Thursday, April 30, 2009

Jesus the Revealer - Part 1 - God as a dirty, hands-on, loving shepherd

The scripture Stephen is going to discuss this week is (in part) John 10:1-18.

As the astute reader noticed (that's you), this is not Stephen since he doesn't speak/write in 3rd person (yet). For the next couple weeks, Stephen has asked others to share their thoughts on upcoming scriptures here on the blog. So this week, you get me, Jeremy.

At the last Bible discussion group, we discussed a group of passages from John that seem to focus on Jesus as Revealer (to use Stephen's term) of the nature of God. This was especially needed around the time the book of John was recorded as the Christian church was pulling away from the Jewish tabernacle. I won't go too far down those paths since Stephen will undoubtedly discuss them, but I thought the context would help frame our discussion here.

This passage states some pretty bold things about God and could imply quite a few others. I'm not bg on speculation, so I'll try to stick to things that are pretty clear, drawing from the discussion group and from some thoughts from Barbara Jordan (fellow church participant).

God is known and accessible. The sheep know their shepherd's voice and will follow him. Of course, so many of us are trained to be critical and skeptical that our trust - in each other, in God, and in ourselves - can be twisted this way and that. I am an excellent example of this, as I want all the data I can get about, well, darn near everything. I find it hard to trust in the dumbest situations, but yet in others (mostly having to do with people I know well) I will fight by their side for little conscious reason. I suspect that we recognize God in a thousand parts of our day, but we subcomb to our training/experience in our cultures and subcultures. If a sheep, as dumb as they are, can figure it out, maybe we can as well.

God is loving and accepting beyond our understanding. Though we can recognize God, some things are just in complete contrast to how most cultural behaviors play out. How do we, as people in Western Culture, construct who we are? Much of what I've read (such as Georg Simmel, Darendorf, Volf) note that we compare and contrast, focusing more on the differences to establish the idea that this here *thumps chest* is me and that there *points* is you. As mentioned above, this likely was a point of contention at the time of John (tabernacle vs. church) that led to more than just heated arguments. So what do we see here in this passage? There are many pens, but one shepherd. It's almost as if John acknowledges the need for difference, but that how we organize/classify ourselves and build walls ultimately doesn't matter to God. The shepherd is the gateway, the access point, the way forward and in, the path - and each pen has the same gate.

God is watchful and will fight for us. Here, I refer to the wolf part of the passage, as well as to the sacrifice of Jesus mentioned at the end of the passage. God sees our pain and feels our pain right beside us - but notice there is no mention of preventing our pain. Though the shepherd will lay down his life for his sheep, the sheep may still be hurt. But again, read closely - the sheep will not be scattered. (This seems to be implied very, very strongly in the comparision between the shepherd and the hired hand, which brings me to the final point..)

God is trusting. Though the hired hands might flee from the wolf and screw things up now and again, mostly they do good work. Though definitely subordinate to the shepherd and fallible, they are still trusted to care for the sheep. I'd bet that the learning experience as hired hand is similar to that as a sheep (if, one hopes, a bit faster for the human). The learning and trust go both ways.

There are more things to draw from this passage regarding the nature of God as revealed in Jesus - even more from our talk on Saturday. But this reaches the limit that I can possibly take in effectively (yes, I'm selfish). Feel free to comment on these topics (and others from the past).

Peace to you all, and see you on Sunday,



Anonymous said...

Thank you Jeremy for this wonderful blog. You gave me some fresh facets of this passage to consider (gonna have to adjust my sermon now); and have demonstrated how wonderful it is to pastor in a congregation where folks take seriously the concept of the "Priesthood of All Believers" and share an ongoing dialogue about the meaning of scripture.
Shalom, Stephen

Jeremy said...

Thanks, Stephen. Glad to help out, and thanks for the opportunity. As a re-read my post, I think I might be a little to easy on the hired hands, here (as a hired hand myself, maybe? hard to say...) since they do run away at a crucial moment. But then again, the shepherd thinks enough of them to hire them on in the first place...