Here’s another way I side with the Pharisees, and a major reason John is my least favorite gospel.
Again thanks to Fr. Raymond E. Brown’s commentary, I now realize that John, like the other gospel writers, uses parables. But where the authors of Matthew, Mark and Luke start theirs with Jesus saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”, John starts his with Jesus saying, “I am…”. The way, the truth and the light. The living water. The bread of life.
Chapter 10 is the Good Shepherd chapter. (Though it’s actually a little more confusing than that, as Jesus compares himself to the good shepherd, but also the gate through which the shepherd passes, and there’s also a gatekeeper that may or may not also be Jesus…so the parable loses some message discipline here.)
Let me skip the “How do I feel about being called a sheep?” discussion for now, in part because we seem to be calling people sheep when we disagree with who they listen to pretty frequently, so I think that discussion has been had.
In the second half of John 10, the Pharisees turn on Jesus because, as they say, he is trying to make himself God. They’ve asked him if he’s the Messiah, and Jesus launches into one of those long speeches about his relationship to his Father. And they figure out that he is calling himself the Son of God and take offense.
Which, as a general rule, so would I. When I see people claiming to be some sort of God’s gift to the world, I tend to get a little worked up. So I would have been right there with the Pharisees, mad at Jesus for puffing himself up and making himself out to be special. And, in Jesus’ case, I would be wrong.
But how do you know? Should we let the Pharisees off the hook for not recognizing that, unlike most everyone else who has ever claimed to be uniquely divine, this Jesus guy was actually the genuine article?
By way of offering a defense for his claim of divinity, Jesus points to what he did. And even the dissenters in the crowd did the same – they argued that if Jesus was crazy or demonic, he wouldn’t be able to do the things he did. So maybe we should focus on what he did a little more.
He healed the outcast and excluded and brought them into the fold.
He tracked down the lost and showed them how to be found.
He stared down the judgmental and offered mercy to the judged.
He gave up his own life to give life to others.
In Philippians 2:6-11, St. Paul invokes what is already a Christian hymn by the time Paul writes, only about 20 years after his death, saying Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant…he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (I’m guessing it rhymes in the original Greek.)
That’s the stuff we should try to model – the humility to put others, especially the most vulnerable, first. The willingness to give up what we could rightfully claim for the benefit of those with nothing to claim. Because it’s that stuff that proves whose sheep you are, not the number of times you can parrot “I am.”
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