay down His own life, with the ability to lay it down and take it up again.  Because of what precedes that statement, which was His referencing false messiahs, which would remind His hearers of those who had had their lives snuffed out by the enemies of God’s people, the issue of whether or not Jesus may take His own life is put to rest. 

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