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Friday, May 13, 2011

Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A

"Radical love. Loving the unlovely. Serving the ungrateful. Compassion for the corrupt. Welcoming the outcast. Radical love. God’s been there, done that and got the t-shirt. This is the Good Shepherd."

A Radical Love, Neil Chappell, aweirdthing, 2011.

John 10:1-10
Good Shepherd from the Catacombs
10“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.


Christ is Risen: The world below lies desolate
Christ is Risen: The spirits of evil are fallen
Christ is Risen: The angels of God are rejoicing
Christ is Risen: The tombs of the dead are empty
Christ is Risen indeed from the dead,
the first of the sleepers,
Glory and power are his forever and ever

St. Hippolytus (AD 190-236)

Some Thoughts
The context within the Gospel text is the healing of the blind man.  Jesus has healed the blind man, who was blind from birth.  The authorities have not understood and have smarted a little (int he last verses of 9) regarding Jesus' words to them regarding their leadership.  Jesus then begins the teaching in chapter 10.

The double amen leads off today's text, a repetition we are familiar throughout the Johannine text.  Thieves and bandits, (literally street fighters or revolutionaries) climb in and steel sheep.  They have to make their way over some kind of stone wall most likely and scramble through a next of thorny dried bushes.  It takes some work and is a painful enterprise most likely; even for the most determined thief.  Nevertheless, this is how bandits do it.

A shepherd enters the gate, gets the sheep. Calls them by name (pet names) and leads them out and they follow.  Sometimes a helper brings up the rear...but the chief shepherd leads.  The gatekeepers helps by getting the door (don't spend a lot of time on this image and difference between gatekeeper and shepherd as many scholars think this was a latter scribal adjustment to help people understand how the shepherd got out) and all march out by the sound of the shepherds voice. (Raymond E. Brown, John, Anchor Bible, textual notes, 386)

Sheep don't follow strangers. This seems logical, and I have heard and read a number of texts describing how shepherds and sheep know one another well.  Sheep follow their shepherd's voice.  Verse 5 gives us an inter textual understanding here: "They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”

The disciples who are the audience (while it is conceivable that the audience is the same audience from before - the blind man who was worshiping Jesus and the leaders).  So, they want to know what Jesus is saying and how these images have meaning in their current context.  Jesus offers clearly his take: he is the gate:
7So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
I think the text should continue.  There is an important part of the text which speaks directly to Jesus as the one who will lay down his life for the sheep and offers him as the much better alternative to the thieving and killing bandits.

We essentially have here the parable of the shepherd and sheep (1-5); the misunderstanding by the listeners (6), and the explanation (7-10).

Raymond Brown offers two interpretations to the meaning of Jesus as the gate. First, we cannot separate the comment of Jesus from the context and climate existing prior to Jesus' own time and stretching back through the intertestamental time period which embodies much of the Jesus movement understanding and that is the displeasure with the occupying authorities and some dissatisfaction with the religious rulers.  In this interpretation we have something far from the idyllic pastoral seen and rather inherit here a frontal attack on all those who would use authority in an unjust manner.  While Jesus is given all authority he is not that way. (393)

The second idea that Brown floats for us is the idea that the gate is the gate of salvation. (394)  In the very earliest patristic sources we see Jesus as the gate by which people enter salvation.  Here is just one of the many:
Christ. “For I am,” He says, “the door,” John x. 9. which we who desire to understand God must discover, that He may throw heaven’s gates wide open to us. For the gates of the Word being intellectual, are opened by the key of faith. No one knows God but the Son, and he to whom the Son shall reveal Him. (Clement of Alexandria)

While Jesus is the giver of water, bread, and wine here we see him as the provider of pasture over an against the death promised by others. These two images then (gate of salvation and salvation's pasture) are important.  This pasture is the fullness of life; fullness of life today and tomorrow.
This week I am thinking about a conversation that I had recently with a group of clergy about preaching and teaching.  The idea we explored was about the nature of community as defined over and against other communities; and as a community engaged in the world. 

The context of Jesus' ministry as described in this Gospel message is very much one in which the movement itself is distinguishing the nature of its mission from those around it (government, religious sects, and power).  John's community was developing and growing. Perhaps a network of house churches connected to a larger community in which diversity and growth are pressing on the fundamental quality of who the community is; who does the community reflect. 

There are seven "I am" statements in John. These I am statements help define both Jesus, Jesus' community, and John's community. In Richard Burridge's John commentary he has a great line: "So Jesus has to spell it out, 'I am the door of the sheep'; he is the way to safety and salvation. Unlike the thieves and robbers, and the false leaders, he will not cast out, but save and protect all those who hear his voice and respond." (133)
As we listen and respond to the image Jesus gives us I would ask how are we doing?  Jesus is the door, the gate, he is the way of safety and salvation.  How are our communities self-differentiating themselves within their neighborhood and city in which we life as a community of safety and salvation?  Are we the ones who are perceived as thieves and robbers? Are we the ones who are thought of as false leaders? If so how do we correct that vision of us?  When people come to us, or encounter us at work in the world, do they feel cast out or brought in, saved and protected, condemned and put in jeopardy?

This is quite the challenge if we are today to continue in the apostles understanding and teaching; if in fact we are to be the continuing community of Jesus in the world around us today.

The Lambeth Bible Study Method
This Bible study method was introduced by the African Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church. It is known by both names: "Lambeth" and "African." This method is derived from the practice of Lectio Divina. The entire process should take about 30 minutes.

Question #5: "Briefly identify where this passage touches their life today," can change based upon the lesson. Find lesson oriented questions at this website:

 Opening Prayer: O Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. One person reads passage. This person then invites a member of the group to begin the process.

2. Each person briefly identifies the word or phrase that catches their attention then invites another person to share.

3. Each shares the word or phrase until all have shared or passed using the same invitation method.

4. The passage is read a second time, preferably from a different translation. The reader then invites a person in the group to begin the process.

5. Each person briefly identifies where this passage touches their life today, and then invites someone who has not shared yet.

6. The passage is read a third time, also from another translation, and the reader invites a person to start the process.

7. Each person responds to the questions, "What does God want me to do, to be or to change?"

8. The group stands up in a circle and holds hands. One person initiates the prayer “I thank God today for …” and “I ask God today for…” The prayer goes around the circle by squeezing the hand to your right.

 9. When the circle is fulfilled, the person who initiated the prayer starts the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father..."

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