Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota

Environmental Stewardship Commission (MEESC) Lectionary Reflection Year C, Easter 4, Gospel

John 10:22-30

And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ""Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.'' But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, ""We have seen the Lord!'' But he said to them, ""Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.'' After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you.'' Then He said to Thomas, "Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.'' Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!'' Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.'' Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;

Reflection on John 10:22-30 by the Rev John Gibbs, PhD

The Fourth Gospel is notable for its Book of Signs (John 2-12, so C. H. Dodd), rather than for the other gospels' account of Jesus' ministry. In chapter 10 we see the heroic Shepherd who does battle with a wolf, even at cost of his life, in order to save his sheep. That, as Dodd comments (The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, p. 360), is how "this man can give us his flesh to eat" (6:52)

Here is one in a wealth of instances in the gospels that use a common situation in the natural world to describe by analogy what the relation between Jesus and the disciples was, and remains throughout human history. Central to this analogy is this claim: "My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me" (10:27). We, like sheep, have not only gone astray (as is said elsewhere), but we have also stored up what might be called recognition memories. With these memories we can recognize, when it speaks, the familiar authentic voice of the only One who reliably "shepherds" us.

Our faith is rooted not only in history but also in the created world and all its creatures. On one hand, a Plato or a Socrates speaks in abstractions, as even the famous "Allegory of the Cave" (Republic, Book VII) does. Greek thought depreciated matter, and longed for the pure world of the "ideas" beyond space and time. Earliest Christians, on the other hand, wrote about their faith as if it could not be imagined or conceived apart from everyday life in rural or urban settings among other creatures. They wrote about their faith in such a way as to say this: our faith propels us into the living environment around us, rather than into outer space away from creatures that came from the same Creator's hand as did we.

If you want to explore this connection between creation and Covenant People further, you might find intriguing Allan D. Galloway's 1951 book, The Cosmic Christ (London: Nisbet). There he provides a history of the rediscovery of "the cosmic Christ" (as in apocalyptic literature, in Paul, in John) during the Patristic Period, and through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Kant, Hegel, and others, into the middle of the 20th century. Ours is a redemptive faith. As such, either it retreats from the physical environment into personalism, individualism, or some other-worldly approach, or it expands outward "so as to include the whole of [the] environment" (p. 9). As Galloway rightly demonstrates, biblical faith "widened its reference" to include the cosmic totality.

The gospels' frequent references to the world around us are simply a part of their understanding that redemption focuses not only on the individual sinner, not only on the Church, and not even only on all humanity, but also on all the creation. Naturally a sermon on John 10:22-30 would go astray to proclaim only this point, but the relation of our faith to the creation is included in this text, and might well be included within a sermon based on it.

John Gibbs, a retired theologan, attends Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN. He originally wrote this reflection in 2000. John and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:
MEESC Holy Trinity Church Box 65 Elk River, MN 55330-0065 USA

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