This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
Matteo Renzi-Italy’s New Messiah?
J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
Jesus plainly declares who he is
19-20 Once again, the Jews were in two minds about him because of these words, many of them remarking, “The devil’s in him and he’s insane. Why do you listen to him?”
21 But others were saying, “This is not the sort of thing a devil-possessed man would say! Can a devil make a blind man see?”
22-24 Then came the dedication festival at Jerusalem. It was winter-time and Jesus was walking about inside the Temple in Solomon’s cloisters. So the Jews closed in on him and said, “How much longer are you going to keep us in suspense? If you really are Christ, tell us so straight out!”
25-30 “I have told you,” replied Jesus, “and you do not believe it. What I have done in my Father’s name is sufficient to prove my claim, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep recognise my voice and I know who they are. They follow me and I give them eternal life. They will never die and no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all. And no one can tear anything out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are One.”
This little incident ends with Jesus repeating his claim to be the true shepherd of God’s people, but it becomes clearer that the flock is not the Jewish people as such. They are looking for a national Messiah and Jesus refuses to fulfil that role. The true flock knows its shepherd’s voice. Those who respond to Jesus are given him by the Father; he gives them life which conquers death, his own life, which is also the life of God. He leads them through the valley of the shadow of death into life forever. Shepherd and sheep both suffer “death” but the shepherd’s hands keep them safe, for they are one with the hands of God.
There is a hidden paradox here; for of course it will seem to Jesus’ opponents that they have rendered him powerless and killed him; that he is dead and gone. For John however it is Jesus’ refusal of earthly power and glory, his laying down of life, which shows his oneness with God’s eternal life.
When Vaclav Havel, the former president of Czechoslovakia (as it then was), was an agitator against communism he wrote about the “power of the powerless” who have nothing to give but their lives; and expressed his own faith in them. He noted his debt to the Christian tradition in holding this conviction. Those who have lost their fear of death and are ready, peacefully, to suffer for others come close to the life of Jesus. This kind of life is not only “laid down” but also “poured out”; it is a shared abundance. It is a life that is united with God.
Cynical people will ask how the life of a failed and soon-to-be-dead Jewish prophet can be one with God: surely this is theological as well as scientific nonsense? John repeatedly has Jesus make the claim, “I and the Father are one.” Believing that claim involves a wholesale revaluation personal, social and political life.