A local Word on the Word

by Rev. Richard G. Elliott
Wednesday, September 4, 2013

John 10:22-30

There’s something in each of us that appreciates a pat on the back and a “Job well done.” But there are also voices that may say, “They don’t know how close I came to blowing that,” or “Now I’m going to have to do this well every time.” 

Once you let it be known that you have a pickup truck, or are willing to help with a move, you will be busy every weekend and have a never-ending supply of needy friends.

We fear being locked in by others’ expectations of us, which is an attitude we share with Jesus. Throughout Mark’s gospel, whenever he performs a miracle he tells the person not to tell anybody. He doesn’t want to be identified only as a healer or miracle worker. 

In John’s gospel, Jesus’ questioners ask for him to say plainly if he is the Messiah or not. This is something he has refused to do throughout the gospels. The reason for this is that everyone had their own idea of what the Messiah would be like. They had Messiah bumper stickers on their donkeys and all of the popular religious books had titles like: “How to Recognize the Messiah.” 

But Jesus was not there to fulfill their expectations. He did not begin his ministry with a market survey: “List 10 things you would most like to see in a Messiah and 10 things you would least like to see.” 

Instead, he came to preach the kingdom of God, defined from God’s point of view.

When we think of Jesus as the good shepherd, we imagine him like the romanticized picture on the cover of our bulletin today, carrying the lost little lamb, surrounded by a flock of adoring sheep. In the picture, he’s also carrying a diminutive shepherd’s crook. In life, the crook is not just a decorative object carried by shepherds and bishops. It is a tool. The hooked end is used to grab sheep by any handy part and to pull them back into the flock. The other end is to poke or whack them into line.

While we may be uncomfortable with the presuppositions that others use to try to box us in, we love our own comfortable boxes. We have spent a lifetime deciding how the world should work and how we can be comfortable in it. But Jesus is not here to help us to be comfortable in our little boxes. 

As the one who would not let the world define him, he will not let us be defined by our worldly ideas either. As the one who proclaims God’s kingdom, he calls each of us to a new understanding of who we are and who God wants us to be in the world. As the staff-wielding shepherd he overturns our comfortable presuppositions and turns us out into the world as he sees it.

Our comfortable boxes only let in those we’re comfortable with. But Jesus knows that God’s flock is larger than we could possibly imagine, and that we can only truly learn to love if our love includes those we find unlovely.

Jesus cannot be contained by any of our presuppositions. We tried to nail him down, but even a tomb could not keep him in. If we can bear the pain of losing our illusions, we can find true freedom and love in following in his steps.

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