John has a big thing about putting events into context and I have to think “why is that so important?” In the first sentence of today’s reading there are five specific points of reference: Feast of Dedication, Jerusalem, winter, the temple, and the Colonnade of Solomon.
Let me take a shot at these:
Feast of Dedication or Festival of Lights or Hanukah – was a celebration of the restoration of the Jewish temple for worship. Around 165 BC the Jews were under Syrian rule and forbidden to practice their religion. At some point the Syrian ruler “spoiled” the temple by having a pig sacrificed on the altar! The story goes this stirred a revolt among the Jews lead by Judah Maccabee and his brothers. They were able to rally some freedom fighters, throw out the Syrians and reinstitute Jewish worship. The lamp within the Temple was to burn 24/7 to show God’s continual presence but there was only one day’s worth of holy oil. They lit the candle and it burned for the 8 days it took for them to press some sanctified new oil. This miracle led to the 8 day celebration of Hanukah which features the lighting of the menorah. The holiday is celebrated in winter (November or December). Of course the temple is in Jerusalem.
Colonnade of Solomon – This covered porch ran along the east side of the temple, overlooking the Kidron valley. It was called the “porch of judgment” where King Solomon would sit “kind of in the open air” and make judgments and exercise justice.
End of history lesson. Now back to the story.
Jesus is out walking on Solomon’s porch when the Jews surround him and asked, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus almost seems sympathetic to their frustration when he begins His answer. “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.” It’s almost like you are not going to have sheep ears and understand what’s going on here until you put down your judgment and be open to believing. You don’t have to be afraid of believing me. My sheep have eternal life, will never perish and cannot be stolen. My father is greater than anything or anybody else and no one can take His sheep. “I and the Father are one.” (I’m really amazed at Jesus’ compassion and restraint to keep offering life over death, over and over. At the same time I am grateful because, even though I might be one of His sheep, I don’t really trust Him in everything. I pester Him for the answers I want to hear instead of trusting the answers He gives out of His love for me.)
This last line makes them angry – or fuels their self-righteousness, and like frustrated 3-year olds, they pick up rocks to throw.
“Why are you doing this?” Jesus says. “You have seen all my deeds are good. Which one of those makes you want to stone me?”
It’s not the deeds – it’s the claim you make to be from God; to be God. Wow! That is telling. They are the Jews, they believe themselves to be God’s chosen people, they are seeking to follow all the things God has told them – right down to stoning – but they are offended when they actually encounter God. They are all standing on Solomon’s porch being faced with discerning truth and acting justly…they are there to celebrate the miracle of light but it is still so dark here.
Jesus is still offering compassion in His response. “Ok, look at the works I have done. Can you see those works line up with the God you are seeking? They do, right? If you only acknowledge that – you will know and understand “that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (I can only conclude Jesus’ patience comes from this union and the total focus on the mission – “Care for the Sheep”. I have sheep in my life to care for and I run the gambit of emotions and patience in trying to do the job. Am I empowered by my connection to Jesus and His purposes for giving me this job? Do I need to remind myself that I can truly love the sheep when I see them through Jesus’ eyes?)
Eventually Jesus has to withdraw. They want Him arrested and it’s not time so He escapes. He goes across the Jordan to where John had first been baptizing. It is a respite – not from the people who come, because many come to him – but a respite from intensity of the Jews. Here many believe the signs and John’s testimony.
God loves us and is infinite in His patience.
My strength to follow Jesus depends on my abiding in Him. Need to listen with my “sheep ears”.
About the World?
You too can have “sheep ears”.