Summary: Jesus’ words lead if we will listen
One of the top three needs for human beings is to find a place where they fit in. It can be called by fancy terms like self-affirmation, identity or sense of belonging but it boils down to finding a place where they feel at home. In the world in which we live there are a lot of places that want to give that to us. Friends and family are always there for us. We hear that from well meaning parents and from others. Some people don’t find this identity in those people closest to them but in their job. They work long and hard to “make a name for themselves”. In the United States we have rewarded this and even given it the name the “Protestant Work Ethic”. Achieving the Great American Dream with two cars, a house, etc will give one a sense of belonging. There are some who find their identity in looking forward. When I get through with this or that, then I’ll be somebody. Others look backwards. Because I did that back then, that’s tells the world who I am. And there are those who seek the place they fit in through sports or the arts. Others hang on to their family heritage or history. And there is nothing wrong with any of these as far as they go. What’s wrong is that they don’t go far enough.
Jesus is walking under a covered patio area that ran down one side of the Temple. It’s winter and most likely pretty close to our Christmas because the Festival we call Hanukkah is going on. Circling Jesus like hyenas were various Jewish leaders. On their mind was one thing. They wanted a straight answer to the question of whether Jesus was Messiah, the Christ. It was a theological question with obvious political results.
Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, is the celebration of the Jewish revolt over the forces of Greece and what was once Alexander the Greats conquest. The Maccabean Revolt is what historians call it and it ended with the temple being rededicated with only enough “ceremonially pure” oil for one night. God worked a miracle and the lamp burned for seven days instead. Each year the lights reminded the people of the struggle they had faced. And I would imagine as they saw a Roman legionnaire they thought of the struggle they still faced.
Was Jesus, this so-called miracle worker, the one who was going to free Israel again? Was he the new Maccabe? They wanted to know. I imagine some of those wanted to support him and others destroy him. So they continue to badge him for an answer.
The answer they got isn’t the one they expected. He had told them as plainly as he knew how. He had done what His Father had told Him to do. His miracles, works, wonders, whatever terms you want to give them were all the testimony anyone needed. Typical for Jesus he turns the question back on those who ask Him. What starts out as a question about Jesus’ identity becomes a commentary on our identity.
Here’s the short version. There are those who belong to Jesus sheepfold and those who don’t. Those who do believe see the miracles and believe. The Father has given them to Jesus and as a result Jesus gives them eternal life because nothing can take them from Him or His Father. Those who don’t believe aren’t part of the fold.
As clear as that can be I need to move beyond it because Jesus does. He describes those who are his sheep by saying. “They listen to my voice, I know them, and they follow me.” Twila Paris made a comment worth noting in Marriage Partnership. She wrote: “We human being are so security-oriented. Whether it is conscious or not, we all need and want security in our lives. From the time we are born, we are clinging to something. That’s okay, but we’ve got to be clinging to the right thing. When we are holding onto Jesus, that’s when we are holding on to real hope.”
Don’t take this wrong but many of us would prefer to be Jesus’ cat than his sheep. Cats are independent, aloof, they come when they want to. They do things are their terms and when they want attention they come to the person they own and insist on being loved. I know I’ve treated Jesus like this? I’ve gone off on my own, done my own thing, and when I wanted a special touch, something I couldn’t get then I came to him and rubbed against his leg and made myself available.
Sheep aren’t like this. They are not the brightest crayon in the animal world. They will eat themselves off a cliff or into rough places. They will walk into a stream and drown as their wool weighs them down. They need constant care and watching. If they are to survive they need a shepherd to watch them.