Tag Archives: Gospel of John

More thoughts about John 10:11-18

So the Good Shepherd cares and the hired man doesn’t. The Good Shepherd can die for the sheep because the sheep belong to him and because he was given the power from God to take his life up again if he dies for the sheep.

I am still struggling with this passage!

Here’s the thing: I think the hired man isn’t being given proper credit. I work for a living and don’t often enjoy my job. But I do it as well as possible out of my own integrity not just for fear of not getting paid. On the other hand, I wouldn’t die for my job. I’m definitely not a first responder or brave like that. On the other other hand – that’s a pretty high bar. I’m not sure it is fair to judge the hired man as bad for not giving his life, to say he is only in it to get paid. I bet he likes the sheep, or some of them. I bet he has sunshine-y beautiful days where it is just plain fun to lead the sheep to still water and green grass.

Let’s not judge the hired man too harshly ok?

But let’s rejoice, absolutely rejoice, in complete amazement that Jesus knows us as completely as God knows Jesus. It is “The Message” version that shimmered this passage to me:

“I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. In the same way, the Father knows me and I know the Father.”

And this knowing and loving — this being seen and understood — is for everyone! Somehow to me being seen and known and loved (anyway) is the true gift from God.



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.

First thoughts on John 10:11-18

In a few weeks, when it might maybe be actually spring, I’m the layreader for the first service and doing John 10:11-18. It is a beautiful passage, but the very song-like repetition makes it hard to learn by heart.

More sheep/shepherd stuff! So the book of John often poses challenges for the modern biblical storyteller; this passage does not. In fact, this passage seems so bland as to be meaningless. Help me Lord, help me find a way into this passage. At the most surface level, Jesus is saying he is a good shepherd, of us the sheep, because he is willing to die for us. He in fact is not being forced by some angry God to die for us, but is willingly ready to do so, as God commanded. Okay, that is good, of course. But shouldn’t there be more?

I find that I am wondering about the wolf in verse 12. The hired man, in my opinion, would in fact try to protect the sheep from the wolf, don’t you think? Isn’t that his job? Of course I say this but I would be very afraid. A wolf! Is it correct to think that in verse 15, Jesus is saying that he would die from the wolf, to defend the sheep? But how does dying — whether it is the Good Shepherd or the hired man — actually protect the sheep? Aren’t the sheep then utterly defenseless? Completely without hope?

Perhaps it is something to do with the voice, the sheep know their shepherd’s voice, they come when called. I am hearing a bit of an echo of John the Baptist, who was the Voice of one crying out in the wilderness. That is he was the voice of God, a message from God.

Jesus is the “logos”, which is the Word but more than that — push and press on that. God is the Verb that starts the world up — that’s a big Voice.

Maybe we’re sheep but we can hear God speak, we can follow God and perhaps that leads us out of danger, even more than the dying God who says ” I lay down my life in order to take it up again.” If (or when) the wolf gets him, it is only to allow him to be restored to his full Glory of God. Now this is pretty deep into the weeds maybe?

Such a small passage with such a simple first layer to have me completely frustrated in trying to go deeper.


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?







Let’s think about Jesus today

From John 1:6 – 9: “There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”

Biblically speaking, the story there, as far as I know before God created the world, there was no light, because God said “Let there be light” to start the whole mess off. Isn’t this true of physics as well? Darkness is the default. Light is a gift. Even a tiny candle can break up the darkness. Yet that is not necessarily I think the same as saying that darkness is bad. Dark in the womb, but babies grow. Dark in winter but seeds are waiting, and some even need the dark and cold to ready them to sprout. yes? Night time fears are so much worse than daylight fears — that’s when we are all “one phone call from our knees” and we bless the light: Thank you God for creating this whole mess, this beautiful terrible amazing everything, and for walking with us in the midst of it, every step a step into light, into healing, into birth.

How brave of God Himself, how generous, how shocking, how loving: He lived for nine months enclosed safely in dark womb, a time that strikes me as exactly between very God and very human, a time that light rested in darkness and it was good.

Hooray for the birth of true light! Merry Christmas everyone!

A gift of peace

John said: “He must increase but I must decrease.” And this has been such a puzzle to me. Aren’t we not ranking things, firsts and lasts, isn’t the gospel message one of love and abundance?

This just sounds so un-abundant. But the very first bits of autumn are in the air where I live. The air in the morning is crisp, it is darker a bit sooner in the evening, the leaves aren’t turning but they are hinting at turning. I’ve had to start cutting out the dying plants. And it was a sudden thought about how nature increases and decreases that has sort of turned me about. You can’t rank an oak in winter, so gray and still, as being lesser than an oak in summer so mighty with life and greenness. They are same tree. It is increasing and decreasing. It’s a natural cycle; it is how it works.

So now I am thinking that’s more in line with what the Baptist meant – it is just natural and proper and orderly that he decrease, that this season of preparation has passed; Jesus is here, the Bridegroom is here, very human, very God. Here. It is time for this season of joy, healing, redeeming, unbinding, mending, whatever metaphor you like for the Jesus Season.

Or maybe I just came to peace with this bit of scripture – for no reason at all. Just a gift of peace!


But is there increasing and decreasing in the Kingdom of Heaven?

Here’s what’s going on with me: I’m just completely stuck on John chapter 3, verse 30: “He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease.” Because [as Jesus says] the Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who go out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard; and they agree for the usual daily wage. And you all know the parable — Matthew chapter 20: 1 – 16 — the landowner ends up hiring all day long and paying everyone the same, sending them all into the vineyard. The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t have ranks, yes? maybe?

I’ve been learning it by heart and as completely as I can in preparation for being lay reader next Sunday. This is a parable I’ve loved from the first time I heard it when I was in my thirties and a brand-new Christian. I took it to mean that Jesus will treat me just the same as someone who was born a Christian — he isn’t “counting”, he is “loving”. And even now when I read it, I hear it with such joy.

So if the Kingdom of Heaven is like this — not counting, just loving, then as natural and normal and proper as it for John the Baptist to decrease, well maybe something else is really going on. Or supposed to be going on. Because the Kingdom of Heaven is not about rank. Not about numbers. Not about lack. It’s about abundance — there will be fruit for all, work for all, a day’s reward for all, generosity more than we deserve.

So — I’m sadly stuck on the whole decrease thing. As joyful as the Baptizer was — he was as joyful as the best man at a wedding — perhaps he was wrong a little bit. Can things change without it being about loss?

John will decrease, what does that mean?

The Gospel of John chapter 3, verses 22 through 30 (or maybe through 36), the focus is again briefly on John the Baptist. The first several times I read this, it seems so taunting and mean. Like “Hey John you’re still here baptizing and preaching? Why? Jesus is here now, so go away.” Now I am reading it as a much more natural thing, a formal passing of the reigns of the story from John to Jesus. It repeats that John is not Messiah, it recaps that Jesus comes first both in time and in rank, it even goes back into “legal” language of testimony.

The shining thing here, to me, is that John the Baptist is not the least bit put out or sad or upset in any way that Jesus is taking the stage – getting more disciples, more followers, more attention. He describes himself as the “best man” at a wedding, and one who rejoices for the bride and groom, whose joy is fulfilled in their happiness. He brought Jesus, the bridegroom to the people of Israel, the bride – and this is ancient and powerful symbolic language even though it is unfamiliar and awkward to us. Or anyway unfamiliar and awkward to me. (Would we describe our country as a bride? If so what sort of bridegroom is she waiting for? See this imagery is strange, isn’t it? It’s okay you can disagree in the comments. I might just be having a failure of imagination. But it is very common imagery in scripture so it must have been ordinary to use it back in the day.)

I can picture this scene in my mind: John’s standing straight and tall, and grinning with delight, brimming with joy. Perhaps he has a hand on the back of one of his disciples, to calm him down the way you would an angry horse. Perhaps he points with his other hand, waves it in the direction of Jesus. “He’s going to grow and increase; I’m going to decrease. This is the will of God.” And more than the will of God, and more than the natural order of things. This fact makes John happy. This is good news of great joy for all the people: the Messiah is here. Go follow him already!


Of course I’ve already written about John’s despair as he is trapped in prison in Matthew 11 and 14: look at how happy he is at the beginning about Jesus and then see and taste and feel his despair in Matthew 11 and 14. He had to send his disciples to ask if Jesus was really the messiah. He loses his confidence, his joy, his faith in what he earlier testified to: The spirit of God like a dove was on Jesus and Godself spoke. And a few years later…he isn’t so sure anymore.

Faith for us people, it comes and goes in waves and swirls and eddys and floods and trickles, yes? Even for John the Baptist.

None of us know the ending of our stories, we can hope we’ll die at home surrounded by loved ones and music and peace like a river.


Dear God, let me like John be so pleased when other people come into their own, even if it seems to crowd the stage or push me off to the shadows. Let me rejoice. Let me beam with delight at their work and strength and beauty.

Christmas in August, this morning, now

This morning as I did a quick prayer for illumination and for the day, suddenly I remembered the Shepherds who “went to see/that thing they had been told/in Bethlehem”. They left their fields and flocks and went to town and found “the Babe/wrapped in swaddling clothes/and lying in a manger”. What newborns do Shepherds usually gather around? Lambs! They would care for the orphaned lambs by hand, wouldn’t they? They count them, watch them grow, see them. Shepherds found the baby Jesus lying in a manager and “made know what had been told to them”. But they were on the edges of society, uncouth, dirty, smelly — the townspeople were amazed because why would a bunch of Shepherds go strange like this? Leave their sheep? That’s like just dropping your wallet on the ground and walking away. Foolishness! But Mary pondered their words in her heart. The Shepherds gathered about her newborn and spoke of the Messiah, and Mary knew that was both amazingly joyful news, yet perhaps also something to fear, with a mother’s intuition.

So God this time is revealing His Messiah by baptism — in John’s Gospel I just realized there isn’t the “repent” language we’ve seen in the other gospels. Instead John so clearly says, “… I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” That is, he is baptizing so that God can reveal the Messiah. And He does, with the Spirit in the shape of a dove…..

But this is the same Lamb as the newborn the Shepherds gathered around — this is the Lamb of God. Maybe instead of a Lamb of sacrifice or Passover, neither of which quite fit, we should see a Lamb of birth, life, hope, mystery, change — we are so used to interpreting the phrase “…take away the sin of the world” by thinking of the Cross and pain and death. But first Godself came to us as a Baby, Godself in some mysterious way of transformation became born to us in a city of bread, and Angels sang of peace.

Maybe at this point in the story that death was optional — after all John didn’t know that was going to happen. What God can be killed? Why would a God let himself be killed? John is joyful and excited and remembering a Birth not pointing ahead to a death. This is pure joy!

“Look! Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

No waiting for a Cross required; just see Him, love Him, follow Him. Just like the Shepherds.

Jesus takes away the sin of the world

Today let’s revisit this:

29 “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

My study bible has a confusing footnote that basically says lambs weren’t used as a sin offering and the Passover Lamb was not about sin.

This time instead of trying to parse the imagery of a lamb, let’s cut a bit deeper: what is the sin of the world?

Think of the time your heart was broken; think of superstorms and hurricanes; think of injustice — we don’t have to look very far the last couple of weeks to see that in the headline news. But of course injustice is there all the time, in systemic ways. Back in Jesus’ day, the Roman citizens had rights the rest of the world did not have, and this plays out for Paul later in the story. But our world today — and people far more qualified than me can trace and analyze every jot — is just as full of injustice.

Perhaps “brokenness” is the right word for the sin of the world. All too often people hear the word “sin” and think of what their culture or family deems wrong, immoral, different — and that may just be a time and place thing and not what is meant theologically (spiritually?) as sin. We have to dig deeper. And we can’t be all sweet about it, “oh God will work everything out for good.” “God’s plan is different from our ours.” Don’t you want to scream when someone says stuff like that? Or is that just me?

A poet I love defines sin as “missing the mark”. When did you and I fail to help? When did you and I fail in kindness? When did you and I fail to think before we spoke? When did the help you and I offered completely miss the point?

The poem is “On Slow Learning” by Scott Cairns and starts “If you’ve ever owned/a tortoise” and explains that however hard your well-meaning tortoise tries it “may find himself in his journeys/to be painfully far from the mark”.

And you forgive and help your tortoise.

Let’s move to the part where — Jesus, the Lamb, takes the sin of the world away. The joyous part! See John’s face light up with joy, with faith, with thankfulness and love. He’s so very happy to see Jesus. He’s been in the desert, he’s eaten the locusts, he’s baptized everyone he could for repentance, he’s been trying to hard to get people to understand and then, finally, then: There! Look! Behold!