Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Father and I Are One

In the last line of Sunday's gospel lesson (John 10:22-30), Jesus said to the religious people of his day, "The Father and I are one." This is a conclusion not only for the lesson but also his argument. The Jews, by which John seems to mean the religious authorities, came to Jesus asking whether he was, indeed, the Messiah. "How long will you keep us in suspense?" they asked. "If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly." And Jesus replied, "But I have told you, and you do not believe." Before they had a chance to respond, Jesus continued, explaining that only the sheep of his flock hear and understand his voice. But (and here's the kicker), Jesus also told them that there was nothing they could do about it: "I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand."

Of course, that statement in part means that not even death--Jesus' or theirs--will be able to separate Jesus from his followers. But, in the words that follow, I think John layered on another meaning. In some enigmatic words that are easy for the preacher to skip on "Good Shepherd Sunday," Jesus declared, "What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father's hand. The Father and I are one." What has the Father given him? What is this thing that no one can snatch out of the Father's hand? And how is this assertion that Jesus and the Father are one reflective of that?

The Jews asked Jesus if he is the Messiah, and along with that question they brought all of the cultural, religious, historical expectation that the designation "Messiah" contained. But Jesus represents something that none of those expectations could anticipate. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He isn't just anointed by God to bring victory to God's oppressed people as anointed ones have done in the past. He is God with us. That's the sort of designation that goes beyond messiahship. It's not the sort of designation that is bestowed upon a prophet when his words ring true. Nor is it the title we ascribe to the king when he sits upon the throne. Jesus God-connected identity isn't subject to the eyes of the beholders. He and the Father are one--inseparably, undeniably one. No matter what happens--betrayal, arrest, cross, death--nothing can take away Jesus' messianic-and-more identity as God with us.

Notice what happens in the next verse: "The Jews picked up stones again to stone him." In response to their death threat, Jesus asked, "I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?" In those words, he puts the expectations of works back on the authorities who would kill him. Their response, "It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God," is John's way of playing the story back at them. Remember, in John's gospel account, signs point to a deeper truth. This is the Jews acknowledging that to which the signs point but rejecting explicitly their implied conclusion.

It turns out that John 10 is about a lot more than messianic expectation. The "shepherd of God's people" sounds a lot like David--the anointed, messianic leader from Israel's past. But John wants us to know this is different. No matter what the people are hoping for, Jesus is not just another messianic leader like David. He and the Father are one. His messiahship transcends the expectations of his day. Might the preacher ask the congregation what sort of shepherd they are following--one who points them to God or one who is God himself?

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