The Good Shepherd
April 17, 2016
“How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” This demand on Jesus takes during the festival of the Dedication. It was winter, and Jesus was in Solomon’s Colonnade of the temple.”
It’s no coincidence that Jesus is asked this question during the festival of the Dedication. You might know it as Hanukah. It’s a celebration of a victory won by Judas Maccabeus about 200 years before Christ. Israel was under the control of a foreign empire. This time is was the Seleucids who inherited part of Alexander the Great’s empire.
They didn’t mind people worshipping their own gods and following their own ways, so long as they accepted Greek gods and Greek ways of organizing their societies. To many people, this sort of cultural imperialism was fine. But there were some Jewish groups who were having none of it. They stuck rigidly to their principles, their faith and their customs. There was only one God and one right way of living. The Greek world could do what it wanted but they weren’t going to participate. The Seleucid king saw trouble looming and decided to get tough. He sent troops right into the Temple in Jerusalem. They looted its treasures, sacrificed a pig on the altar, put up statues of a Greek god.
Long story short, a Jewish warrior named Judas Maccabeus led an army into Jerusalem. Against all the odds they prevailed. The first thing they did was to purify the Temple. And then they held a festival to rededicate their sacred space. Every year they celebrate this victory and retell the story of their hero at the festival of the Dedication, Hanukkah.
So, 200 years later now under Roman rule, the people meet Jesus in the Temple Colonnade during Hanukkah. They want to know clearly if Jesus is another Judas Maccabeus. He’s charismatic, popular, brave, with an authority which feels as if it comes from God, “How long will you keep us in suspense…?” they ask.
Jesus responds that he has already told them by his words and his works, but they do not believe, because they do not belong to his sheep (10:25–26). The words and works of Jesus are open to many interpretations. The incident of the preceding chapter makes that abundantly clear. Jesus heals a man born blind. The Pharisees see only that Jesus has healed on a Sabbath, and that therefore he must be a sinner. Others wonder how a sinner can perform such signs. While the man healed comes to believe.
Isn’t that the way it seems to be? We make up our minds about someone and then nothing will convince us otherwise. Donald Trump said as much when he boasted that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any supporters. And Hillary Clinton’s staunch supporters won’t care what the Benghazi report says.
You and I cannot argue people into faith with convincing words. We try sometimes. Even Jesus could not do that! He is not a new Judas Maccabeus. If this is what they want, he will disappoint them. His vision of God’s kingdom is very different and his way of bringing it about is different, too.
You can’t argue faith but we can declare the promise that creates and sustains faith — the promise of the Good Shepherd to give us eternal life, the promise that no one will be able to snatch us out of his hand.
We can proclaim our status before God never depends on how we feel, on having the right experience, on being free of doubt, or on what we accomplish. It depends on one thing only: that we are known by the shepherd: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish” (John 10:28).
We can share that the voice of the Good Shepherd is a voice that liberates rather than oppresses. It does not say, “Do this, and then maybe you will be good enough to be one of my sheep.” It says, “You belong to me already. No one can snatch you out of my hand.”
We can make known through the clutter of all the voices that evoke fear, make demands, or give advice, that the voice of the good shepherd is a voice of promise — a voice that calls us by name and claims us as God’s own.