Voices

John 10:22-30 (Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9-17)
 
 
The story is told of an agitated street preacher who declared, to all who walked by, that he believed passionately in life after death. To which a passing scholar of John the Evangelist replied (just as loudly) “I believe in life before death – and so does Jesus!”
The scene in this week’s text is the outermost court of the Temple in Jerusalem – the portico of Solomon. t’s winter, December to be precise, at the Festival of the Dedication, commonly known to this day as Hanukkah. (For three years the Syrians under Antiochus defiled the temple by erecting a statue of their version of Zeus. Led by Judas Maccabeus, the Syrians were driven out, and the Temple was rededicated. During the rededication, lamps with one-days’ worth of oil burned for eight nights.)
 
On the one hand the contrast between Jesus and this great festival couldn’t be starker: a long-standing tradition, meets a single person. On the other hand, we see a festival observing an event in which God was active and present; and in Jesus we see the same – the Messiah as the new Temple.
 
“How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly?” (John 10:24).  The Greek reads literally, “How long will you take the breath from us?” – perhaps a play on words by John to contrast with the life that is about to be revealed. But Jesus’ Messiahship is not the issue, for as Jesus points out, “The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep (vs. 25b-26). Witnessing Jesus’ deeds does not itself lead to faith (the authorities saw, yet still didn’t believe). The issue is that they didn’t recognize the voice of the shepherd.  That they were not “my sheep,” might reflect John’s idea of divine election, or it might simply be that their ears were blocked by stubbornness, hardheartedness, or the like. 
 
Regardless of why the religious authorities do not hear the voice of The Shepherd, there are those who do! And, in this moment (as one scholar puts it) there is the collapse of time; of future and present: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand” (vs. 28). The collapse is seen in the tense of “I give them…”  Not, you notice, “I shall/will give them.” Eternal life is here and now, in the promise of a relationship in the present that shall reach into the future. It is not the promise of something far, far away. 
 
For a community such as John’s; living under the threat of Rome – and of rejection from the Synagogues to which many were deeply connected through blood and kin – this message was life giving! Such loss, such suffering; where is hope? Hope lies in the assurance that “The Father and I are one” (vs. 30). And, this “oneness” has a promise: “No one can snatch them [Jesus’ sheep] out of my hand” (vs. 28b).
 
What does this promise look like? We find out in this week’s first lesson (Revelation 7:9-17).  In Handel’s Messiah (Number 53), we hear of a song that “they” sing to the Lamb:
 
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing… Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.  
 
This imagery comes from Revelation 5.  Now, in Chapter 7, we discover who “they” are:
 
These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.  They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (Revelation 7:14b-17).
 
Now, that’s a word of hope. Hope to those who are suffering; to those who are dying; to those who mourn the loss of loved ones. Eternal life begins now; and neither suffering nor death will have the final word. Eternal life begins now, and shall never end. If that is so, then we might ask ourselves a question:
 
If this life is ours, right now, and if death no longer has dominion over us, how ought that change our attitude of heart; the way we live and serve; the way we dare to love?