Acts 13:15-16, 26-39
Sorry I’ve been absent from this blog for a few weeks: Holy Week, Easter, and then just inertia conspired to keep me away.
This week’s readings are supposed to fit in with the theme of “Good Shepherd” Sunday (Fourth of Easter). The reading from John mentions the shepherd imagery tangentially, but that’s about it.
This story in John’s Gospel is taking place on Hannukah, the feast of the re-dedication of the Temple after Antiochus’ desecration and the Maccabees’ success in re-capturing Jerusalem. This is the only time in John’s Gospel when Jesus is in Jerusalem for this feast. That means we need to pay attention to the setting. The “Judeans” (whoever they are), ask Jesus, “How long will you take away our souls? Tell us plainly, are you the Messiah?” Given the context, this is a hugely charged question. Will you be reclaiming the Temple, like Judas Maccabeus? Given that the Temple had already been destroyed when John’s Gospel took its final shape, the question must mean something more than just its political overtones in the narrative.
Jesus speaks of replacing the Temple several times in John’s Gospel. This question them means, “Are you now they way in which we encounter God?” Of course, only a member of John’s community could understand it this way. And to a member of John’s community, the answer is so obvious as to not need stating. So Jesus doesn’t answer the question. He replies, “I’ve already told you and you didn’t trust me.” The works that Jesus does witness that he and the Father are in union. Those whom God has given Jesus can never be snatched away, either from Jesus or from God.
But the encounter with God will be different than previously. The God encounter will no longer ensure the political continuity of a people, whether Jewish or Roman. God is present in discourse with Jesus. Even the passage from Revelation begins to change John’s vision of the divine presence. In the throne room of God, worship of God and the lamb looks suspiciously like Emperor worship. Jesus (the lamb) is the true emperor, not Caesar. John the Evangelist would rather have turned the concept of glory on its head, than ascribe the kind of Glory the revealed does to Jesus.
Pastorally, that means we encounter God not in the reversal of our misfortune (like the Revelation expects), but precisely in the midst of it. John’s community has been thrown out of the synagogue, and set adrift in the world. But precisely there, Jesus is the gate to the sheepfold, and the shepherd. In our gathering, our recognition of one another, we hear the Shepherd’s voice. It’s easy to see how some could take John’s Gospel and turn it into a world-denying gnosticism, a retreat behind the walls of the sheepfold, but John assures that the Shepherd leads us out as well as in, and that outside, we find good pasture. The world, as it is, is good. The Logos dwells among us, in the flesh. Expect no reversal, but instead find glory now.