“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”
The prescribed Gospel reading for April 30, 2023 is the familiar ‘Good Shepherd’ text from John 10:1-10. But to grasp its full meaning, one needs to see the text in the context of the preceding chapter. There Jesus, on the Sabbath, has restored sight to a poor beggar, blind from birth. His fellow citizens don’t quite know what to make of it, and are divided in their opinions as to the identity of the man and the validity of the healing. So they usher him off to the local font of wisdom and propriety, the religious authorities (aka the Pharisees).
Here before this court of supreme enlightenment, as the ‘letter-of-the-law’ judges learn when it was that the man was allegedly healed, they make a swift pronouncement, “This man (Jesus) is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” However, the man with restored sight now sees things differently. “He (Jesus) is a prophet,” he insists. The court then calls on his parents to testify. Fearful of the Pharisees wrath, they duck the question and respond, “He’s of age; ask him.” At the second round of questioning the Pharisees hurl insults at the man and demand he tell the truth and acknowledge Jesus to be a sinner. Then, taking offense at the man’s witness to Jesus’ authority, they declare him a sinner and excommunicate him from the synagogue.
The chapter closes with Jesus (the Supreme Judge in this story) exonerating the spiritually enlightened man, while pronouncing the spiritually blind Pharisees guilty. The moral of the story, which was difficult for folks to grasp in Jesus’ day and remains so today, is that people can become so self-deceived and ideologically/doctrinally entrenched that they shut their eyes (blind themselves) to the light, the truth and the way to abundant life. And that’s where chapter 10 continues the theme that is captured in the hymn, Amazing Grace; instilling sight to the blind and restoration of relationship and abundant life to the lost.
The entire ‘Good Shepherd’ address is a direct response to the Pharisees’ mistreatment of one of Jesus’ sheep, the poor, blind beggar. Jesus goes directly from condemning the Pharisees in John 9:39-40 to parables that contrast his own brand of leadership with that of the Pharisees failed leadership. He leads off by declaring, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.” He goes on to portray the Pharisees as foolish gatekeepers who cannot tell the difference between a thief and a shepherd (John 10:1-6). They are thieves who bring death, while Jesus is the sheepfold gate that brings life (John 10:7-10). They are the hired hands who abandon the sheep at the first sign of danger, while Jesus is the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11-18).
Throughout his ministry Jesus and the Pharisees will be at odds, as they can never see eye to eye. They believe they have the corner on righteous living and hold an elevated status head and shoulders above those beneath them. Their blind ‘business as usual’ approach to the Law as disciples of Moses will ultimately hang Jesus on the cross and seal the tomb holding his battered body.
It is a timely coincidence that this gospel account falls on April 30. For it was on this very day back in 1945 that perhaps the greatest personification/incarnation of evil in recent human history took out his service pistol and sent a bullet through his head. At that fateful moment, Adolf Hitler did what the German resistance forces plotting to assassinate him were unable to accomplish.
The fascist Fuhrer whose disgust of democracy and lust for absolute power wreaked havoc on world order was rendered impotent. The criminal whose warped ideology and wartime atrocities had robbed the lives of over six million Jews and other societal misfits deemed unfit to live was dead and gone. [see Holocaust remembrance here.] The charismatic false prophet of Aryan supremacy who stole authentic Christianity and turned it into a nationalistic weapon of war was silenced.
And yet today, 78 years later in America (and other parts of the world) his legacy and ideology lives on. The “war to end all wars” (WWII) didn’t. The prevalent forces of fascism, autocracy, bigotry, white supremacy and the politicizing/nationalizing of Christianity today present a clear and present danger to a functional democracy and an authentic and abundant life under the reign of God. The rigorous and ongoing work of healing spiritual blindness and restoring abundant life under the Kingdom of God that Jesus began is at the heart of the mission of the 21st century Christian Church, and especially so in America.
In that work of healing and restoration one of the best advocates we have is the Baptist Joint Committee (BJC) and their Christians Against Christian Nationalism movement. This is a drum beat heard before in these Creation Justice blog posts, and one that cannot be heard too often. Please make time to visit their websites and become a supporter and participant in their critical work. And in conclusion, also please consider responding to this invitation to a lecture on the separation of Church and State:
Join us in Boston on Wednesday, May 31
Explore the myth of American “chosenness” in a special event to be held at one of America’s oldest churches. Dr. Catherine Brekus, Charles Warren Professor of the History of Religion in America at Harvard Divinity School, will be our keynote speaker for this year’s Walter B. and Kay W. Shurden Lecture on Religious Liberty and Separation of Church and State.
The event will take place at Old North Church in Boston, Massachusetts, on May 31, starting at 5:30 p.m. It’s the site where two lanterns were hung in 1775 as a signal to Paul Revere that the British were coming by sea, igniting the American Revolution.
The event is free, but you must register to attend in person or view it online. Register Now