First Reading Acts 9:36-43
Psalm Psalm 23
Second Reading Revelation 7:9-17
Gospel John 10:22-30
“Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
We continue to move through this Easter season of resurrection, simultaneously celebrating and pondering, rejoicing and questioning, proclaiming and wondering. We seek understanding of something that cannot be completely understood. Yet in faith we believe God is pleased by our seeking, and are assured that we are also being sought. As we reach out for God, God is reaching back and revealing God’s self.
Today’s gospel reveals the challenge of faith in the resurrection in a flashback to Jesus’ life and teaching. The Jews gather around Jesus on the eastern porch of the Temple, and ask, almost demand, “IF ... IF you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” They want answers. Lay it out in black and white.
If the Jews were asking this of anyone other than Jesus, there would be cause for concern. Too many of us want simple answers, and cry out, ‘Tell us what to believe.’ Too many Christian traditions and their religious leaders are happy to oblige. They offer absolute truths about God, wrapped up in a bow, served up on a silver platter. Here is what you are to believe, without question, without doubt. When a person begins speaking with unequivocal certainty about God, it is a sure sign that the person is no longer speaking about God. We can speak with unequivocal certainty about many things our minds can grasp, but God is not one of those things. God grasps us; we do not grasp God.
The problem is the framing of the Jew’s request. We cannot talk plainly about God, because God is anything but plain. We cannot use the ordinary to explain the extraordinary. God cannot be reduced to mere words. Yet we attempt to talk about, explore, and share our faith with one another. While it is a wonderful gift to speak eloquently about one’s faith and journey, a better gift is to support others in their own journey and experience of the living God. Thus Jesus, who has the authority to answer, answers in this way ...
“I have told you, and you do not believe.” In fact, Jesus has not told them explicitly, using words, any such thing. But Jesus has told them. Jesus has supported them in their journey with preaching and teaching and miracles and other works. Instead of telling them plainly, Jesus has essentially said, “I have a better idea, let me show you.” Seeing is believing, but some things must be believed before they can be seen.
Using the metaphor of the Good Shepherd, Jesus tells these Jews, ‘You do not belong to my sheep.’ We must be careful not to slip into anti-Semitism. Jesus proclaims they are not part of the flock, not because they are Jews, and not because it is an impossibility. The Jews cannot see because they refuse to believe. They cannot believe because they are judging Jesus’ identity by their own distorted standards. They apply the job description of Messiah laid out by the self-proclaimed religious authorities, rather than observing Jesus’ life and works and consistency with scripture and the prophets. The Jews are not Jesus’ sheep because they will not follow. “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”
The Jews did not have the benefit of the written gospels as we do today. John attempts to tell us early on ... “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” This is not simply a metaphysical observation, but a statement of purpose that unites the Father and the Son, created by a union of love and obedience. In an attempt to give the people what they want, Jesus speaks as plainly as he can, “The Father and I are one.”
We must remember the context of this gathering. The Jews are celebrating the Dedication of the Temple, the physical place where God is said to dwell among them, and evidence that they belong to God. Jesus is telling them it is by faith we belong to God. We no longer need to look upon the Temple as the dwelling place of God among humanity ... look upon Jesus, the Messiah, God incarnate, divinity walking among humanity. The Jews cannot comprehend a Messiah claiming to take the place of the Temple. The Temple cult tames God, and places God in a box. They have God right where they want him, contained in a discrete set of laws and rituals. One must only follow the rules to achieve righteousness. I wonder what ways we are still doing this today.
St. Anselm describes our journey with God as “faith seeking understanding.” Some things must be believed before they can be seen. Our faith tells us that God’s presence among us is no longer in the Temple, but in Jesus. Because of Jesus’ oneness with the Father, Christ becomes the focal point of our reconciliation with God and one another. Thus the resurrection is key to our journey of ongoing understanding, growing in the knowledge and love of God. Jesus still dwells among us, manifest in the Holy Spirit. The risen Christ appears in the locked rooms where humanity hides and flings the doors open wide. In the breaking of bread, a loving God reveals the invitation to life. The God of life is revealed in the midst of the ordinary to show us the eternal.
The divine architect established resurrection as the means for reconciliation. This is why we renew our Baptismal Covenant. We are called to build up our faith and exercise our resurrection vision to see God calling us to life. If we attempt to see through God’s resurrection eyes, we would see a community self-proclaimed as old and tired, being filled with new life. We might notice people in that community offering themselves to serve and participate in God’s life. Perhaps we would see the faithful longing to love God with all their heart and soul and mind and strength. We would realize a community that hears the voice of the Good Shepherd calling us by name, and be compelled to follow. Perhaps we could witness people abiding with and supporting one another on the journey, and lifting each other up. We might behold a people discerning the next faithful step in pursuing God’s dream, and responding with action. Brothers and sisters, we celebrate the resurrection of Christ and its continuing effects in this community. Alleluia! Christ is Risen! ... The Lord is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! AMEN.