Pastures and Pens

 The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, best known for his statement that ‘God is dead,  from my perspective, seems to exhibit a loathing of of two things,  women and religion, specifically Christianity.  In regard to his view was of religion, primarily Christianity,  he said that it seeks to keep people down, to control the masses

Nietzsche’s basic premise about religion is that it was invented by weak men who wanted to make even weaker the strong, the warriors, this was done by adapting morals so the warriors, those who had power, could be made weak primarily through guilt and fear.

Karl Marx, another German Philosopher, also found religion deplorable, in his case his vitriol was aimed at all religion, as well as the very idea of religion.  He is famous for saying, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of social conditions in which the spirit is excluded. It is the opium of the people.

Quite frankly, much of the time, I would have to agree with both of these men. It is often true that religion, actually the institutions of religion and not faith itself, work in conjunction with rulers and politicians, that can be guilty of controlling the masses and demeaning the individual.   

This is the setting in which our focus passage for today takes place.  It is the setting in which we see Jesus teach about life…..life that begins with the now and goes forever.  TheZoé, the life, that Jesus soon calls himself.

During Jesus’ day, the religious institution was in cahoots with the Roman government in order to keep control.  Even though both sides despised each other, they recognized the value of working together, at least until they achieved their own goals. They recognized the value of partnering and using each other. With a little, sometimes a lot, of compromise of beliefs and principals, the religious establishment was, and often still is, able to work with earthly powers to achieve, often misguided agendas and goals.  With a similar release of certain held values, the government was, and is, able to work with the religious institutions to use them as well.  

So, on this day, the day in which Jesus healed a blind man, a day that ordinarily would have been a day of celebration for the formerly blind man and his family, a day that just happened to be the Sabbath, a designated day of rest, a day that religious leaders strictly defined the boundaries of work and rest for each man and woman, a day that the politicians relinquished economic gain in order to maintain control, became a day that greatly threatened the delicate and fragile collusion that was holding on by a thread between the religious institution and the political system. 

The institutional establishment began its work and undertook a quick investigation. First questioning the validity of the blindness of the man, did he have any weaknesses that could be leveraged against him.  Then, after an initial questioning of the man, they moved on to harassing his parents.  When this did not help, they returned to the man. 

This second interaction with the man elicited a classic response from the leaders and an honest, yet gutsy, response from the man

So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this, because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.” 

“I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!” 

“But what did he do?” they asked. “How did he heal you?” 

“Look!” the man exclaimed. “I told you once. Didn’t you  listen? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” 

Then they cursed him and said, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses! We know God spoke to Moses, but we don’t even know where this man comes from.”  

“Why, that’s very strange!” the man replied. “He healed my eyes, and yet you don’t know where he comes from? We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will. Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God, he  couldn’t have done it.” 

“You were born a total sinner!” they answered. “Are you trying to teach us?” And they threw him out of the synagogue.

The leaders tried to discredit him, they attempted to intimidate him, they sought to harass his family, they attacked his spirituality, and finally, where there was nothing left to do, they just threw him out.  The indisputable fact remained – the man was blind before and now he was not.

This blind man, who had been rejected and dismissed all of his life due to his blindness, was now being rejected in a new way because he could now see.  Life was different, he could see, it wasn’t about seeing with his eyes, it was now about  seeing life with his heart. He was blind, now he could see.  Even with his eyes closed, he could now see life because he had met life.

Jesus found the man, and speaks of sheep, sheep pens, sheep in the pasture, shepherds, gates, gate keepers, thieves, and bandits, and finally, about recognizing a voice.

The listeners, those who followed Jesus expressed that they still did not understand his figurative language, so, Jesus clarified.  It was now that he taught lesson number three – Peace, Presence, and Now Life Jesus is Life. Zoe, life that is now and life that is eternal – all the same life.

Let’s look at the nuts and bolts of Jesus’ explanation.

First, let’s look at who Jesus was speaking to?

Jesus was not speaking to those who are entrenched in sin nor was he addressing the religious leaders – he was speaking to his followers.   Jesus is talking to us, over 2,000 years later.

Second, what is Jesus basic message?

Jesus was a speaking of life, Zoe.  He says that he came because there would be judgement and he came to save us from that judgement.  He came to give us life and is full and abundant. 

Jesus’ word ‘saved’, is sózó in the greek, goes beyond our limited understanding of ‘being saved’.  Sózó is much larger meaning healing, to be made whole, to be delivered or protected, to preserve, and even ‘to merely do well’.  It is referring to now and then.  For Jesus, and his followers, everyday is the new day of beginning of eternity.  He desired that our life would be interpreted differently than the earthly values but instead through those things that do not fade or lose their value.  He was leading us to live beyond what we have and do not have.

Eugene Petersen described the words of Jesus in this way, ‘ I came so you can have real and eternal life, more and better life than you ever dreamed of.”

Jesus said, Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.

This imagery of the pasture and the pen is that abundance.  An existence of peace, in the protection of the pen, and an abundance as in the pasture.  We are free to come and go as both, pasture and pen, are the abundant life

We have a tornado shelter that we have opened up to our neighbors.  We have non Oklahoman neighbors who are petrified of tornadoes and are the first to show up.  We also have a lady next door who is a life long Okie and a life long healthy respecter of the tornadoes.  She will bake brownies earlier in the day of a tornado and then bring them to the shelter when it is time.  We will then join in the protection of the shelter, our pen, with the fear, brownies, and abundance.  It is a choice, it is a protection, and it is all part of the abundance.

This is the pen, no guarantees that it will be how or what we want but it is what  we need.

Third, who are the thieves and bandits?

Jesus is using this teaching time to warn the people of their greatest danger.  An institution that was originally formed from sincere faith.  A faith that taught the most important thing is to love God and to love everyone else.  A faith that led Jesus to reveal his distaste for the collusion of the politicians and the religious leaders when he entered the temple.  A faith that was true and sincere as opposed to institution who used people in order to achieve their own agenda.

Jesus was not speaking about the adulterers or the prostitutes, not about those who may take our possession, those who abuse us or dismiss us, not the heathen, not the worshippers of idols and false god, not the racists, not the haters, not any of the people, vocations, cultures, religions, or any of the others that we point to as dangerous and suspicious.  The thieves and bandits were the  very institutions that we are taught to trust.

Nietzsche has another interesting quote, ‘in truth there was only one Christian, and he died on a cross.”

It is our responsibility to always realize that religious leaders, politicians, or any institution can never be given carte blanche, we must alway be honest in our critique of them. Our full trust can only be on the Christian – Christ. 

Lastly, how are we to respond?

The interesting thing about this explanation of Jesus’ figurative speech is that is is a message to us.  It is not really a warning to beware, but, instead, we are called to very real and concrete response.  

Know the voice of God.

The onus is on us.  It is our responsibility to be able to differentiate between truth and lies, between the shepherd and the bandits, between love and abuse.  We must know the difference between the things of life and the things of death. Know God. Know Life

Following the ascension of Jesus, and after Pentecost, the church began.  The people were not set on starting an institution but they had an intense passion to Know the Voice of God.  They broke bread with each other, spent time learning from the eyewitnesses, the apostles, about Christ, Giving what they had, and providing for those that had need.  This was a natural reaction to the desire to Know God’s Voice. To know what was about life and what was about life. 

What are you doing to Know the Voice of God?

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