Sunday’s gospel passage (John 10:22-30), as it always is on the Fourth Sunday from Easter, is from John, chapter 10. Over the course of the three-year lectionary cycle, the bulk of Jesus’ discussion of himself as the “Good Shepherd” in chapter 10 is read – roughly 1/3 of it per year. For this reason, the Fourth Sunday of Easter is often called Good Shepherd Sunday. It’s also the reason you’ll hear Psalm 23 at worship.
This year we get final third of the cycle, and what you need to know for Sunday is that Jesus’ conversation partners in all this, the Jewish leaders gathered at the Temple, were sick and tired of all this Shepherd talk. Less metaphor, more answers. They just wanted know: Was Jesus the Messiah, or was he not the Messiah? Quit dancing around the subject, they demanded, and just say “yes” or “no.”
To this Jesus begins his reply, “I already told you.”
Can’t you imagine the smoke rising out of their ears with this answer? They asked a very clear, direct question, and they got a rather opaque, indirect answer. It’s not unlike the time Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” (John 18:33)—there too Jesus simply refused to answer the question with “yes” or “no.”
It reminds me of a category of phone call I get with some regularity. The person who calls, after a curt greeting, inquires, “Do you do weddings?” This is a “yes” or “no” question, to which I always answer, “Well…”
Of course I “do weddings,” but not the sort of weddings that people going through the phone book looking for someone to do a wedding are talking about. There is a confusion between “weddings” and “weddings,” and I can’t just answer the question if someone doesn’t understand what they are asking. In this I think our Lord would sympathize. Is Jesus the Christ? Sure. But not what the Jewish leaders meant by “Christ.” Is Jesus a king? Of course. But not what Pilate meant by “king.” The gospel records the confusion between “Christ” and “Christ”, between “king” and “king.”
At the end of his lengthy, indirect answer, Jesus concludes, “I and the Father are one.” That’s what Jesus meant by Christ – and it’s something far different (and greater) than that the people who asked the question had in mind.
And so the people decide to stone him.
Here’s the thing: allowing Jesus to define the terms of our salvation is hard. If we’re honest with ourselves, and honest with the gospel, we cannot do it by ourselves. It’s only God that can bring us to see Jesus for who he is. The Father “has given” the sheep of Jesus’ flock over to his care. They are “my sheep,” Jesus says, by virtue of God’s call.
But even for us whom God has called, it can be difficult to really listen to Jesus. We want to Jesus to listen to what we think we need, but we need to listen to what Jesus wants to offer us: “I will give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).
So as you get ready for Sunday this week, is there some place in your life where you are demanding of God a “yes” or “no” answer? Is there any place where you might need to let him redefine the terms of what his work might look like in your life?
The Rev. Andrew Van Kirk is the Associate Rector at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, McKinney.