John 10:27 – 30
This Sunday, we hear a portion of the beautiful, symbolic presentation of Jesus known as the Good Shepherd. Of course, we do not hear Jesus refer to himself in these terms this Sunday; that happens earlier (cf. 10:14). The verses we hear on Sunday are part of his discourse against the Pharisees. The good shepherd discourse continues the theme of attack on the Pharisees that ends John 9. We will recall the account of the man born blind whom Jesus cured. In this account, we see the baptismal imagery of Jesus using spittle to give him sight and the blindness of the Pharisees, while the man progressively comes to recognize who Jesus is: “the man called Jesus,” “a prophet,” and finally “Lord.” In John 10, we hear Jesus present two images – the shepherd and the gate – to identify who he is and to continue his attack against the Pharisees, who continue to be blind. The figure is allegorical; the hired hands are the Pharisees who excommunicated the cured blind man. It serves as a commentary on John 9. Jesus contrasts himself with the false shepherds of Israel, represented by the Pharisees, who rejected the one who gave the blind man sight. For the shepherd motif, used of Yahweh in the Old Testament, cf. Genesis 48:15; 49:24; Micah 7:14; Psalm 23:1-4; 80:1. To really understand this passage, we need to read chapters 9 and 10.
27 My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
My sheep hear my voice: unlike the Jewish leaders who were part of Jesus’ audience but too caught up in their understanding of the Law and its requirements, those who can hear the truth of Jesus’ message follow him.
28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.
I give them eternal life: this claim is problematic for the Sadducees who do not believe in an afterlife and for all Jews who could not believe that Jesus is God.
29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.
who has given them to me, is greater than all: As you will read in your footnotes, the textual evidence for the first clause is very divided; it may also be translated: “As for the Father, what he has given me is greater than all,” or “My Father is greater than all, in what he has given me.” The Father’s omnipotence assures that no one, not even Satan, can wrench the ones He has given to the Son away from Him. But, for the Jewish leaders, the heresy is that Jesus is claiming to be the son of God – he speaks of God as “my father.”
30 The Father and I are one.”
The Father and I are one: This is justification for John 10:29; it asserts unity of power and reveals that the words and deeds of Jesus are the words and deeds of God. This is one of those “hard sayings” that provokes the disbelief and even wrath of the Jews. But, in this context, it merely reinforces Jesus’ earlier assertion that no one can take the ones given to Him by the Father from His hands.
In this short, but powerful, passage, we see the three requirements to belonging to the flock of Jesus: to believe in him is the first and basic. But, we must also listen to his voice. That is, we must heed his teachings. This implies both familiarity and attentiveness. That’s why it’s so good that we come together to hear and study his Word here. And third, we must follow him. To follow him is to do as he commands. Then, we will be with him. And, since he and the Father are one, we will also be with the Father. In fact, the very reason for our creation is fulfilled as we, through following Christ, are led to the Father in heaven.
We will not hear it on Sunday, but notice how the Jews respond to Jesus’ words: they “picked up rocks to stone him” (v. 31).
The real message here is directed to us, his sheep, rather than to the shepherd. As we continue the Easter season, we want to stay close to our risen Lord, the Good Shepherd to leads us to eternal life. This gospel passage prepares us to understand the first two readings that we hear on Sunday, so let’s look at them now.
Acts 13:14, 43 – 52
The next two readings present how the early Christian community came to be the ones who listen to the voice of Jesus and follow his way, even when it means separating ourselves from others who cannot come to believe. The first part of the Acts of the Apostles speaks about the early Jewish Christian community and the inauguration of the Gentile mission through Peter’s experience with Cornelius and his household. Beginning with chapter 13, however, Luke begins his account of Paul’s missionary work; this will occupy most of the remainder of Acts. On Sunday, we will hear about Paul and Barnabas in Antioch, Pisidia. But, his call begins in Antioch, Syria. All three of Paul’s missions begin in this town, the largest town in ancient Syria. Let’s read about that first (read Acts 13:1-6, 13).
14 They continued on from Perga and reached Antioch in Pisidia. On the sabbath they entered (into) the synagogue and took their seats.
Antioch in Pisidia: this town had been built in 300BC. By the time of the early Christian community, there were a considerable number of Jews living there. Paul must have been a compelling preacher. In his first extensive homily recorded in Acts, he makes it very clear that the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem had put Jesus to death and that he had risen from the dead, his audience – mostly Jews – wanted him to return the following Sabbath. Let’s read this homily before we examine the passage that we will hear on Sunday (read 3:14 – 42).
Now, let’s review the passage we will hear on Sunday.
43 (After the congregation had dispersed,) many Jews and worshipers who were converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to remain faithful to the grace of God.
converts to Judaism: those Gentiles who were circumcised. Notice how Paul and Barnabas urge the Jews to “remain faithful to the grace of God.” He did not reject the Jewish tradition but presents it as fulfilled in Jesus who came “not to condemn the Law and the prophets but to fulfill them.”
44 On the following Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.
whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord: Remember, the city was predominantly non-Jewish, so their coming to the synagogue to hear Paul speak was a testament to his compelling message.
45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and with violent abuse contradicted what Paul said.
Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy: even though they had invited Paul and Barnabas to return, they were jealous that the non-Jews would join them; they still considered themselves the chosen people and were not open to the universality of Paul’s message.
46 Both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first, but since you reject it and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.
since you reject it: The refusal to believe appears to frustrate God’s plan for his chosen people; however, no adverse judgment is made here concerning their ultimate destiny. Again, Luke, in the words of Paul, speaks of the priority of Israel in the plan for salvation (see Acts 10:36). It’s easy to imagine that the Jews’ rejection of his message left Paul deeply grieved. He was convinced that God had commissioned him to preach the Gospel to his own people as well as to the world. He explains his anguish in detail in his letter to the Romans but here he simply warns the Jews that by disdaining his message they are refusing God’s offer of eternal life.
we now turn to the Gentiles: this becomes a major theme for the remainder of Acts (14:1, 16:13, 17:1, 10, 17, 18:4, 6, 19, 19:8, 28:28).
47 For so the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.'”
a light to the Gentiles: this quotation of Isaiah 49:6, a part of the Servant Song, associates Paul with the Servant of Yahweh. His preaching is to illuminate the nations. And, he sees that God had called the Jewish faithful to be “a light to the Gentiles” to bring His salvation “to the ends of the earth.”
48 The Gentiles were delighted when they heard this and glorified the word of the Lord. All who were destined for eternal life came to believe,
Gentiles were delighted when they heard this: fortunately for us, the Gentiles were open to the message.
49 and the word of the Lord continued to spread through the whole region.
50 The Jews, however, incited the women of prominence who were worshipers and the leading men of the city, stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their territory.
51 So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium.
shook the dust from their feet: this repudiation is also found Luke 9:5, 10:11. This gesture indicates completes dissociation from such unbelievers.
52 The disciples were filled with joy and the holy Spirit.
Revelation 7:9, 14b – 17
We hear again from the Book of Revelation. This passage contains another vision of those who will come through times of persecution to share in God’s glory in heaven. This is a perfect example of how heresies can be overcome by reading all of the Bible. Let’s look first at Revelation 7:1 – 4. This is where the notion of the predestination of the 144,000 comes from. But, what we will hear on Sunday gives a very different picture:
9 After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.
White robes . . . palm branches: symbols of joy and victory; see the note on Rev 3:5.
10 They cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb.”
Salvation comes from: literally, “(let) salvation (be ascribed) to.” A similar hymn of praise is found at the fall of the dragon (Rev 12:10) and of Babylon (Rev 19:1).
11 All the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They prostrated themselves before the throne, worshiped God,
12 and exclaimed: “Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
13 Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”
14 I said to him, “My lord, you are the one who knows.”
14b He said to me, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Time of great distress: fierce persecution by the Romans; cf Introduction.
washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb: this could refer to 1) those who have been redeemed by Christ’s shedding of blood; 2) those who participate in Christ’s consecration through baptism; and 3) the martyrs whose blood was shed like Christ’s.
15 “For this reason they stand before God’s throne and worship him day and night in his temple. The one who sits on the throne will shelter them.
16 They will not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike them.
17 For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Lamb… will shepherd them: the lamb is the sacrificial lamb. Jesus leads us by giving his life for us; we can never forget that clearest sign of his love because he calls us to follow his way, which is a self-sacrificing love.
Life-giving water: literally, “the water of life,” God’s grace, which flows from Christ; cf. Rev 21:6; 22:1,17; John 4:10,14.
Jesus is the True Shepherd and will not allow anyone – on earth or in heaven – to snatch from his care the sheep that belong to him. Despite persecution, they are assured eternal life. This has been preached not only to the Jews, the chosen ones, but to the Gentiles as well. And, everyone who belongs to his flock will be saved – Jew and Gentile. But you must believe in him, listen to his voice and follow his way.