Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Lazarus Dies (John 11:1-16)

 Lazarus was seriously sick, and his sisters Mary and Martha were obviously worried. Jesus knew them, and they may have been relatives. Jesus was informed by a message from the sisters that Lazarus was sick. The answer Jesus gives is strange, but they may have thought that Jesus knew Lazarus would survive.

Jesus does the strangest thing next, upon finding out that Lazarus is sick: he stays where he is, not going to Bethany, to help Lazarus. Then Jesus tells the disciples that it's time to go back to Judea. They respond like sensible people, reminding him that they left Judea so that the authorities would not stone Jesus to death. Jesus responds with a parable, or what seems like a parable, because he could be saying that the authorities could only try something underhanded under the cover of night. I think the Jesus is saying that if you walk by the Light, it doesn't matter what others try to do against you. Jesus is the Light of the world. If he is with us in and in us, we cannot stumble.

Then Jesus uses a metaphor for death, saying that Lazarus has "fallen asleep." The Church often speaks this way even today, because we believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Therefore, death is not the end that it seems to be, even if it hurts, and even if restoration will be a long time in coming.

The disciples didn't get it, of course, and they figured that Lazarus would wake up and be normal, as nearly all of us do each day. St. John kindly tells us that "fallen asleep" meant that Lazarus had died. Then Jesus told them plainly that Lazarus had died. Jesus says he is glad he wasn't there, so that the disciples might believe what Jesus is about to do, and therefore believe in him. Thomas, one of the disciples, is being a bit dramatic, and perhaps he thinks that whatever got Lazarus will get them, too.

I don't want to speculate and say that none of the apostles had any faith whatsoever, especially since we are often surprised by how God works beyond what we could ask or imagine. We could probably think of a problem that just seems too big for anyone to solve. In the quietness of our hearts, we might even admit our own unbelief that God could or would do anything about it. In any case, there are very few problems in this world bigger than death itself.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Getting Away, But Still Finding Followers (John 10:40-42)

 We don't really know if Jesus remaining in that place would have been harmful to him, but we know that he got away, so that they wouldn't arrest him. He went back to the place where John the Baptist was baptizing, and if you remember, that was basically the place where Jesus started his ministry, and announced himself to the world.

I think one of the reasons why St. John records the people saying that John the Baptist "did no sign" is to emphasize that John the Baptist was not testifying about himself; his whole purpose was to tell us about Jesus. (See John 3:29-30) Maybe being away from large crowds and the hostile leadership allowed people to judge for themselves about Jesus. And St. John tells us that many believed in Jesus there.

Jesus The Blasphemer? (John 10:31-39)

It's hard to miss that the opponents of Jesus believed him to be a blasphemer. They are supposed to stone anyone who commits blasphemy. Jesus wants the audience to look at the works he does, and by those works, to see the work of the Father, and the sending of the Son by the Father.

By quoting the Psalms here, Jesus is pointing out that the sons and daughters of God are like God, and we might seem like gods ourselves. The stakes are pretty high: if these leaders reject the Messiah, then we have a broken covenant, and God must again forgive. If Jesus is not telling the truth, we have no reason to be Christians. Christians adore Jesus as God, as the only-begotten Son of the Father.

I think a lot of people think being a Christian involves a lot of rules, and effort at good behavior. There is some of that, which is common in all religions. But the reason we pursue holiness is important. If God in Christ has redeemed us from sin and death, and the Father has made us part of his family by adopting us, we pursue goodness and holiness because He is holy, and we are His family, and His children.

In many places here in John and elsewhere, you have to make the case that Jesus claimed to be God. But given Jesus's own words recorded here in verse 36, and the fact that his enemies wanted to stone him for claiming to be God and the Son of God, our doubts about that particular question should be resolved. In verse 38, Jesus seems to be talking about that family relationship that he had with the Father, before he took on flesh to become our Savior. This is a great mystery, and it made things a little dicey for Jesus, but he escaped again.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Arguing on the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22-30)

 We know the Feast of Dedication more commonly as Hanukkah. There were several attempts to throw off the foreign domination suffered by Israel even after they came back into the land after the exile. Even in the time of Jesus, they had not fully succeeded.

The opponents of Jesus asked him to tell them plainly if he is the Christ, also known as the Messiah. He says he already told them, but they do not believe. In fairness, we have already seen that it takes a certain kind of spiritual sight to see Jesus as he intends us to see him. But once we know what Jesus and St. John are saying, then we are understanding Jesus in this spiritual way.

Jesus knows who his sheep are, and so he doesn't hesitate to speak bluntly with those who oppose him, knowing that they are not confused or misguided. We who are the sheep of Jesus will never be snatched out of his hand, and we will be given eternal life from him. He also says that no one can snatch us out of the Father's hand, either. Jesus repeats the idea that he is God, and that he is one with the Father in a special way that no one else is able to be. Once more, we should understand that what Jesus claims for himself would be blasphemy, if it were not true. Jesus is closer to the Father than anyone else could be, and when we come to the Father through him, we are invited to an intimacy with the Father which is new and deeper than the people would have experienced up to this time.

Jesus understands that it is all too human for people to dislike other people, based upon what they say, or how they say it. But when Jesus tells them to focus on the works he does, he is essentially saying, "You can't argue with results." God the Father is doing something through Jesus, and what we think about Jesus determines what we think about the Father. We might want to separate the two of them, but the eyewitnesses to Jesus are not going to let us off the hook so easily.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

The People Still Debating About Jesus (John 10:19-21)

 Jesus definitely stirred people up in this conversation. Again, it is hard to come away with the idea that Jesus is just a good moral teacher. People giving self-help advice don't claim to be God, if they want to be taken seriously.

On the other hand, in order to take the claims of Jesus and St. John the most seriously, in a way, we have to take Jesus's sharpest critics seriously as well. What would it mean, if Jesus were wrong about himself? What would it mean, if St. John and all the other Gospel writers and disciples of Jesus were mistaken?

And yet, it seems pretty hard to account for the good that Jesus is doing. No one in this audience would seriously consider atheism as an option, so the choices were: 1. Believe in Jesus, and accept everything that he has said about himself, the Father, and the Holy Spirit; or 2. Believe what had been revealed to the Israelites until Jesus came.

Given this background, we can see why people find it hard to believe that a demon could open the eyes of a blind man. Satan can only impersonate goodness, and the consolations of God. A bona fide miracle like this one invites us to seek out whether God has done it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Jesus Speaks Again (John 10:7-18)

 Jesus intends to speak authoritatively again, and then he says, "I am the door of the sheep." A door is something that you go through to get to somewhere else. Through Jesus, we find peace and well-being. What does Jesus mean, when he says that all who came before him were thieves and robbers? He is obviously not talking about the patriarchs or the prophets. Jesus is aware that many so-called "anointed ones" had come, promising to lead the people out of bondage to the foreign rulers. Even a couple of his own apostles had been armed militants in that cause. But military victory and political freedom is not what Jesus came to bring. When it comes to the deepest desires, and the deepest needs, none of those others, with their bold promises, will ever come through.

The special relationship that Jesus has with the Father is now one that we can have with Jesus, and with the Father! The Father and the Son are family, and we can be in the family of God as well. Then Jesus says that he will lay down his life for the sheep, which means he will die for you and me. He seems to say that he has more sheep than just those in Israel, and that he must bring them, also. In the end, this makes a lot of sense, because we are hearing this message. We are hearing this message and have a chance to receive it, because the apostles obeyed Jesus, and have gone to the ends of the earth. (See Matthew 28:19-20) The willingness of Jesus to lay down his life for us, the sheep, is most pleasing to the Father. Even though what was done to Jesus was a great injustice, it was not a surprise to the Father, or somehow outside of His plan. Jesus submits willingly to this plan, even knowing what it means for him. And he knows it better--in terms of how much suffering there will be--than we can ever imagine. The words of Joseph to his brothers (see Genesis 50:20) are ultimately fulfilled in Jesus.

We should all pray for the courage to draw close to Jesus, and to each other, because he is the one shepherd of the one flock.

The Door and the Shepherd (John 10:1-6)

 Jesus starts this section with, "Truly, truly, I say to you," which is a way to introduce new, authoritative teaching. We have to use our imaginations, to think about a thief or a robber, and the way he or she might come in to try to steal the sheep, or even to kill them.

Who is the gatekeeper? I would suggest it's most likely the Father. Then the shepherd goes ahead of the sheep, and leads them where he wants them to go. It's a key part of this analogy, or this "figure," as St. John calls it, that the sheep know the voice of the shepherd. We could possibly imagine someone who looks like the shepherd of a particular herd of sheep, and who has the mannerisms of that shepherd, could possibly trick the sheep. But Jesus is saying that his sheep will know his voice, and they will follow only him. When we believe in Jesus, when we trust in Him, we become the sheep of his pasture.

Jesus and St. John both know that their audience knows Psalm 23, and I'll just put it here, in full, for your consideration as you read along.

A Psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil;
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff,
they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
thou anointest my head with oil,
my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
for ever.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Man Sees Jesus (John 9:35-41)

 Jesus heard that they threw the man out, so he went to meet with him. Jesus must have known how open he was to receiving him, because he asked him, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" Jesus meets us the same way, even if we don't see him with our physical eyes. After all, this man couldn't see Jesus with his eyes, either. Even so, the man's spiritual vision was perfect. Once he knew that he was talking to Jesus, he worshiped him.

The Pharisees find out about this, and they ask Jesus if he thinks they are blind. Jesus answers in an interesting way. He says that if they claimed to be blind, they would be innocent, but because they claim to see, they are guilty. God does not judge us for what we do not know, but rather for what we do know, or what we ought to have known. Jesus has a lot of mercy for sinners, but he knows who is honest, and who is not. When we have a relationship of loving trust with God, we can be totally honest with Him about who we really are. Those who think that religion is something they must jealously guard, because someone will take it from them, cannot live in the true freedom of the children of God.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

The Pharisees Call a Second Time (John 9:24-34)

 By some combination of bad will, and confusion, the Pharisees thought that giving Jesus credit for this miracle would be detracting from God's glory. They accused Jesus of being a sinner, and the man who was healed doesn't know anything about that. But he isn't going to take a good thing, and try to turn it into a bad thing.

The leaders couldn't believe the simple nature of the story of what happened, so they asked again. The man said he'd already told them. Why did they want to hear it again? Perhaps the man had figured out that they hated Jesus, so he asked them if they wanted to become his disciples. That didn't go over too well. They return his insults, and he points out generally that God does not listen to sinners, so if Jesus did this miracle, he is someone that God listens to. This enraged the Pharisees, so they call him a sinner, and throw him out.

Sometimes, the simple story of God's goodness is the truth of the matter. Perhaps we don't need to know all the details of a thing, but we can thank God for the obvious good that we can see in our lives.

And Jesus comes to us, simply offering forgiveness, and a place in the Father's family. It's as simple as that. You can go as deep as you want to go, but it is also the simple story of God's love for you. May God give us the eyes to see His love for us, and the courage to share it with others.