A Provocation: Fourth Sunday of Easter: May 12, 2019: John 10:22-30

John 10:22-30
22    It happened then:
           the Rededication (Hanukkah)
               among the Jerusalemites       
                   winter it was.
23    He kept walking around,
           Jesus did,
       in the Temple,
           in Solomon’s colonnade.
24    They encircled him, therefore,
           the Judeans did;
       they kept saying to him:
           When will you stop teasing us?
           Since you are the messiah,
               speak to us publicly.
25    He answered them
           Jesus did:
               I spoke to you
                   and you are not faithful.
              The works that I do
                   (in the name of my father),
                       these testify concerning me.
26           But you,
                  you are not faithful:
                  you are not from my sheep.
27                   My sheep hear my voice
                          and I know them and they follow me.
28                           I give to them aeonic life.
                             They will not be destroyed into the aeon.
                                 No one will seize them out of my hand.
29                                  My father,
                                         the one who has given to me,
                                     is greater than all things.
                                         No one will seize them
                                             out of the hand of the father.
30                                  I and the father,
                                         we are one.

A Question or Two:

  • Why is Jesus in Jerusalem?
  • Why is he in the Temple?

Some Longer Reflections:

Three years ago, I explored this same scene from John. You can read that Provocation at https://tinyurl.com/Provocation4EasterJohn10

This year I am looking at a very small part of this same scene, just the opening words, in fact.

The NRSV informs us that this takes place at the time of “the festival of the Dedication.” I translate it as “the Rededication.” Both of these translations are fine, but not so many Christians listening to these translations will know that this festival is Hanukkah. And that matters.

What is being rededicated, of course, is the Temple. And to understand this, you need to understand Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

You can start with the last part of his name, which he chose for himself. Antiochus followed in the line of the Seleucids, capable rulers descended from one of Alexander the Great’s generals. They had ruled Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) and the eastern end of the Mediterranean successfully for generations, but now they faced a threat from the Ptolemies (other descendants of one of Alexander’s generals) who ruled Egypt.

In the face of this threat, Antiochus IV saw the long-standing Seleucid practice of tolerating diversity and difference as a weakness in the face of a unified Egypt. He needed glue to hold his crazy-quilt of an empire together, and he judged that the best glue is religious glue.

He announced to his polyglot and polytheistic subjects that, commencing immediately, all would agree that he was a Deity. And he remodeled his name to make that clear: he was henceforth to be called Antiochus IV The God Revealed (Epiphanes).

For most of his subjects this was no great problem. Polytheists with a dozen or so gods already on the bus can always find room for one more, even if he has to sit on someone’s lap.

And then there were the Jews. Monotheists can be SO troublesome. Jews heard his announcement, considered it carefully, and responded with the Shema: Shema Yisroel, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Echad (Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is One). Put simply, a central Jewish confession, then and now, is “God is God, and you are not.” And that goes for any “you.” Including Antiochus.

Antiochus was not amused. He made it illegal to be Jewish. He forbade circumcision. He punished distinctive Jewish practices, like observing Sabbath or keeping kosher. And he sacrificed a pig on the altar in thee Temple and erected a statue there, which made it impossible for the priests to bring the universe back into balance.

This is a serious matter, more serious than people who live without a Temple are likely to be able to imagine. The practice of sacrifice balanced the wobbling universe. This truth was embodied in the notion that God’s finger touched the world in the dark silence of the Holy of Holies, the safest, most Jewish place on earth. When Antiochus broke the Temple, he made the world deeply unsafe.

Which is exactly what he intended to do.

When the Jewish forces, under the leadership of Judah Maccabeus, defeated Antiochus, one of their first actions was to rededicate the Temple in order to heal the world. Hanukkah remembers that victory, and that act of re-balancing.

Jesus remembers Hanukkah. So do the Jerusalemites who gather round him in the Temple. That’s one of the reasons they ask Jesus to declare publicly that he is the messiah (the Greek sentence is a “condition of fact,” not a “condition contrary to fact,” in case you were wondering). If Jesus is, indeed, the one appointed (and anointed) to turn the world right-side-up, Hanukkah would be an apt time to make that clear, and the Temple would be exactly the right place.

Jesus’ response is odd, but that is quite normal for Jesus in the gospel of John. To sort it out, go back to chapter 6 and read slowly, tracking what Jesus says to and about the people who, the storyteller informs us, ate the miraculous bread Jesus provided and saw it as a sign. The tangled story will require slow, attentive reading.

For now, ask yourself what Hanukkah has to do with the Fourth Sunday of Easter. That is worth wondering.

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