Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, ‘Please come to us without delay.’ So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.
At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered, ‘I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.’
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
By Joe Pritchard
In the Monty Python film ‘The Life of Brian’, which follows the life of a fellow in Palestine called Brian who keeps getting mistaken for the Messiah, there is a moment in which Brian’s mother states rather strongly “He’s not the Messiah; he’s a very naughty boy”.
Joking aside, this rather reflects the strongly polarised view of Jesus shown by the people in the Gospel according to John.
Some people regard Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, others as a charlatan, others feel he is possessed by demons, some feel he’s a lunatic, and some feel he’s a blasphemer who should be killed.
Some of the hateful attitudes towards Jesus expressed in John’s Gospel have occasionally led to John’s writings being regarded as anti-semitic, and historically some preachers have used John to support pogroms and attacks on Jewish communities, the flawed logic being ‘Well, the Jews killed Jesus, didn’t they?’
Let’s start today by knocking that particular old saw on the head, hard. My own view is that John wrote his Gospel after a large part of the Jewish religious priesthood – those particularly outspoken against Jesus - had been killed off in the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. As John was writing for a gentile audience, he probably used the phrase ‘Jewish’ as shorthand to refer to the Jewish authorities so he wouldn’t have to provide context and background. Unfortunately, history and bigotry tend to lose such nuances.
Today’s reading shows Jesus again dealing with questioning people. Jesus is in the Temple, walking in an area called ‘the Portico of Solomon’ – Solomon’s Porch. This was a particularly beautiful part of the Temple, and was a popular meeting place for people within sight of the Temple. It was also a place where religious teachers and their followers would gather to discuss religious affair. Jesus and Peter both spoke here; in general, it’s a place where we might expect to find religiously inclined people who were up for theological debate.
This isn’t just any old time of the year, either – it’s the time of the Festival of Lights – Hannukah – which celebrates the recapture of Jerusalem and the re-dedication of the Temple in the Maccabean Revolt of 164BCE. John also adds ‘It was winter’ to this description of when things happened. Now, the timing of Hannukah is dependent upon the Jewish calendar, which is lunar based – like Passover. However, it will always fall around late November through into late December, which tends to be a time of the year that is wintry. So, why point this out? Some writers have suggested that gentiles reading this might not understand that Hannukah is a winter festival. Now that might matter if the season mattered for the meaning of the reading to be clear. Others have suggested that it’s more a comment about the spiritual season in which Jerusalem is existing at this time – which, given the more spiritual emphasis of the Gospel according to John, appeals to me. At a celebration of the renewal of Jewish religious worship after a period of repression, is John pointing out that Jesus is speaking at another time that could be regarded as somewhat wintry weather in the relationship between man and God?
It's Hannukah, so we can assume that more people are there than usual. The people around him ask Jesus what He would now regard as ‘the usual question’
“How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly”
Whether Jesus rolled his eyes and took a deep intake of breath at this point is not recorded, but he starts to reply to them:
“I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe”
He has previously told those questioners the answer, and demonstrated that He performs miracles and works in the name of His Father, God, but they do not believe him.
I think from this statement, Jesus isn’t speaking to just a mixed bag of people who just happened to be there; I think the fact that Jesus says ‘I told you’ suggests that He has spoken to these people – or at least similar folks – before. Perhaps his questioners are representatives of the religious authorities?
Earlier in John we find that Jesus has been accused of breaching Jewish religious law by healing on the Sabbath, of being in cahoots with demons to perform his miracles, and so on.
As a preacher, one thing I take away from this is that if Jesus can’t convince unbelievers by His words and actions, then I’m not going to do any better.
Jesus then tells the people around him why they don’t believe what he says:
“because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”
Basically, Jesus knows that whatever He tells these people, they will not believe, because they do not want to believe; they do not have faith in him as their shepherd. They wish to go their own way.
“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”
This is something of a ‘mic drop’ moment.
Those who have faith in Jesus as their shepherd will never be taken from His care. Like all good shepherds, He will protect his flock; those with faith in Him will not be snatched from his hand.
Another translation of verse 29 is :
“My Father who has given them to me is greater than all, and no one can snatch them out of the Father’s hand”
This makes it much clearer that those who have faith in Jesus have been given in to Jesus’s care by God, and that they’re in God’s hand and so are forever safe.
And then the final statement
“The Father and I are one.”
Jesus isn’t just the Messiah; He is not just the Son of God; He is one with God. Jesus posits an unspoken question to his interrogators ‘Where is your safety if you are not in my flock?’ In the spiritual winter of establishment Jerusalem, those questioning Jesus are out in the cold, away from Him, on their own, unprotected.
Those in Jesus’s flock are there by faith; they believe; they trust in His promises. Those not of his flock refuse to believe, no matter what they Jesus says or does.
The question for us to answer is ‘Are we in Jesus’s flock, or are we choosing to ignore His voice?’
Prepared by Barbara Waterhouse