Sunday, May 15, 2011

4th Sunday of Easter - May 15, 2011

The gospel lesson for today, taken by itself, is pretty hard to understand, I think.  At least for me.  I mulled it over for a couple of days, talked with the men’s group about it and still felt like I didn’t have a hold on it.  It’s about sheep and I don’t know much about sheep.  Plus, the little I know I already preached about a month or two ago.  What more can I say about it?  It wasn’t until I put the ten verses of our gospel lesson into its context that it started getting a little clearer.  You see, John chapter 10, verses one through ten is  actually just a portion of a larger storyline that is going on during one of Jesus’ visits to Jerusalem.  Our gospel lesson is a smack-down that Jesus delivers to the Pharisees, the religious leaders.  But we don’t get that if we don’t read the whole thing together.  So even though it seems like a pretty long passage, I’m going to read it so that we can hopefully understand what’s going on. 
[Read John 9:1-10:10]

So how does our gospel lesson fit with that whole story about the man who was born blind?  The blind man whom Jesus heals is a sheep.  All his life, people have looked down on him.  They have robbed him of his dignity.  In his culture, it was a widespread assumption that diseases and physical handicaps were caused by sin.  Being blind meant that he must have sinned pretty badly.  But since he was blind from birth, maybe it wasn’t him who had sinned, maybe it was his parents.  Either way, all his life people have looked at him and seen the stain of sin.  And in so doing they have robbed him of having a decent life.  The religious leaders, the Pharisees, should have been the ones to declare God’s mercy.  They should have been the ones declaring God’s lovingkindness to this poor man.  They should have been the ones to declare the worth of each of God’s creatures.  But they have not done so.  The man born blind was a poor defenseless sheep in the sheep pen and they have treated him with contempt.  Instead of being his protectors, they have been thieves and robbers.

And then one day a voice comes.  This blind man hears a voice.  The voice speaks to him as mud is put on his eyes.  Then the voice tells him to go wash it off in a pool of water.  He hears that voice and without really having any reason to believe it, he goes and washes his eyes, his useless eyes, his blind eyes that were the symbol of how sinful and shameful he has been all of his life.  And when he does, all of a sudden he can see. 

So again, in the terms of the images that Jesus uses, this man is a poor sheep, stuck in a sheep pen where he is beset by robbers and thieves [the religious leaders], even though it should be a place of protection.  And the voice of a shepherd comes and calls him out.  And he hears and he trusts and he goes out through the gate...... into a better life...... into green pastures...... into abundance.  For that is what the shepherd has called him to.

Jesus is using these images to deliver some news to the religious leaders. Jesus is telling them to their faces, that they are the thieves and robbers.  He is telling them that they are not really the leaders of the people.  Jesus is attacking them, accusing them.  And the funny thing is, they just can’t see what he’s talking about.  They “see” themselves as being the leaders; they “see” themselves as being the righteous ones; they “see” themselves as being the judges of everyone else.  According to the religious leaders it is everyone else who is blind.  But here Jesus tells them, “No, you are the blind ones.  You think so much of yourselves, but you’ve been a curse for the people you should have been protecting.  You’re not shepherds, you are thieves and robbers.” 

Further, Jesus is announcing to the religious leaders that he will be calling his sheep out, that his sheep will no longer be subject to them.  He is talking about the establishment of the Christian church, where people will believe in Jesus and escape the authority of the old religious system, which only robbed them.  These people whom he is calling out, these sheep, are the first Christians. 

So, to summarize, this is what Jesus has told the religious leaders.  “The people are not yours.  The authority is not yours.  I will call my people and they will believe in me and have life and they will have it abundantly.  They won’t listen to you.  Take this blind man.  He heard my voice and he received his sight and he has come to believe in me.  He is just the beginning.  There are many more to come.  You’re going to try to destroy the work I’m doing, but it’s all over for you.”

So that is the explanation of our gospel lesson for today.  It is an accusation and it is a statement of intent, a promise.  Jesus accuses the religious leaders and he tells them and the others what he is going to do.

Now this is the work that Jesus Christ has been doing ever since.  He has been calling his people into abundant life, freeing them from thieves and robbers.  What does that look like these days?  What robs people of abundant life?  Alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity, homosexuality, greed, busy-ness, abortion, racism, self-fulfillment at the expense of responsibility....... and so on.  These things (and others,) as well as the people who condone and encourage them, rob us of the abundant life to which Jesus calls us. 

But my point this morning is not to end here, dark and grim, with the thieves and robbers.  For that would be to miss the point entirely.  When Jesus declares his intentions, he is declaring a promise.  He does not say, “I am going to try to do battle with these things.”  No.  He declares victory and says, “I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly.”  Jesus has life for you.  It is an abundant life.  And it is an eternal life.  Given to you.  Because you are his sheep and he has called you.  Amen 

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