An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Fourth Sunday of Easter, John 10:27-30, Year C, John 10:27-30, April 21, 2013
DOES GOD EXIST? Surfing the internet on the subject, I came across yesterday an interesting letter that partly reads: “On whose order is the sun rising everyday in the east? What was there before the Big Bang? Till date, can anyone stop birth, death, disease and old age? Science can create atom bombs but can it ever produce an ant in the laboratory? Our senses are imperfect, our eyes cannot see beyond a certain distance; we have our own cheating propensities (to fulfill our selfish desires); thus, the absolute truth which is completely spiritual can never ever be estimated by our tiny senses. God is infinite and we are infinitesimal. Can a fish in a well ever imagine how big Atlantic Ocean is?” To which, a self-proclaimed atheist retorted: “On whose order the 3,000 innocents were murdered in the Twin Tower of New York? Did a god order to do the crime?” But I like the concluding argument of the believer: “Our eyes are so powerless that it cannot even see in darkness. We need the mercy of the “Sun” (God) to see everything…” This makes it clear that to believe in him, God has to touch us first with his mercy, with his grace.
From the reading of the Gospel, something similar may be noted. What will convince us that Jesus is the Messiah? In Matthew, when the disciples of John asked Jesus if he was the Messiah, Jesus said in reply: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: the blind recover their sight, cripples walk, lepers are cured, the deaf hear, dead men are raised to life…” (Matt 11:4-5). Jesus appealed to his works. In the Gospel of John, Jesus similarly pointed to his works as bearing witness that he was from God. And the greatest of his works was the resurrection. More than anything else, it was the resurrection that unveiled the identity of Jesus to the early Christian communities: he is the Messiah of God. Yet, some questions remain a puzzle. If Jesus is God’s Anointed, how come, during his public ministry, the Jewish leaders did not believe in him? Why was his messiahship obscure to them? Why did they persecute him instead? Why is it that despite the claims he made (John 8:58; Luke 22:67-70), and for all the signs he performed (John 3:2; 5:36; 10:25), the Jews rejected him?
The unbelief of the Jews, despite Jesus’ revelation and works, was obviously troubling to John’s community as it is probably to us. The present reading (John 10:27-30) provides us John’s answer to the problem. If the Jewish leaders did not believe in Jesus’ messiahship, the reason for this is not that it lacked witnesses, but that the Father did not entrust them to him. “No one can come to me, unless the Father who sent me draws him” (6:44). “The works that I do in my Father’s name give witness in my favor, but you refuse to believe because you are not my sheep” (10:25b-26a). In contrast, the disciples listened to him precisely because the Father gave them to him. Only the one who belongs to the Father listens to Jesus: “Whoever is of God hears every word God speaks. The reason you do not hear is that you are not of God” (8:44). Because they belonged to God the Father, they were on the side of the truth: “The reason why I came into the world is to testify to the truth. Anyone committed to the truth hears my voice” (18:37). The disciples followed him (10:14), and they knew him (10:4). It was the Father who established the relationship between Jesus and the disciples, his sheep. If, on the other hand, the Jews could not accept him, that owed to their spiritual blindness (9:3)—a characteristic of people who are outside God’s flock and who are of this world (8:23,47). Anyone who does not belong to God and is not committed to the truth cannot hear his voice or recognize his messiahship.
Though the Jewish leaders rejected him, Jesus remains the true Messiah. John adduces three arguments. First, Jesus cares for his sheep: he knows them (vv14,27), he is united with them, lays down his life for them (v11), and gives them eternal life (vv10,28). Jesus stands in contrast with the messianic pretenders—the false messiahs of Jesus’ time, insurrectionaries, and probably even the Teacher of Righteousness at Qumran--who were actually thieves and robbers; they came to steal, slaughter and destroy (v10). John’s portrait of Jesus as the Messiah who gives his life for his sheep is akin to the Markan Messiah—the Crucified Messiah--who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for all (Mark 10:45). Second, even if attacked, the believers cannot be torn because Jesus is the model shepherd who cares for them, and the Father protects them. It is for the Father that Jesus acts. Because the Father is powerful, none of them will be snatched away from God, none will be lost. One is reminded of the sapiential claim: “The souls of the just are in the hands of God, and no torment shall touch them” (Wisd 3:1). The Father and Jesus are one in protecting them, and their protection is very strong, because they are one is power and operation (John 10:30). Finally, by way of implication, the prophecy that God will become the shepherd of his people finds fulfillment in Jesus. It may be recalled that in the history of Israel, kings who were impious were denounced as wicked shepherds (see Jer 10:21; 23:1; Ezek 34:5-6; 1 Kgs 22:17). But Ezekiel foresaw a time when God himself would shepherd his flock: “I myself will look after and tend my sheep… You, my sheep, you are the sheep of my pasture and I am your God, says the Lord God” (Ezek 34:11.31).
In effect, the recognition that Jesus is the Messiah does not depend on our own knowledge from textbooks, from our own search, or from documentary evidence. If people do not accept Jesus, his teaching and works, it is because they have not been given over by the Father to Jesus. The acknowledgement is a gift from the Father. It is he who makes the initiative in giving us the faculty to see it—the eyes of faith. Those who are given this gift find it easy to see in this human Jesus, in this crucified “criminal”, the Messiah of God. No wonder, in Matthew’s account on the question of Messiahship, we are told that when Peter said to Jesus that you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God, Jesus quickly added that the Father gave Peter the insight as to who He was (Matt 16:16-18). If we have this faith, we can easily recognize his voice. We do not even need empirical evidence. And once we are in him, we are assured that nothing can separate us from him, though pernicious evils may come: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Trial or distress or persecution or the sword?… Neither life or death, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future nor powers, neither height nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us form the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39).*