9/11 Residual Fear
Text: John 10: 14-16
14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
Before we dive too far into this particular text, I want to offer a little background information about the text itself. When we read things in our New Testaments I think it is important for us to recognize a few things about the time it was written, who the author might have been and who the intended audience was. Only by considering these circumstances can you begin to grasp a clear picture of the context of a scripture and then you can consider an interpretation within that context. At least that is my approach.
Of the collection of writings that make up the New Testament, the letters of Paul are considered to be the oldest writings we have. These letters could have been written as recently as 20 or 25 years after the execution of Jesus. The letters are not arranged in our New Testament chronologically, they are actually arrange according to length – I’m not sure who made that decision or why, but that’s the way it is. Of the letters of Paul, if I remember correctly, First and Second Thessalonians may be the earliest of all the writings we have in the New Testament. If you go back and read those letters, I think you will find a very high eschatology-which is a fancy word that describes what people sometimes refer to as the second coming of Jesus. In the very early days of Christianity, like 25 years after the execution of Jesus, people still felt like the return of Jesus could happen at any moment. This attitude is reflected in many of the letters of Paul.
Of the four Gospels in our New Testament, the earliest one is the Gospel of Mark-it was written sometime just before 70CE (common era) used to be AD, but someone decided that “After Death” and “Before Christ” were politically incorrect because they were uniquely Christian, so BC was changed to BCE, before the common era, and AD was changed to CE, which is common era.
But I digress. Mark was written around 70 CE, most Bible scholars date this Gospel at that time because Jerusalem is mentioned, but the destruction of Jerusalem is not. It is fairly well-known and accepted history that Rome destroyed Jerusalem in 70 CE.
Two of the other Gospels, Matthew and Luke, seem to have been written around the same time, which scholars believe to be around 90CE. There are a number of reasons for this date, but generally this is the accepted time frame for these two Gospels.
Then comes the Gospel of John, written perhaps as late as 125CE. I mention this because by the time John was writing his Gospel, the idea that Jesus would return at any moment had fallen out of vogue just a little bit. After all, three generations of Christians would have come and gone all expecting to see Jesus return and all had been a little disappointed. This is one of the things which gives the Gospel of John its unique perspective. The Gospel of John has no parables in it; rather it is a collection of narratives and dialogue that paint a very different picture of Jesus than what we see in the other three Gospels. One other major difference is that John is no longer looking for a physical return of Jesus, but rather, at least I believe, takes the position that the return of Jesus, or the kingdom of God, has already taken place. Thus Jesus’ return is in a truly spiritual sense, and the major obstacle in our recognition of this return is our own blindness in spiritual matters.
I’m taking some time here for a lot of background information about John’s Gospel because I think it is important for us to know these things prior to thinking about this text. Because John’s Gospel is spiritual in nature, it is also very metaphorical. This demands that we look beyond any literal interpretation of a text in John and seek an underlying metaphorical or allegorical intention behind the words that were written.
That being said, I want to look again at this text because it is so interesting. There are two key ingredients in this tiny text that I think are very important for us to recognize. The first, which is the more obvious, is that Jesus is saying that his ministry and his accompanying spiritual presence has a broader target market than originally thought. In a historical context, that usually means the ministry is expanded to include Gentiles as well as Jews. But if we attempt to move this text into the 21st century, it can take on a much greater meaning. In fact, it can include the whole world.
The second key ingredient that I think is significant is the part of the text where Jesus says that the other sheep will listen to his voice. There is an implication here that implies the sheep of Jesus’ home pasture did not listen to his voice. Of course, that can be taken any number of ways, but the historical context would indicate that often those closest to Jesus in terms of religious tradition were the hardest of hearing and those more removed from Jesus were more likely to listen to his voice.
Again, if you take the metaphor and bring it forward into the 21st century, who would be the home sheep of Jesus’ pasture and who would be the other? In my mind, the home pasture is no longer ancient Judaism, but rather Christianity. This begs the question; are we responding to the voice of the shepherd? In a 21st century reading, the other sheep may be people of other faith traditions, immigrants, or persons that we classify as other for any variety of reasons. Is it possible that the others among us are actually listening to the voice of Jesus with greater clarity than the home sheep Christians? In many cases, I’m sad to say, I believe that is the case.
15 years ago today this country awoke to the news of a terrible act of violence and terrorism on an unprecedented scale. We spent the day watching TV coverage of an unfolding drama that defied belief; it seemed our entire world was unraveling right before our eyes. 15 years ago we had a unique opportunity to hear and listen to the voice of Jesus. With the eyes of the entire world fixed upon us, we had the choice to listen or not to listen; we had the choice of how to respond and what example we would set for decades to come.
It doesn’t take a Bible scholar to know that the voice of the good shepherd, the voice of Jesus, tells us to love our neighbors, to pray for our enemies and to bless those who persecute you. It doesn’t take a Bible scholar to understand what “blessed are the peacemakers” means, or that the entire message and ministry of Jesus was summed up by Jesus with two simple commands; love God and love your neighbor.
Not just the neighbor that looks like you. Not just the neighbor that believes all the same things you do. Not just the neighbor that is the same color as you or goes to the same church as you. No. We are to love our neighbor universally; we are to love the neighbor that inhabits the same planet we do, or perhaps even the same universe. Love your neighbor.
Love your neighbor with the kind of love that brings freedom and not oppression.
Love your neighbor with the kind of love that brings peace and not war.
Love your neighbor with a love that brings hope to the hopeless, comfort to the anguished and transformation to a world filled with hate. Love your neighbor with a love that breaks down walls of oppression, with a love that reaches across barriers of race or tradition. Love your neighbor without regard to who your neighbor is, for to listen to the voice of Jesus, to hear the good shepherd, means simply to love unconditionally.
15 years ago we had the opportunity to listen to the voice of the good shepherd; but we did not hear. We heard only hate and fear of the other; we heard only about retaliation and revenge. We invaded and waged war. And in many ways, we still are. Fear of the other still casts a long shadow over how we choose to react and respond. The residual fear of 9/11 I think grows stronger as we feed it.
Let me leave you with just one other thought. A little known text found in First John, 4:18 says that perfect love casts out all fear. Can we strive for perfect love? Can we cast out all fear? Can we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd?
I’m not sure, but we can try. Real change begins with just one person and that one person could be you. And that is food for thought. Amen.