Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Love On John's Terms (part 24)

As it relates to Jesus, the scattering of the sheep under the false shepherd can be understood as another reference to the words of Zechariah (13:7), while also serving to make the point that Jesus, though with the path that He was traveling, certainly had an inkling as to what was in store for Him in His pending crucifixion, was not going to flee from the wolf (the Romans and their cross) and leave His sheep unguarded.  No, He was going to be the shepherd that cared for His sheep, faithfully seeing His role through to the very end for their salvation and life in His kingdom.  Driving this point home, He reiterates that He is “the good shepherd” (John 10:14a), and says “I lay down My life for the sheep” (10:15b).     

Expanding upon this thought in a way that plays into the sensibilities towards Gentiles that have been created throughout the Johannine narrative, and doing so in a way that would have been readily identifiable by the respective audiences (that of both Jesus and John), 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, especially in a way that is quite contrary to what would be expected of a presumed Messiah that is ushering in the kingdom of the Creator God, that is to be taken as a supreme manifestation of love.  This, among other things of course, is what sets Jesus apart from previous messianic claimants. 

Now this is not to say that previous messianic claimants did not act out of a love for the covenant 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 would come to 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 believed to be the Creator God-manifest, and that He is willing to lay down His life for His sheep (encompassing all nations) in a humble self-sacrifice that would brand Him with unspeakable shame in an honor and shame culture, speaks untold volumes about that which is expected from those that strive to rightly bear the image of the Creator God. 

With that understood, and before offering up a change of scenery within Jerusalem, the Johannine audience finds itself 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 often 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 could have been quite troubling for His hearers. 

Though those that hear this Gospel tale are not going to be troubled by such usage, they would have more than 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 stands as a reminder of the larger movement (the healing of the man blind from birth) in which the author presents this discourse in which Jesus casts Himself as the good shepherd.  

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