Day 1- Humbled Together

The BeginningWhat is the classic conversion story regarding faith?  Is there such a thing?  Can it be run “by the numbers” like a formula?  In Christianity, there are patterns of surrender, but it is best not to see it through a mechanical lens.

An important factor is that Jesus never shamed anyone towards the surrender of conversion.  Shame does not work since it is sort of another flavor for fear and the scriptures teach us that, “perfect love pushes out fear” (1 John 4:12).  Shame and legalism complicate the search for Jesus in ways that take us from simplicity, or in other words, the basics of love.

There is a story I like about the famous American football coach Vince Lombardi.  His team lost a game once that he felt would not have got away from them if they had stayed rooted in the fundamentals of the game.  He then had the next several days full of drills that a high school foot ball team would do.  The re-rooting had to happen.  One can be refreshed on the mission by renewing their perspective of what started them on mission.  Love is the basics and at the heart of the mission.

Such was the case for Jesus the winter before the Cross.  He had been in Jerusalem twice in the last three months or so.  Shame and legalism were the themes of his adversaries and they rejected his love out of principle.

He went back across the Jordan to the place where John first baptized, and there he remained.  Many came to him and said, “John performed no sign, but everything John said about this man was true.” And many there began to believe in him (John 10:40-42).

The Jordan River was full of  the meaning of conversion for the Jewish people.  Just as Moses parted the Red Sea in leaving Egypt, Joshua parted the waters of the Jordan as the people of Israel entered the Promised Land.  It had been seen as a place of going from slavery to the full benefits of being children of promise.  Being children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob meant a context of covenant with God as a person.  To go from one level of relationship with God to a higher one is part of what covenant means.  It means more than “What I have is yours” but “I am yours”.  In the thoughts and feelings of Jesus one can imagine in this later stage of his public life something like nostalgia on how he began ministry before at the baptism by John.  That was where a model of Christian conversion began to be lived out and modeled in one fateful week in part by Jesus himself.

Three years before, the soil of John’s ministry was a prime place for Christ and the community he founded and would begin its foundation in an act and sign of repentance.  One could call the people being baptized as going to the “Church of John” in that with his baptism they were saying they loved God more than their sins and were ready for God’s kingdom to come in fulness. This was a hunger for God’s grace that they could come and receive while putting aside the dirt of the weary journey. The baptism of repentance is good in an admitted need for God.  It is like the 12 Step model in admitting that you have become powerless and cannot manage your life alone. It is even admitting your wrongs and their very nature.  Such admission is the beginning of wisdom but not conversion in fulness: a conversion of the heart.

For Christ and his followers, this had other contexts and those contexts were of fulfillment partly in experiencing the beginnings of the Church which Jesus would found.  Jesus was proclaimed by John to be the Lamb of God and baptizer in the Holy Spirit.  Some who saw him being baptized heard a voice in the baptism that this was the Son of God.  It was in this scene that some began to believe in him and among them two who would become apostles.

Of the pilgrims mentioned above, it is worth considering what they were thinking.  John said that Jesus must increase and he would decrease.  That was significant but still lacked something.  There were no stumbling blocks in the crowd in Jordan.  They had not heard the harder truths yet.  They also did not know what it would be like to have a continued relationship personally with Jesus in tandem with such hard truths.  Does that make their belief in Jesus meaningless?  Not necessarily.  It just means that they believed with obedience to the point that they could with what they knew.  But the call of the price of discipleship would come soon enough like it does to anyone who takes the daring step of seeing Jesus as more than just a nice guy to believe in a savior like hero.  The core message of Christianity is that Jesus is Lord.

One can look at the epistle to the Hebrews which speaks of the foundations of personal conversion, encountering God in His covenantal nature and eternal view.  Below is a general outline for salvation from ones conversion into eternity within in the context of community.

“Therefore, let us leave behind the basic teaching about Christ and advance to maturity, without laying the foundation all over again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, instruction about baptisms and laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. (Hebrews 6:2)

So what is it like to do those things in an experience that is ideal and clear?  One can see in other scenes in the gospels how a conversion to Jesus is murky with condemnation and cynicism.  What I will address next are ways Jesus can show up when the heart of the person is ready, the context is ideal and still have healthy skepticism come along for the ride.  With that in mind, I concentrate on the first 7 days  where Jesus sheds the garb of a carpenter and steps up in the public favor of the Father and models conversion for the world to follow.

To be clear on theology, Jesus was not a convert.  But Jesus made a point in these first days of going public to show what conversion looks like.  The unveiling of Jesus as the wisdom and power of God is not an enigma but a mystery that the humble can always at least get the gist of.  One such humble person was John son of Zechariah baptizing people along the Jordan River.  To a great extent, if one gets his lens, one greatly gets who Jesus is and offers.  It is that Jesus atones for the sins of the world.  Even the worst.

  In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea [and] saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” …… At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. (Matthew 3:1,5).

Repent- A wise man with a dramatic addiction recovery story said that if he meets someone like he used to be that has a history of bad character and cannot describe their own turning point then he hesitates to trust them.  Conversion is a choice and is a turning point.

the kingdom of heaven is at hand!–  Conversion is towards a constant relationship that it rooted in heaven.  It is not about politics, culture or any other schemas that humans conjure up.  God is above the fray and his purest state of kingdom starts and ends in heaven but can be grasped on earth.

baptized by him…. as they acknowledged their sins-  Conversion is a redemption process and is meant for a healthy community context.  The call to Christ, is a call to community.  It is no surprise that in many early Christian communities the norm was for some to stand up to confess sins and receive the grace of the forgiveness in the name of Christ at a church meeting.  Even looking at today in 12 Step meetings there is a confessional quality as someone says “I am…..and I am a(n)…. “  While 12 Step is an honest program, Christianity is more than that.

To know the call of Jesus is to have the norm of knowing that call from honesty into change.  In that, we can all be works in progress. Such is the beauty of the Savior’s work on all who seek him in a community of loved sinners coming out of the shame of our failings.  We are all hungry for that even if we do not know it.

Called to Conversion And Unity

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Tomorrow is going to be my fifth Easter as a Catholic.  These years, from when I first investigated into the claims of the Catholic Church to my entering it, then my wife and now nearly two years of college level formation has been a whirlwind.  It has been a great ride and I am excited for what the Lord is going to do in the years to come for my family and I.  I see conversion as a continual call as a Christian to take up ones cross and follow Jesus wherever He leads.

I would like to address my anniversary as a Catholic with a different reflection for a moment.  Yes, I have a bias that the Catholic Church is awesome but I am also aware that for many Christians who are not in communion with Rome they have not yet discerned that this is their spiritual home.  So what is the meeting place I should have with Christians of good conscience that are tied to the same basics of the historic Christian faith?

I like Nicea as a meeting point.  What that is for theologians of both the Catholic and Protestant persuasions is where a council took place that elaborated on the Apostles’ Creed.  This was especially a referendum on the theology of who Christ is.

God from God, light from light, True God and True Man begotten not made.  Consubstantial with the Father He came down from heaven and by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary He became man

As Rich Mullins said about this creed, “I did not make it.  No it is making me”.

There could be a reader of what I am writing that still is persuaded that Catholicism is not true Christianity.  For me, that is sad.  I would suggest to all of my Protestant brothers and sisters two points: I have grown closer in my relationship to Jesus Christ in these last several years and that there is more that unites us than divides us.  My love for Jesus and my neighbor has only increased.  My prayer time is better and I have a renewed love for the scriptures in engaging my faith with a good breadth of what the Catholic Church teaches.

Now more than ever, it is important that Christians learn to stand together as we consider the growing wave of persecution against Christianity across the globe.  In fact, last year there was a crucial meeting between Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kiril in Cuba about how to find a defense for their flocks mutually.  This is a good development  when I consider how the one unanswered prayer of Jesus is “that they all be one” (John 17:21). Or in the words of Peter Kraft about ecumenism “Brothers tend to stop fighting when there is a mad man at the door”.

The Nicene Creed addresses four marks of the Church.  These are applicable for discussion whether one sees Church of church in it.  The first is “one” which I addressed above.

The second is “holy”.  This has many facets to it and in light of a recent event it worth exploring particularly with the sacramental point of view.  Recently a lifelong Protestant known as the Bible Answer Man, Hank Hennegraff, was received into the Greek Orthodox Church. Some are editorializing that he has left biblical Christianity.  For me, I admire his courage even though I am a Catholic.  Some may object to my wording but at some point he must have thought , “Here I stand, I can do no other”.  He speaks of theosis which is where Christians partake of the divine nature through communion with Christ.  He connects that in context with the Eucharist particularly.  The sacramental perspective can be verified with an open mind by reading the early church fathers and their interpretation of the New Testament which was written closer to their time than that of the reformers.

There is Catholic and then there is catholic.  Either way, I hope that Christians of good conscience can see that there is a universality to the gospel, how universally it should be proclaimed and universally experienced.

Apostolic can seem like a scary word.  Really, it does not have to be.  When the Pharisees asked Jesus by what authority he said or did things, one could say that this was healthy skepticism.  Who really wants to follow someone who made himself pastor and has a close circle of fans?  How far is that from a cult?  Apostolic succession simply means that one can trace in the authority that hands were laid on them with a sacred imparting of an anointing that started in the upper room when Jesus breathed on his apostles the Holy Spirit to represent the redemptive aspect of Him.  With the Bible Answer Man, he is going to a source that I as a Catholic would affirm has a history of guarding the deposit of faith including in the sacramental expression of Christianity.

But this is not to put down my Protestant history.  It is from my Protestant experiences I can talk about my love for bible memorization, my first zeal in pointing to Jesus and time in prayer.  I am thankful for the pastors and other loved ones that invested into me so much that I am an evangelical still albeit I believe fulfilled in that in the Catholic Church.  With a renewed fervor, I hope that increasingly my Protestant and Orthodox brothers can join me in loving each other as Jesus prayed and telling the world He is risen indeed!

Rumbles In Tabernacles: Time to Build

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Fighting truth can have two sides of the experience.  First, it is exhausting.  The human condition is mean for truth.  Fighting against it uses odd parts of the mind toward denial is unnatural to the energy of the person and thus such energy is easily dispersed.  But when one begins to surrender to truth, the consequences can seem overwhelming.  I have used an analogy with clients that are in the early stages of addiction recovery.  If you seem like you have 1000 things to manage in the new recovery, imagine that there will be 998 things to learn gradually as new habits and for any moment be mindful of only one or two things at a time.  For some a sigh of relief then comes.  Further, I can come back to the concept that finding your life in recovery is not always comprehended in detail and that is okay.  For especially my male clients that is difficult but the difficulty in itself can be alright.

“The Father and I are one.” The Jews again picked up rocks to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from my Father. For which of these are you trying to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “We are not stoning you for a good work but for blasphemy. You, a man, are making yourself God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods”’?  If it calls them gods to whom the word of God came, and scripture cannot be set aside,  can you say that the one whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world blasphemes because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize [and understand] that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10: 30-38)

The Father and I are one.-  This is articulated later in the Nicene Creed (325 AD) “God from God, light from light, true God and true man consubstantial with the Father, you came down from heaven”.  Jesus is not just a flamboyant provocateur, but brings them to what I call a mix between an appetizer and an invitation.  We can see more of the context to this encounter in what Jesus prays with his apostles months later in what is called the high priestly prayer of Jesus.

I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me (John 17:20-21).

You, a man, are making yourself God-  From their perspective, this is a valid argument.  They perceive Jesus as putting himself down.  What they do not know is that in the final year of Jesus’ ministry he predicted several times that he would be crucified after being betrayed.  Again, Jesus can be seen as living to give.

Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods”’?– Jesus confronts them now not despite their spiritual authority but because of it. Jesus points to how murky their spiritual discernment is and how should have a sober reverence that the shepherding they do represents the full God of Israel.  It is also worth considering that as shepherds they should be able to see more into the significance of the works he does.

A citation from Psalms 82:6.  The psalm is a prayer to Yahweh to punish the corrupt shepherds of Israel.  These leaders, who are charged with teaching and enforcing divine Law, are called ‘gods’ by the Psalmist because of the divine authority they wield over the people.”  (Ignatius Study Bible)

believe the works, so that you may realize [and understand] that the Father is in me and I am in the Father-  God as Father was mentioned 17 times in the Old Testament.  God as Father was mentioned in 17 times in the Sermon on The Mount alone.  Jesus was sent by the Father for redemption and also to reveal His love.

It is worth mentioning the absence of the word miracle” in John.  In Matthew, Mark and Luke it is mentioned many times.  John uses the term “works” in the dialogue but when Jesus would perform what we call a miracle John used those incidents as a larger teaching lesson by calling them signs.  What is the significance of signs?  Sadly, at this time, so little did his critics know.  But much they would soon see in words and deeds.

Below are scriptures that show the signs with commentary for the Church Jesus was building and the salvation history that was being drawn from. Think of what Jesus has been doing as 7 signs for 7 sacraments.

John 2:1-11 Marriage

James 5:2-13 Anointing of the sick.

John 20:21-23. Reconciliation.  With Jesus breathing on them the Holy Spirit, the first men are ordained to forgive in the name of Jesus.   Also please see Matthew 9:1-8. Key point in verse 28 mentioning men plural.  2 Corinthians 2:10.

John  6: 22-59.    Eucharist right after the miraculous feeding of the 5,000

John 9:1-38.     Baptism in the healing of the blind man sent to the pool of Siloam.

John 11:1-46.   Confirmation in the resurrection of Lazarus.

Last would be holy orders as already implied in the John 20:21-23.  Exodus chapter 30 and 40 are reminiscent of the priests of that order being prepared for ministry. Just like Jesus when he washed the feet of the apostles. Such men would be ordained as bones of the Body of Christ as a supporting mechanism to a living tradition of faith that has now lasted nearly 2,000 years.  Jesus started something that will always last and can always give life to those who are open.  The sustained effects are not by the holiness of the messenger or the receiver. There is a simple equation for the holiness of each who is touched by Jesus.  It is the will of God, plus the will of the person in cooperation and equals life everlasting.   There is time to look from the outside but the hope of the gospel is that the one who hears it will taste and see who Jesus with faith in Him for all He said he was.  And from that, to do all of the good works of God’s calling whether of the Church or not.

Rumbles In Tabernacles: Blocks In Eye Of Beholder

stumbling-block-or-stepping-stone-1-638There is a tradition in earlier life in America for doctors to make house calls.  These were especially to follow up on those that were so sick that they could not make it to the office.  Jesus was very much like a doctor except for the whole person including spiritual sickness.  This is not an idea without merit.  I have heard of doctors trained in India on how to treat their patients using the interactions of Jesus as examples on the best doctor-patient engagement.

Jesus made an unwelcome house call on the elite of the temple in Jerusalem.  He had been in Jerusalem a few months before for the week of the official Feast of Tabernacles.  He showed mercy to some and very tough words towards holiness for the elite.  He left off a few months before with the elite that he was the good shepherd.  He picks up from there both in words and action in a festival that was considered by some as another Feast of Tabernacles.  And on this call, Jesus brings medicine with him but with a bitter taste.

Again there was a division among the Jews because of these words. Many of them said, “He is possessed and out of his mind; why listen to him?” Others said, “These are not the words of one possessed; surely a demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?” The feast of the Dedication was then taking place in Jerusalem. It was winter. And Jesus walked about in the temple area on the Portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me. But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” (John 10:19-29).

Again there was a division among the Jews because of these words-  Taking the wording at face value one may see not only the struggle among them but the struggle that may have been inside each of them.  To interpret Jesus for all he intended to be understood is to be anything but indifferent.  The gospels never leave indifference open as an option.  In some reactions to the gospel a refusal may be ironically a first step to a later conversion.

And Jesus walked about in the temple area on the Portico of Solomon- This is no small thing to the first readers of John’s gospel.  When they read this, it was established in Church history that the Portico of Solomon was a gathering place for the early Church as the Book of Acts shows how “ [m]any signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles. They were all together in Solomon’s portico”  (Acts 5:12).

God’s ways were often foreshadowed with “walking about”. Abraham walked about the land of Canaan in a manner consistent with it being promised to him and his descendants. God walked to and fro in front of Moses.  In four months or less, Jesus would be crucified.  Three days later he would rise from the dead.  40 days after the resurrection he ascended to heaven.  50 days later the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and The Son (Filioque) upon the Church.  “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46).  At least for a season, this would be a context of a sheep pen for his flock.  Jesus showed a sign by his “walking about” with a historical context behind him and the Church in front of him.  Or from another point of view Jesus was marking his territory spiritually with every step in that he would undermine the Pharisee traditions with himself.

How long are you going to keep us in suspense?- The elite had already been a little scandalized, now they wanted Jesus to go all the way. This was not because they had spiritual sight, Jesus made that clear, but because they were hungry in part.  At some level, those who were hungry were in pain.

The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me.-  Jesus speaks in the authority of the God of Israel. Sometimes in salvation history action speaks louder than words.

My sheep hear my voice- Jesus has an authority for a special flock which is known later as the Church and is called out for a purpose.  Jesus makes that call.

I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life-  Jesus has said that he had come that he would give them life more abundantly and now he is doing this in the present.  Light for Hannukah is good, but the life of God is better.

No one can take them out of my hand-  Darkness does not overtake Jesus who with his Church is the light of the world.  “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).  The hand of Jesus has a sacramental context that would go from generation to generation by which the Church is built and he still builds “As I am with you always.  Even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

My Father, who has given them to me- A reminder that the source of authority and special community is with the Father’s authority.

…out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one-  As said above, the elite wanted more scandalous talk and Jesus delivers on that.  Two hands involved?  Yes and no.  Jesus lets them know that he and the Father are one in essence.  Scandal and mystery was a stumbling block to the elite.  But to the humble, scandal and mystery are the brick and mortar of the Church.  They are sacred and essential.  Jesus in wishing to fulfill their hunger drops one more spiritual truth in this conversation that is now more scandal than mystery.  Can they handle it?  Can we now? Hungry or not, we have a choice.

There is a tradition in earlier life in America for doctors to make house calls.  These were especially to follow up on those that were so sick that they could not make it to the office.  Jesus was very much like a doctor except for the whole person including spiritual sickness.  This is not an idea without merit.  I have heard of doctors trained in India on how to treat their patients using the interactions of Jesus as examples on the best doctor-patient engagement.

Jesus made an unwelcome house call on the elite of the temple in Jerusalem.  He had been in Jerusalem a few months before for the week of the official Feast of Tabernacles.  He showed mercy to some and very tough words towards holiness for the elite.  He left off a few months before with the elite that he was the good shepherd.  He picks up from there both in words and action in a festival that was considered by some as another Feast of Tabernacles.  And on this call, Jesus brings medicine with him but with a bitter taste.

Again there was a division among the Jews because of these words. Many of them said, “He is possessed and out of his mind; why listen to him?” Others said, “These are not the words of one possessed; surely a demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?” The feast of the Dedication was then taking place in Jerusalem. It was winter. And Jesus walked about in the temple area on the Portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me. But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” (John 10:19-29).

Again there was a division among the Jews because of these words-  Taking the wording at face value one may see not only the struggle among them but the struggle that may have been inside each of them.  To interpret Jesus for all he intended to be understood is to be anything but indifferent.  The gospels never leave indifference open as an option.  In some reactions to the gospel a refusal may be ironically a first step to a later conversion.

And Jesus walked about in the temple area on the Portico of Solomon- This is no small thing to the first readers of John’s gospel.  When they read this, it was established in Church history that the Portico of Solomon was a gathering place for the early Church as the Book of Acts shows how “ [m]any signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles. They were all together in Solomon’s portico”  (Acts 5:12).

God’s ways were often foreshadowed with “walking about”. Abraham walked about the land of Canaan in a manner consistent with it being promised to him and his descendants. God walked to and fro in front of Moses.  In four months or less, Jesus would be crucified.  Three days later he would rise from the dead.  40 days after the resurrection he ascended to heaven.  50 days later the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and The Son (Filioque) upon the Church.  “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46).  At least for a season, this would be a context of a sheep pen for his flock.  Jesus showed a sign by his “walking about” with a historical context behind him and the Church in front of him.  Or from another point of view Jesus was marking his territory spiritually with every step in that he would undermine the Pharisee traditions with himself.

How long are you going to keep us in suspense?- The elite had already been a little scandalized, now they wanted Jesus to go all the way. This was not because they had spiritual sight, Jesus made that clear, but because they were hungry in part.  At some level, those who were hungry were in pain.

The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me.-  Jesus speaks in the authority of the God of Israel. Sometimes in salvation history action speaks louder than words.

My sheep hear my voice- Jesus has an authority for a special flock which is known later as the Church and is called out for a purpose.  Jesus makes that call.

I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life-  Jesus has said that he had come that he would give them life more abundantly and now he is doing this in the present.  Light for Hannukah is good, but the life of God is better.

No one can take them out of my hand-  Darkness does not overtake Jesus who with his Church is the light of the world.  “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).  The hand of Jesus has a sacramental context that would go from generation to generation by which the Church is built and he still builds “As I am with you always.  Even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

My Father, who has given them to me- A reminder that the source of authority and special community is with the Father’s authority.

…out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one-  As said above, the elite wanted more scandalous talk and Jesus delivers on that.  Two hands involved?  Yes and no.  Jesus lets them know that he and the Father are one in essence.  Scandal and mystery was a stumbling block to the elite.  But to the humble, scandal and mystery are the brick and mortar of the Church.  They are sacred and essential.  Jesus in wishing to fulfill their hunger drops one more spiritual truth in this conversation that is now more scandal than mystery.  Can they handle it?  Can we now? Hungry or not, we have a choice.

Rumbles At Tabernacles: A Good Shepherd Enters

sheep-or-shepherdSalvation as a word circulated into our culture has been ranging from catch-phrase to something like a legal fiction.  The word for it in Greek, sozo, was intended to mean impact any of the whole person.  Such a view of the New Testament can indicate how holistic Jesus wants to be as a shepherd.  The Old Testament supports the covenant of God for his people with shepherd language. “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.” (Psalms 23:1).

In this time that Jesus was there for the Feast of Tabernacles, he had done shepherding tasks from a spiritual perspective.  In John 7 he spoke of being the water of life and in John 8 he showed mercy to the woman caught in adultery.  In John 9 Jesus expressed mercy for the blind man who was presumed to be a sinner and used his spit to esteem his dignity and health to the point that this man stood up to religious wolves.  One could say in a way that he anointed that man with something akin to oil so his cup overflowed with grace.  We can see below an emphasis to the depth to Jesus’ love and affection; even to the hard hearted he is addresses here.

So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came [before me] are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.” (John 10:7-18).

I am the gate for the sheep– This refers to Jesus being the center of conversion. Christians remember this in by Christ’s sacrifice.  In the shepherding context of Jesus there is mercy and confidence when one is baptized as the theological normative.

This confidence in Jesus resonated in the Church of the 1st century and beyond.

Therefore, brothers, since through the blood of Jesus we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil, that is, his flesh, and since we have “a great priest over the house of God,” let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water (Hebrews 10:19-22).

Salvation through Jesus in baptism is the typical form and matter in the power of the resurrection.  “This [Noah’s flood] prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). Jesus is the gate and that reverberates through Sacred Scripture and Tradition in fullness.

Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture-  True conversion is for ones eternal life but should also be community.  Church is meant to be a called out community like a town vote.  Sheep are meant to be in community under the shepherd.

I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly- True love is wishing the best for the other.  Where evil wants to take, Jesus comes to give but the cynical mind does not see such grace in all its wonders.

I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep-  We know that God the Father love the world (John 3:16) and Christian belief is that Jesus lived such love every day of his life.

A hired man…. sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away…This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep-  There is an implication to what Jesus is saying for the Pharisees to hear: relax, it gets worse.  In less than a year there would be fully consecrated apostles that would model how a shepherd goes about the Father’s business of sacrificial love and would include keeping the error of wolves out.

I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father- Jesus takes the listener into a heavenly and communal perspective which is integral to the intended Christian life.  Later in John, Jesus prays accordingly in a way that speaks to God’s people being one and holy (John 17).

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd-  Jesus is expansive here with large scale vision. Whether one wants to be a Christian that sees an authoritative Catholic Church or lower case “c” for the same word being just universal, Jesus’ desire for sheep to join the flock is progressive in God’s plan of salvation.

This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again-  Jesus said in John 8 that he was God.  God is love.  Sacrifice without love is unendurable, love without sacrifice is meaningless and Jesus fulfills all under the will of the Father.

This command I have received from my Father-  Jesus came to die to save.  A theme pointed out here is a proposition for a living relationship with Jesus apparent as a command.  We can roll with turning points. God’s commands are not burdensome and those who are humbled always can see the love of God in commands.

God has overlooked the times of ignorance, but now he demands that all people everywhere repent because he has established a day on which he will ‘judge the world with justice’ through a man he has appointed, and he has provided confirmation for all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31).

Rumbles At Tabernacles: A Personal Re- Introduction

CathedralThe backdrop of the week I have written about has been the Feast of Tabernacles.  It brought to mind in the Jewish people traditions by which they would remember their redemptions in the simplicity of living in booths and living day to day for manna [mysterious bread] from heaven. It was said in the time of Moses that this festival was based, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” It is not coincidence that this festival was in the ingathering time of the grain harvest which is used for bread and among the offerings this week was the todah (thanksgiving) through bread.

There was also an emphasis of Moses to shepherd the people of Israel.  It is likely in light of things like this, that Jesus continues on in his response to the Pharisees who have again presumed that they have the upper hand in discerning spiritual matters.  Jesus introduces himself for the first time— again after calling them blind in their self-righteousness.

“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.” Although Jesus used this figure of speech, they did not realize what he was trying to tell them (John 10: 1-6).

Amen, amen– It has been said that this is a means to “mark the transition from dialogue to monologue” (CH Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel. p. 358).  Jesus is about to introduce himself in this pivot as the good shepherd which implies now a personal relationship different than light or I AM imagery.  The words and works of Jesus, as shown here, are seeds for the context of the Church he founded.

when Jesus leads off with the words verily, verily [derived from a Hellenized Amen of Hebrew]….He is not merely saying, “Believe me, this is true.” He is actually saying, “I know this is true firsthand.” Since many of these comments are on heavenly, spiritual, or godly issues, Jesus’ use of verily, verily is part of His consistent claim of divinity. Jesus is not merely aware of these truths: He is the One who originated them! (Got Questions. https://www.gotquestions.org/verily-verily.html)

does not enter a sheepfold through the gate-  This gate is really Jesus.  In this section the both/and of Jesus comes through. He is shepherd and gate.  But what is the flock?  It is visible and Augustin addresses this when commenting on this passage.

Keep hold of this, that Christ’s sheepfold is the Catholic Church.  Whoever would enter the sheepfold, let him enter by the door, let him preach the true Christ….for Christ the Lord is the low gateway : he who enters by this gateway must humble himself, that he may be able to enter with head unharmed (Augustine, Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel According to St. John, for Chapter 10).

whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep-  This can be seen as pointing not only to him but for any that are shepherds divinely installed by him.  In the New Testament the terms shepherd and overseer, or bishop, are used together.  That second term, overseer, could be translated as “over-scoper” and is mentioned as watching over the souls of many.

gatekeeper opens it for him-  One might think that this would be a local pastor stepping aside for Jesus to show up in his presence in a local church but that does not work in the context of how they serve. Jesus is here emphasizes here that any shepherds that bring direction with a voice the sheep will understand will do it because Jesus as the gate and gatekeeper allows them in.  Thus Jesus is might, loving and will be the ultimate leader of any sheepfold  that belongs to him.

as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out-  Now there is a reference to personal conversion that stands out in the marketplace of spiritual ideas and is personally worded for a reason.  In this Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus referred to himself as the light of the world and the I AM. Someone who accepted that would see a Jesus’ claim of being mighty but tender.  God the Father does call all to repent but Jesus speaks with a proposing theme.

he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him-  Jesus stands as a the ultimate shepherd for and giver and example of a divine life to live.  In return, the sheep stand as followers in simplicity not knowing which road will be taken but they will be taken care of.

while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God. Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:2-3).

In this manner, Jesus is laying out points of conversion and inferred credentials.  It comes together in the scandal, yet proposition, of the Cross.  This is what he pivots to as the shepherd who lays his life down for his sheep.

Rumbles At Tabernacles: Freedom From Shame

Kicked out of church

I heard a story that bears repeating of a man that was kicked out of a church.  He was a poor man with holes in his cloths.  He came into a church in the middle of the day for solace only to be kicked out for his bad appearance.  Jesus shows up and asks him why he is crying.  He responds that he was not allowed into Jesus’s house.  Jesus responds, “That’s okay.  I’ve been trying to get in there for years”.

Casualties happen in religious wars where the victim was not even on a fighting side.  In what has already been written, there was a man born blind in a time where it was assumed that he or his parents sinned.  Jesus saw a purpose far above either and healed him without seeking glory.  The man is brought through the wringer for being healed by “that sinner” and thrown out.  In the case of this struggle, Jesus is a party to the struggle that has provoked envy and resentment at times in the other side but for this man was only out to love.  And for this man, being human, in his pain he must have been tempted to throw out all religion as it seemed to be God and His entourage.  But Jesus comes on the scene and wants to have a personal relationship with him in his humble time of emptiness.

 When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”  Jesus said to him, “You have seen him and the one speaking with you is he.”  He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him. Then Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?”  Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains (John 9: 35-41).

When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out-  It is important to note with the constant view that Jesus does not change how he feels about spiritual abuse in the name of God.  Jesus takes it personally in the gospels where the meek inherit chains from the elite rather than the earth he talks of in the Beatitudes. And for those in this modern world that are tempted to be cynics because of religious abuse I would submit that the compassion of Jesus invites you to sift through the mess of religious toxicity and truly seek him. Despite an experience of spiritual abuse, Jesus can be found.  I know something about this very well.

Do you believe in the Son of Man?- This term is loaded.  This title in the Old Testament is for several prophets but also to the coming Messiah as well as a forgiver of sins in the gospels. How to put it all phrased neatly together in a simple definition is a mystery but can be connected to in faith just the same.  As I have written before, the “believe” term elicits a faith with wheels to it in action.

Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?-  He must have heard the rumors already alluded to that there was a possible Messiah.  His guess must have been that it could be this mysterious man who healed him.  He suspected this but did not know fully yet but must have desperately wanted to.

You have seen him and the one speaking with you is he-  This man was illuminated in seeing Jesus fresh from the miracle and then tested.  Many Christian mystics in Church history have seen a pattern of illuminative, purgative and unitive in Christian growth.  In this man one could see all three.

I do believe, Lord- This is one of the most beautiful confessions of faith in Jesus in all of the gospels.  This man encounters Jesus in the most profound way possible: in grace.  The work of grace is really the greatest work of God in this story.  We have with Peter his longer confession “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  But this was after months of being with Jesus and being part of an articulated, apostolic structure. The healed man is responding to the grace in simplicity.

he worshiped him- He believed and expressed in some way from his heart as that man had said in his rookie, micro sermon to the Pharisees as “one is devout and does his will”. We cannot know if he kneeled, prostrated or jumped for joy and we do not have toThis man responded with the love he received.

I came into this world for judgment- In full context we can see that Jesus is still not saying that he would make in his first coming overt judgments but instead the context is described with passive language.  Jesus sets the stage with the gospel that can always confuse the wise. His coming supports the role of clarity on who stands in righteousness and who does not.  How should the wise respond or not respond?  Jesus answers here next.

but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains-  If you are drowning, let the lifeguard do his job or you both go down.  This is a rough analogy to their pride here.  One could say congratulations in part to these elite for memorizing the book of Leviticus.  But that is not enough.  In candor, as one who has been a student of the Old Testament and New Testament for a long time, the same could be said for the Bible centered Christian.  The gospel is meant to shine the light of Jesus in your mind and your heart and your strength and any other part you cannot describe.   The man born blind stood before Jesus in emptiness and received the kingdom.  The Pharisees in their stuck-up fulness were still that day left with the message that they were receiving nothing.