17 April 2016
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Easter 4C (RCL)
There is a delicious bit of irony in the Gospel reading for this Sunday. Jesus is walking in the stoa of Solomon (the Greek word for walking is peripatein, which is what the peripatetic philosophers did). This is exactly the part of the Temple from which Jesus would have driven the animal merchants and money changers back in the second chapter of the Gospel. When asked by what authority he performed that act, he replied, “Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in three days.” Now, he is teaching in the stoa of Solomon on the feast of the re-dedication, celebrating the Maccabean reconquest of the Temple and Jerusalem. And the Jews are asking him how long he will take their souls away from them — if he is the messiah, to tell them plainly.
I suspect John is pointing to a messianic expectation that would reclaim the Temple, this time from the Romans. Jesus instead replies that he is doing the Father’s work and his works testify to him. The Good Shepherd discourse follows on the healing of the man born blind, which makes clear that the Father’s work is the restoration of sight. For John’s Gospel, the body of Jesus, the Christian community, replaces the Temple as the locus of the encounter with God (Mary’s vision of the two cherubim in the empty tomb, and Jesus’ exhalation of the spirit on the disciples in the closed room). The recovery of sight means learning to see this truth.
Also interesting that Jesus refers to the group of his disciples as sheep. In Numbers, the tribes arranged around the tabernacle (the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us) took the form of an army in camp. Jesus’ disciples take the form of a flock of sheep. This is far from an encamped army. Jesus’ messiahship is not triumphalist. Jesus has just finished saying that he lays down his life for the sheep (places his soul over), and that he lays it down of his own accord and has authority to take it up again, and no one takes it from him. This is the same vocabulary as the Jews use: how long will you take our souls from us. In the passage we read this week, he assures us that no one can snatch us out of his hand, because no one can snatch us out of God’s hand, because he and the Father are one.
This gives us the kind of assurance that even if we are pulled from the flock as sacrifice for the world. Interesting also that the nations are gathered around the lamb on the throne in the reading from Revelation. This is reminiscent of the language about the Temple in later Isaiah, only in the new Jerusalem as seen by John, there is no Temple. So, the flock of Jesus is now at the center of the nations who gather around the lamb on the throne, and the messiah is not going to rededicate the Temple, but rebuild a new one in his resurrected body.