Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, January 29, 2023

YEAR A 2023 feast of st. timothy

St. Timothy, 2023
2 Timothy 1:1–8
Psalm 112:1–9
John 10:1–10

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The gospel of John really should have been called, “The Metaphors of Jesus, and Why We Don’t Get Them.”  It is a recurring theme in John’s gospel.  Jesus picks out a common everyday thing and uses it as an illustration for some bigger point he’s trying to make.  And pretty much every time he does this, the people he is talking to do not understand.

In the 4th chapter of John, we have the scene of Jesus and the woman at the well.  He says to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?”  He’s talking about the gift of abundant life, and she says you don’t have a bucket.

In the sixth chapter of John, Jesus refers to himself as the bread that has come down from heaven.  And those listening complain to each other, asking, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

In the 3rd chapter of John, Jesus says to Nicodemus, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”  And Nicodemus asks, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

And after that conversation with the woman at the well, the Disciples say to Jesus, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.”

“The Metaphors of Jesus, and Why We Don’t Get Them.”  Over and over in John, Jesus uses symbolic and metaphorical language to make a bigger point, and the people around him take him literally and become confused.  Happens every time.

And when Jesus is talking about himself in John, we’ve got a whole list of images to get confused about.  I am the bread, I am the gate, the door, the Good Shepherd.  I am the water.  I am the way, the truth, and the life.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  For the most part, those listening know what these things are.  They’ve seen gates and doors and shepherds and vines.  But what seems to trip them up is in making the connection to Jesus that he’s trying to get them to make.

And we have it in today’s reading, from John’s gospel, a.k.a “The Metaphors of Jesus, and Why We Don’t Get Them.”  Jesus explains that he is like the Good Shepherd, and the sheep hear his voice and follow him.  They know the Good Shepherd’s voice, and they will follow him, which they won’t do when they are called by thieves, bandits, and strangers.  And then, as we heard, “Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but”—wait for it—“they did not understand what he was saying to them.”

And so what does Jesus do, after using this figure of speech that they did not understand?  After he calls himself a shepherd and they don’t get it, Jesus instead calls himself the gate, which probably isn’t helping, to be honest.  Out of the frying pan and into the fire, to use yet another not helpful figure of speech.

And I think the reason that the shepherd and the gate images don’t work for people is because they’re too vivid, to be honest.  You’re probably picturing an actual sheep pen, with a gate, and Jesus standing there in a long robe.  Calling to a bunch of sheep to follow him, while a bandit wearing an eye mask yells, “Curses!  Foiled again!”  I mean, maybe it’s just me, but that’s definitely what I’m picturing.  Point being, I think the imagery is too realistic, and so we fixate on that rather than the actual point Jesus is making.

So, okay, what is the point that Jesus is making?  Good question.  I think we get closer to it when we start at the ending of this reading.  Forget all the metaphors and figures of speech and pastoral imagery that’s floating around in your mind.  Instead, look at how Jesus contrasts himself with the thieves and the bandits.  He says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Jesus came that we might have life, and have it abundantly.  What Jesus means by thieves and bandits are whatever forces stand opposed to us having life and having it abundantly.  Ask yourself, what is it that sucks abundant life out of me?  What prevents me from accepting that Jesus came to bring life to this world?  Whatever those things are, they are the thieves and bandits Jesus is talking about.

Or, look at what he says just before that:  “Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”  What do sheep do with their lives?  What is a prime example of a sheep living up to its full potential?  Of living life as it was meant to be?  Well, the answer is going in and out of the stable and finding pasture.  It’s what sheep do.  And a shepherd who empowers sheep to do just that is giving them life, and giving it to them abundantly.  But now you’re probably right back to picturing literal sheep going in and out of a fenced-in pen.  

Maybe a better way to rebrand all this is to give different names to the ones who are not Jesus.  Something like the thieves of hope, and the bandits of joy.  They are not looking to steal the sheep.  They are just looking to take away the abundant life that Jesus offers.  It’s not a hostile corporate takeover of the sheep owning industry; it’s more like just wanting to watch the world burn.  The thieves of hope and the bandits of joy come only to steal and kill and destroy.  But Jesus came that we may have life, and have it abundantly.

So let’s get those images of sheep back into our heads for a moment.  Jesus is the gate, and the sheep go out and find pasture, and they come back in and find rest.  That’s it.  Could hardly be more simple.  The sheep are not called to do impossible amazing things.  That is not what sheep are known for.  No, sheep are called to find grass and eat it.  That is abundant life for a sheep.  You can hardly get more abundant than that.

The sheep do not go out and hunt down the bandits, or give them scary othering labels to haunt their kids.  The sheep do not try to divide some sheep from other sheep for the accumulation of political power.  The thieves of hope and the bandits of joy are of no concern to the sheep in Jesus’ figure of speech.  And do you know why?  Well, I’ll tell you: it’s the voice.

The sheep have abundant life because they listen to the voice of Jesus.  There are many other voices in this world.  Lots of harmful voices screaming at the top of their lungs on television and social media.  Those are not the voice of Jesus.  And when we follow those voices, when we let those voices tell us what to think and what to do . . . well, those voices are the thieves of hope and the bandits of joy.  They are not the voice of Jesus.  Because the voice of Jesus calls us into who we are meant to be.

May God give us the grace to ignore the voices of despair and rage, and to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd.  The one who opens the gate for us, who leads us to where and what we are meant to be, who calls us by name, and gives us abundant life.


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