Tag Archives: fear

John 10:11-18 and scattered sheep

Today at church was Palm Sunday (the week before Easter) service, which at my church is only readings and liturgy, not a sermon. Plus I was so tired I was a zombie. I was still thinking about how confusing John 10:11-18 is, even if it seems straightforward, and even though the text today was Mark. What suddenly caught my attention was the scattered sheep:

Mark 14:27–

And Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters; for it is written,
“I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”

Well there you are, remember how confused I was/am about Jesus saying he was a Good Shepherd because he would willingly lay down his life for the sheep, not let them be snatched and scattered as the hired man would? And I couldn’t figure out how dying would in any possible way protect the sheep from being snatched and scattered.

And it doesn’t.

The liturgy today — perhaps because I was zombie-tired — really seemed to unfold in my mind’s eye like a movie, the triumphal entry quickly turning to betrayal and brokenness and the cross. The “wolf” however willing Jesus might be to lay down his life, has come and has indeed snatched and scattered…. and I felt the terror perhaps. Terror if you are Peter or one of the others at being caught by the Romans and also killed. Terror of a world without Jesus in it, that you were only slowly learning to trust and hear and see. Terror of a life now empty and full of regrets.

Perhaps we the church are the “hired man” trying to help the sheep and care for the sheep but of course we cannot do whatever mysterious thing it was that Jesus did on the cross. Most practically we cannot “take up” our life again if we were to lay it down.

Perhaps if you are Peter or the others, afraid on all sides, you might remember Jesus saying he was a Good Shepherd. If it was inescapable for the Shepherd to not be struck, perhaps remembering that Jesus can take his life back up again, perhaps in the time between the cross and the empty tomb and the appearance of Jesus again they had some bit of hope. Or perhaps later — we were goofs, we had forgotten that Jesus was the Good Shepherd. they said, telling the story to others and remembering, remembering it all. We were afraid they would remember and shiver and then smile and break bread and drink wine.

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The beginning of John 9:1-41

So here’s the beginning verses:

As he walked along,
he saw a man blind from birth.
His disciples asked him,
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 

Now on one level it is a very clear thing — in those days the reason someone might be born blind was because of a punishment for sin. Jesus is saying no, that’s not it. And that was considered (I am told) a radical thing to say and believe.

Yet would Jesus’ reason for the man being born blind might really be comforting? God made this man born blind so that eventually he will be healed by Jesus and thus show and serve God’s glory? Isn’t that really mean of God? Isn’t that God using bad for good; isn’t that unfair?

The man born blind makes no complaint. He’s glad to be healed, he’s frustrated at the confusion of his identity post-healing (as you would be), he’s frustrated by being asked over and over how “that man” healed him and who (and where) “that man” is. He ultimately believes “that man”, Jesus, to be the Son of Man (a declaration of being the Messiah) and worships him. You do not worship someone who is only human. The formerly blind man ends up seeing very clearly indeed.

So if he has no complaint about being used by God to reveal the glory of God, perhaps I should not either. It might be patronizing of me. Or it might be me stuck in this endless loop I seem to be in about wanting the world to be fair and nice and just and safe and good and when bad things happen, I don’t blame people*, I blame God.

Here’s what I imagine. Imagine the man’s mother, so young and hopeful and delighted to be okay after giving birth, and delighted to have her baby and delighted he is nursing and thriving. Except unlike other babies, his eyes don’t seem to learn to track. He doesn’t seem to recognize the light when it shines in his face. She holds him to the sun, putting her hand gently over his eyes and moving her hand away, and he laughs because he feels her hand, and the strength of her arm holding him, and the breeze blowing against his face. But his little eyes don’t get upset by the bright shine of the sun. It might take more months before she admits that he can’t see, that he will never see her face, he will never be the son they so longed for, that all he can be (in that place and time) is a beggar, an object of mercy and charity, or in bad circumstances, an object to ridicule and even steal from, take his money right out of his cloak spread on the ground. Imagine the tears she shed, no matter how many other children they had or have, because this child is facing a literally dark future. Imagine Jesus telling her — it was all set up just so I could prove that I am.

Would she be angry at Jesus/God?

Would she be glad to know why this happened to her son, and that it was set up as an honor?

All we end up knowing from the story, is she and her husband are afraid.

Would it help me in suffering, to know that it is for the glory of God? I hope so. I think it might. I pray that I never need to know. I think fear is a pretty honest and appropriate response to seeing the power and healing of God!

 

*Mostly. Sometimes, some things, sure. But not for being born blind, right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interrupted by Poetry

Afterword (a draft)

 

It feels more like Good Friday than Advent

More tenebrae less bells and songs

How can we sing of joy in the midst of hate?

Put your harps away, find the drums

 

Of course life is always thus someone

Somewhere is dying and someone else

Is grieving. One year, our rebirth only came with

Red Wings of a bird in a green fir tree.

 

Those left behind keep saying year after year

Remember our parades our feasts our holy days?

While others know the lynching tree could return,

The night could take back the day, rule of fear over law.

 

It could be worse. Is God helpless to help, bound

By some mysterious force that offers only myrrh?

Turn, see His small face, feel tiny fingers, hear the fragile beat.

Turn, He is nailed up there, bleeding for us.

Back to John the Baptist’s testimony

I’m just delighted to say that I’m still working on John 1:19-28, in prep for December when I’m the layreader and hope to do this in storytelling mode. So one prep for that is to simply say it over and over, playing with the emphasize on words, the speed, the timing. It could be a sort of mechanical thing to just get the words learned by heart; but it can be a surprising thing as meanings and nuances appear from hearing the words and from the repetition of the words. On my recent scary business travel, I even would say it just mentally, so to speak, as I was falling asleep, a sort of prayer.

Here’s one thing that came up: John the Baptist says, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness/make straight the way of the Lord”. He’s saying God is directing his actions, his words. His call for repentance/baptism is coming straight from God.

Yet the priests and Levites who are questioning him don’t respond to that part at all. We are told, “Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.” And we already knew a few verses early they came from Jerusalem. They are asking John the Baptist questions based on human authority.

So should they have sat up and paid attention to John’s “irregular” authority? Doesn’t God trump the Pharisees? How human and ancient is the temptation to put God sort of in a box “up there” and think “here and now I need to stay alive, do my job, pay the rent”. The Pharisees were not going to be happy with the results of the testimony so far. So the Priests and the Levites didn’t really listen to the answers they were getting, consider what God might be wanting them to hear, and pressed on for answers that would fit their script, which was “what will make the Pharisees happy with me”.

What will make God happy with us? If they had listened to the message to prepare the way of the Lord, what might they have done? If they had just heard “repent/change/focus on God” as the message, in the midst of the clean desert air, the cool water, the big sky away from Jerusalem, could they have let go of their fear of not pleasing the boss? Do we live from fear more than live to make God happy with us? What sort of images did that last sentence bring you — doing good deeds, helping the helpless, working hard at what you love to work hard at, being mindful of beauty all around us, creating beauty, caring for our neighbor…. and so on? Or did you think “make God happy” would be the same as living in fear of making a mistake?

Because myself, I’m not sure … fear seems so incredibly embedded in my life. I’m going to take baby steps away from fear and hope I don’t backslide!