On the 4th Sunday of Easter in Year C, the year of Luke’s Gospel, we turn to John 10:22-30. Why this text in Easter? God only knows.
Okay, maybe someone from committee that developed the Revised Common Lectionary could tell us, but I don’t know any of them.
It makes some sense to turn to John when Luke has run out of resurrection appearances. So you might think we’d continue in John 21 where we left off last week. Nope. The lectionary never gives us John 21:20-25.
Instead we take a big jump backwards to a text in the middle of John’s Gospel — one that neither mentions nor alludes to the resurrection.
But here we are. It is a lovely passage in itself, even if it is a tad difficult to connect with the season of Easter.
To put it in John’s context, this follows the series of scenes in chapter 9 where Jesus proclaims himself the light of the world and heals a man who was born blind to emphasize the point. In chapter 10 the conversation shifts to Jesus saying he is the Good Shepherd and the Gate of the sheepfold — two more of the famous “I Am” sayings in John.
Difficulty getting his point across
Those “I Am” sayings are like the heartbeat of John’s Gospel. While the Synoptic Gospels tell the story of Jesus’ life, plus the stories Jesus tells about the Kingdom, John lets Jesus talk about himself, his Father, and the Holy Spirit. It is the theological Gospel — and that’s why in Orthodoxy John is celebrated as “The Theologian.”
When you have a sense of all those “I Ams” and all his lengthy discourses about himself this passage passage becomes almost funny.
People come up and ask their eager question:
How long will you keep us in suspense?
If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” (John 10:24 NRSV)
Jesus’ eyes were rolling so hard they must have squeaked.
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, …” (John 10:25-26 NRSV)
And you know, he really had told people who he was.
- He came right out and told the woman at the well that he was the Messiah.
- He pretty much told Nicodemus he was God’s only begotten Son.
- And he told them he was the True Bread come down from heaven,
- the Light of the World,
- the Good Shepherd.
The thing is, some people are more about having an answer and then going out to look for evidence. You can fool yourself that it’s just a hypothesis, that it is the scientific method, that you want proof — but really it’s just that minds get closed in advance. Opinions are hard to change.
For example: think social media.
Okay, I’m moving on now.
The question of who is whose sheep
Interestingly, Jesus does not just stand there and roll his eyes. He gives them a reason for their disbelief. And it is a reason that I think is very useful for Christians trying to make sense of the world.
It’s there in the rest of that verse:
but you do not believe,
because you do not belong to my sheep.” (John 10: 26 NRSV)
This is different from my diatribe about closed minds seeking evidence to confirm their opinions.
Jesus looks at the world and sees that many people, but not all, belong to him. Some of his sheep don’t know him — not yet. Those who do belong will hear when he calls.
It isn’t quite as simple as saying that the people who join the Church are “in” and those who don’t are “out.” Rather Jesus knows that many people belong to him. They’ve been given to him by the Father.
So he travels the world, calling out with his voice. And often he uses his followers to pass the message along. Those who belong to him have their inner radios tuned in to his station by default. His voice comes through. They recognize his voice calling.
- Sometimes the people hearing his voice have spent a long time in the faith, and they know it is Jesus calling.
- But sometimes people who know nothing of Jesus hear his voice calling — or they’ve been given a terrible impression of Jesus because we followers do such a rotten job.
His voice is familiar — but they don’t know his name.
Then they start to trace the signal.
They find him.
They start to follow the Good Shepherd — conventionally or unconventionally.
There is mutual recognition between sheep and Shepherd, regardless of anyone’s opinion.
My sheep hear my voice.
I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27 NRSV)
The comfort to the church
So why do I say this is a helpful, even comforting message to the Church?
Don’t be afraid, little sheep
First, for each of us who tries to follow Christ, no matter how badly, we get his powerful message that we need not worry.
So many people, in their secret hearts, are afraid that they don’t have real faith, or enough faith, or the right kind of faith. Do we really belong?
Jesus says that if we’ve somehow heard his voice, if somehow we’ve been drawn to try to be one of his sheep, then we need not worry.
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.” (John 10:28-29 NRSV)
He’s pretty emphatic. Hear his voice? You’re his.
How do you know? Because in one way or another you find yourself believing in Jesus.
- You find yourself believing he is who he says he is — and who the Gospel shows him to be.
- You begin to take him at his word, to trust him.
- You keep finding yourself trying to do what he told you to do.
Don’t be discouraged, little flock
Second, though, there is another kind of comfort for the Church in the midst of its mission.
Our mission is simply the continuation of his mission, right? He was doing the great work of God in the world, and we take our little part and do the same.
Part of his mission is doing what he did — feeding the hungry, healing the sick, casting out the demonic darkness so that the light of truth can shine in hearts and societies.
And part of his mission is telling the world the very Good News about Jesus himself — that God himself has come to earth to bring us back, to welcome us as beloved children, to lift us up to full humanity, to give us life that conquers death, to bring us forgiveness and reconciliation.
You know. Little stuff like that.
That’s irony, my friend, irony. This stuff is not little at all.
What could be bigger than the creator and sovereign ruler of all the world inviting you into his family, marrying you as his beloved, giving you eternal life and a place of intimate partnership in his kingdom?
Churches that proclaim this good news can find themselves baffled. Why don’t people respond? I mean how could anybody not respond to this offer from God?
Well maybe they don’t recognize the Shepherd’s voice.
What do we tend to do? Often, left to our own devices, we turn bitter and judgmental. We turn on the unbeliever with an attitude of condemnation.
(That doesn’t actually help with the evangelism plan.)
What does Jesus give us as comfort?
Jesus tells us it isn’t our problem, really. Our job is to tell the good news. His sheep will hear his voice.
And if people don’t respond?
Then live the good news as hard as you can. When you’ve earned the right to be heard, tell it some more.
Keep telling people. Your job is not the condemnation of non-sheep.
No. You are the welcoming committee for all who hear and respond — and the compassionate, serving, loving committee for all the rest.
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