Fourth Sunday of Easter
At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” (John 10:22-30)
It was winter in Jerusalem, and it was the time of the “festival of the Dedication.” It was a celebration of a long-ago military victory, when the Temple—which had been desecrated by a Gentile conqueror—was cleansed and rededicated for the worship of God.
It was a hopeful time, a time for remembering that God never breaks his promises, never abandons the ones he loves.
Today we know it as Hanukkah, the “festival of light.” And there, at this festival, stood the very light of the world being challenged once more.
“How long will you irritate us? How long will you bother us? Are you the Messiah? Tell us plainly, in words we can understand.”
But they could not understand, and Jesus knew it. He had already told them, time and again.
He had told them when he healed the blind, and cured the lepers, and raised the dead to life. He had told them as he fed the five thousand.
He offered them the very bread of heaven—and himself as the bread of life. He offered them living water. He told them he was the light of the world.
Yet they chose to stay in their darkness. They refused to see who stood before them. And each time he told them, they plotted to destroy him.
And who were they? They were the good, religious, law-abiding people. The upright ones, the moral ones—the pillars of the community. They had filled the Temple—and their religion—with traditions and rules that gave them power.
They had substituted obedience for faith.
“You cannot heal on the Sabbath,” they said. A person’s sight was not valued as highly as the law.
“You must stone the woman caught in adultery,” they said. Mercy should not prevail over righteousness. The sinner must be condemned. The law-breaker must be punished.
They were the Pharisees, the scribes, and the priests. They considered themselves pure. They considered themselves religious. Yet in their spiritual blindness, they could not see the One standing before them.
Their own ideas about the Messiah had blinded them. “He will be a conquering king,” they decided. “He will establish us in power. He will achieve what we cannot accomplish on our own—and he will rule the world, taking us to the top.”
Who was this poor peasant to tear down their dreams? Who was this carpenter to remind them that the Kingdom of God is a kingdom of justice and mercy, a kingdom of love? A kingdom where all will have enough and no one will have too much?
Who was this lamb that they would lead to slaughter?
Those same questions are still asked today by those who value the “church” more than faith.
“We must keep the rabble out,” they say. “We must keep the church pristine. The street people will dirty up the place. Our liability will not cover us. They can’t help us pay our mortgage.”
And then there are those blinded by their own versions of the Saviour.
“If you have faith enough, God will protect you from all harm. The devil smites those who don’t believe enough. Just have faith!” we hear them call. “No need for God to wipe a tear from your eye. The Lord will see you have the good life. It’s prosperity believing! Possibility thinking! The poor deserve what they’ve got.”
How about us? Who do we say Jesus is?
Perhaps we need to look again at the Christ who is standing before us. Perhaps we need to listen one more time.
Jesus said, “The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me.” (John 10:25)
Feed the hungry. Heal the sick. Forgive the sinner.
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What the Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” (John 10:27-30)
“What the Father has given me is greater than all else,” Jesus said. And what has the Father given him?
Us. What God gave Jesus was us. You. Me. All of us who hear our Shepherd’s voice, and follow.
That’s who Jesus is, for us: the One we follow, the One who loves us and cares for us in joy and in sorrow; the One who gives us eternal life and wants to be with us forever—not because we are righteous, not because we are perfect, but because of the bond of love which we share with him.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. Like a shepherd of olden time, he lives with us and among us, and he knows us better than we know ourselves.
When we stray from the safety of the sheepfold and place ourselves in harm’s way, Jesus is the One who comes looking for us. He is the One who will not rest until he finds us and brings us home.
The face of the one who seeks us out in love may look different to each of us. It might be the face of a lover, a friend, a parent. It might be the face of a teacher, a nurse, a co-worker, or a child. It might be the face of a stranger, or a spouse. It might be a face marked by pain, or lit up with joy.
It is the face of a sister or of a brother. But whatever it looks like, it is the face of Christ. And in the face of Christ, we see the face of God.
In many churches, this Sunday, Christians will gather together at the table for the festive meal we call Communion, or Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper.
We will share loaf and cup, and by so doing we will celebrate our oneness in Christ. We will acknowledge our connectedness, our inter-dependence, our need for communion with God and one another.
In other words, we will—by our presence, and by our actions—proclaim once more that which is the biggest fact of our existence: we are loved, and we are called to love one another.
A bit later on in John’s gospel, Jesus says: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” (John 15:9)
To abide in the love of Jesus. What a blessed thought! What a wonderful reality! May it be so for us this day. May it be so for us always. Amen.