Sunday, March 9, 2014

Love On John's Terms (part 21)

The man to whom Jesus had given sight challenges the Pharisees who are questioning him and Jesus.  In response to that challenge, they threw him out of the assembly.  In the thirty-fifth verse, after he is thrown out, Jesus is said to have come to him in order to confirm to the man His presumed messianic identity.  This “throwing out” is ironic, as the very beginning of this story presents an observer with a sense of the way that this man had been previously treated prior to his healing.  Pointing to the nature of that treatment, Jesus’ disciples had asked Him “Rabbi, who committed the sin that caused him to be born blind, this man or his parents?” (John 9:2) 

By this question, one can surmise that this man was ostracized from the community.  He was treated as an outsider.  He was treated as a sinner.  In terms of the way that he was treated by the community, he may as well have been a Samaritan or one possessed by a demon, but Jesus went to him.  Yes, Jesus gave him sight, and this is love at work; but perhaps just as importantly, Jesus also removed from him what was seen to be a curse and a source of shame (not just for him, but obviously for his parents as well), and this act of restoration to full humanity and to full participation in the community may be an even greater act of love. 

The tenth chapter of John, which does not provide a change in scenery (continuing in the same location in which the events of the ninth chapter unfolded---information useful to keep in mind as the story progresses), but does provide remarkable insights into the author’s definition of love as it relates to His telling of the story of Jesus, begins with “I tell you the solemn truth, the one who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in by another way, is a thief and robber” (John 10:1). 

Now in hearing what follows, an observer is absolutely forced to consider that while it is highly likely that Jesus uttered these very words as words of warning to the assembled people in Jerusalem due to the highly charged political situation in Israel, and that they would have carried great weight for His original hearers, these words, as part of this narrative compilation of the life and words of Jesus, would have carried even greater weight for a Christian community near the close of the first century as they lived and served and worshiped after the fall and destruction of Jerusalem and the knowledge of the events that brought about that fall, and as they attempted to live out the ethic of Christ-modeled love that had gained ascendancy for this particular community. 

So, having put forward this thought, Jesus embarks on a series of statements about entering the door as the shepherd of the sheep, about gatekeepers, about sheep hearing the voice of true shepherd, about their not following strangers, and about sheep fleeing from that voice.  It is then said, not surprisingly as it is something of a general theme for the Gospels, that “they did not understand what He was saying to them” (10:6b).  However this lack of understanding was expressed (in the absence of an omniscient third-party narrator), Jesus apparently seizes on the lack of understanding and goes on to elaborate, repeating His dictum of “I tell you the solemn truth”, and going on to say, “I am the door for the sheep” (10:7). 

He then makes a slight change to His previous statement in regards to those that climb in by another way.  By doing so, Jesus makes it more direct and applicable, saying that “All who came before Me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them” (10:8).  What does Jesus mean when He said that “All who came before Me are thieves and robbers”?  To whom is He referring?  He is obviously not talking about the prophets with whom He is no doubt being compared.  He is probably not talking about humans in general, and given the “all who came before Me,” it is unlikely that He is referring to the leaders of Israel in that day.

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