“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.’ (John 10:28-30)
It’s Hanukkah, and Jesus is walking through Solomon’s Colonnade in Jerusalem. It was known as the “Porch of Judgement” because it was here that the great King would pronounce judgement, a thousand years before. But now in a massive irony (of which the author is only too aware), “a greater than Solomon is here,” physically embodying the justice and kingship of God.
But those questions persist: “The Jews who were there gathered round him, saying, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’”
Questions, questions. Jesus must have been weary of them.
I was reading an Anne Rice novel and came across this passage: “Very few beings really seek knowledge in this world. Mortal or immortal, few really ask. On the contrary, they try to wring from the unknown the answers they have already shaped in their own minds — justifications, confirmations, forms of consolation without which they can’t go on. To really ask is to open the door to the whirlwind. The answer may annihilate the question and the questioner.”
That is to say: “Do you really want to know the truth?” Pilate asked “What is truth?” but didn’t stop for a reply.
Can you handle the truth?
The truth for Pilate was standing right next to him, and for these questioners too. The answer was a whirlwind which would threaten their stability.Courage doesn’t happen when you have all the answers. It happens when you are ready to face the questions you have been avoiding your whole life.
The real point was: if Jesus is who He says He is, what are you going to do about it?
But Jesus answers, calmly, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me.” The things He has done are plain enough for those who really want to see.
But the questions in this passage go beyond mere intellectual proof. They are questioning not only his identity but if his power is from God.
It’s there right at the triumphant end of Matthew’s gospel, when you would have thought that all occasion for doubt is long gone. The resurrected Jesus is standing right there in front of them! But “When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.” Were they doubting the evidence of their own eyes?
I guess the truth is that we all experience doubt. We doubt our ability to make it through; we doubt if we can really overcome that old addiction; we doubt God’s presence in our lives and we doubt God really knows and loves us. Doubt and questioning are normal parts of our lives as people and as persons of faith.
Paul Tillich said: “Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.”
So often in church we talk about faith and that is a powerful thing to talk about, but to not claim the flip side of faith, the perpetual travelling companion of faith -doubt – means we are not leaving room for the real life experiences of people. Even the most faithful have moments of doubt.
There’s an old saying: “God never gives us more than we can handle. I just wish God didn’t have such faith in me.”
The truth is that God knows us full well -even our doubt- and allows for it. He walks with us in it.
Jesus is saying much the same thing. He is telling the doubters that he is one with God, that he knows his followers, and that they know him: “You do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. “(verse 26-27) It’s the same vivid image of sheep to describe his followers from the Good Shepherd passage earlier (10:1-18). And he is declaring that he knows all who follow him and they know him for who he is. Jesus is once again providing proof that his actions are God-sanctioned (verse 25). But He knows, really, as Criss Jami put it: “Friends ask you questions; enemies question you.” The folks who are once again nagging him about his identity are not part of this flock.
And then comes the amazing passage I’ve already quoted. It’s the heart-ground of all assurance and the answer to any disabling doubt: ““I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.’
Everyone experiences hard times, disease and the fear of it, bereavement and the pain of it. Everyone has felt unprotected, endangered and belittled. But the voice of the Gospel is a voice of peace and radiant grace. Two things -only two things- are all we need. We need to hear Him and we need to follow Him.
“Now, this is what the Lord says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
It’s the ancient promise, now enacted by Jesus the Good Shepherd. It involves summoning, naming and claiming! “I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” And the consequence of that call is protection and presence: “No one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.’ ” That thief who comes to steal, kill and destroy has no place here. Psalm 16:11 reminds us that “You will show me the path of life: in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand there are pleasures for ever more.”