John 10: 22-30 (NRSVA)
22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ 25 Jesus answered, ‘I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.’
What would you ask Jesus? Would be it be something cosmic — “How exactly does Your death on the cross forgive my sins”? Would you be trying to understand something about the miracles — “How did you turn water into wine”? Would it be something straightforward but profound — “Are you the Messiah”?
In the Bible, Jesus frequently doesn’t give a clear “yes/no” answer to a question even when that is precisely what the questioner is seeking. Here he goes again in today’s passage. This used to frustrate me. Why didn’t Jesus make it clear beyond any doubt who he is and what he was doing? Why didn’t Jesus give us hard and fast evidence so we would never doubt the existence and goodness of God?
I think there are (at least) two reasons.
First, God’s kingdom is not an army of conscripts, it’s a community of volunteers. Jesus was here to reveal and to explain; to persuade and encourage. Because God’s relationship with us is one of love, he offers the invitation and leaves us free to accept or reject it. Everything Jesus says is designed to intrigue us and welcome us but he will never force his way in.
Secondly, the questions humans ask are, by definition, well... a bit human. In other words, they are of limited scope and based on a restricted human understanding. Jesus answers in a way which is always true and always helpful but he never limits the scope of his response to what can be known here and now.
The Jesus we know now will always be partial – there will always, in this life, be stuff we just don’t know about God. That’s why we need to be open to be surprised by what he will do next.
Father God, thank you that you chose to invite us to know you. Let us see more of you day by day as you change our lives through your Spirit. AMEN