It’s easy for us, as twenty-first century moderns, to read Scripture in a judgmental way: why don’t Jesus’ opponents get it? Why are they so thick-headed?
But I suspect that if we had been there, we’d have been scratching our heads too.
Oh, sure: Jesus captured people’s attention with his one-of-a-kind, never-seen-before miracles. But then he got into arguments with those considered to be the experts on all things religious. And sometimes, as we’ve seen in previous posts, he then seemed to speak in non-sequiturs about crazy things like dead shepherds. (When I taught on this passage, I joked that there must surely be a band named “Dead Shepherds” somewhere in the world. Two people immediately looked it up, and sure enough, there they were — a heavy metal band out of Germany.) Small wonder that those listening to him would have been confused and divided:
There was another division among the Jews because of Jesus’ words. Many of them said, “He has a demon and has lost his mind. Why listen to him?” Others said, “These aren’t the words of someone who has a demon. Can a demon heal the eyes of people who are blind?” (John 10:19-21, CEB)
Miraculous signs sometimes point to places that logic can’t work out on its own. People are torn. What should they believe about this enigmatic man?
That issue is central to John, and will be repeated in the very next passage, which takes place some months later at another festival in Jerusalem. But I want to take note of something before we get there. It’s this: the abundant life to which the Good Shepherd calls his sheep is a participation in the loving relationship between the Father and the Son.
The Good Shepherd comes to bring his sheep life, by giving up his life on their behalf. He knows his sheep, and they know and respond to his voice. But notice how he says this:
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. (John 10:14-15, NRSV)
Throughout his gospel, John notes again and again Jesus’ loving obedience to the Father’s will. Here in John 10, for example, Jesus says, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again” (vs. 17). That’s not to say that Jesus must do thus-and-so to earn his Father’s love. Rather, it means that the communion between them is such that love and obedience are like two sides of the same coin.
Jesus was the very embodiment of God’s love. With Paul, we might think of what Jesus accomplished on the cross in legal and ethical terms: Jesus was the substitute who took the punishment meant for us; Jesus was the ransom for our sins, and so on.
But neither of those metaphors should be allowed to crowd out the fact that the cross was an astounding act of love. Even Paul would agree. God loves us and loves the Son; the Son loves us and loves the Father. And we as sheep are called into an intimate relationship with the Shepherd that reflects the intimacy of the relationship between the Father and the Son.
When we read that someone doesn’t get it, doesn’t acknowledge who Jesus is, we should grieve for them. They’re missing out on what a loving God intends life to be.
And we should celebrate that we ourselves, who are but sheep, have received such grace.