Monday, September 15, 2014

The poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always


 And the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went from the country up to Jerusalem before the Passover, to purify themselves.  Then they sought Jesus, and spoke among themselves as they stood in the temple, "What do you think -- that He will not come to the feast?"  Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a command, that if anyone knew where He was, he should report it, that they might seize Him.

Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead.  There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him.  Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair.  And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.  But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, who would betray Him, said, "Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?"  This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.  But Jesus said, "Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial.  For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always." 

- John 11:55-12:8

Last week, we read about Jesus' seventh and final sign in the Book of John, the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  See the readings:  If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.  But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him, I am the resurrection and the life, and Lazarus, come forth!  On Saturday, we read that many of those who had come from Jerusalem to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him.  But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did.  Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, "What shall we do?  For this Man works many signs.  If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation."  And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish."  Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad.  Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death.

  And the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went from the country up to Jerusalem before the Passover, to purify themselves.  Then they sought Jesus, and spoke among themselves as they stood in the temple, "What do you think -- that He will not come to the feast?  Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a command, that if anyone knew where He was, he should report it, that they might seize Him.  My study bible says that "because Jesus is the Lamb of God (1:29), the connection between the Passover, when lambs were slaughtered to save the Jews from death (Exodus 12:1-13), and the death of Jesus, which saves mankind from sin and death, is continually emphasized."  We note that by now the leadership has decided that Jesus must die; they are waiting for Him to attend the Passover in Jerusalem in order to seize Him.  Jesus is fully aware of their decision to destroy Him.

Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead.   My study bible explains:  "This Passover is the third mentioned in John (see 2:13; 6:4) and is the setting for the last week of Christ's earthly ministry, which is narrated in careful detail.  Jesus had already been glorified through His signs and words; it remained for Him to be glorified through His death and Resurrection."

There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him.  Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair.  And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.  But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, who would betray Him, said, "Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?"  This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.  But Jesus said, "Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial.  For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always."   My study bible notes here:  "The other disciples said the same thing Judas said (v. 5), but with a very different motive (see Matthew 26:6-13).  Judas spoke from greed, while the others spoke from the virtue of charity.  That Jesus put a thief in charge of the money shows that by every means He attempted to save Judas:  He fulfilled Judas' lust for money; He allowed Judas to exercise apostolic authority (6:11; see also Mark 6:7).; He washed Judas' feet with the other disciples (13:5); and He allowed him to partake at the table of the Mystical Supper (13:26). Yet Judas could never overcome his greed."

It's important to note that -- as my study bible points out -- there are other motives besides greed in the criticism of Mary, sister of Judas and Martha, by the other apostles (besides Judas).  That is, even if she is criticized here from a more pure and less "cunning" perspective,  Jesus still corrects.  The criticism of Mary is wrong.  Purely and simply, love isn't a dollars-and-cents equivalent measure sort of a thing.  What she does, she does from love and devotion to Christ, and He's pointing that out to the disciples.  Judas we understand is the one who will betray.   And perhaps his betrayal is stoked by Jesus' open rebuke and criticism.   But the lesson is for all of them.  Ours isn't a church of measurements and weights and formulas.  You can't put love into monetary terms except in the idea that whatever love truly prompts and calls for, it is worthy -- and that cannot be separated from love and devotion to God.  In this case, it's an act of anointing for burial.  Mary is so close to Jesus, as beloved friend of this family, that she is well aware of what is going to happen.  She knows that this is her last chance to be in such close contact with Him.  Her gift is one of the greatest acts of love and devotion.  And I think we have to separate that from a kind of human-to-human devotion.  In fact, it's important that we understand love as that which is given to us most perfectly by God.  Our love for God, and our nurturing in God's loving embrace, informs us about love, teaches us what we are to share with others, how to love others in a proper sense.  Love isn't possession and it isn't slavery.  It doesn't compel but is something given in real internal freedom.  That is the action we see here, and so much more.  It's also an act of devotion to the One who is beloved as friend, and Teacher, and Lord.  We can look at this scene and see truly many things.  Another important insight is the importance of this woman in ministry, that wherever the Gospel is told, so is the story of this anointing as memorial.  Truly, the greatest mystery of God is love, and it's our job to come to know and to share that love in the world.  Love may seem a simple thing; we can see it all around us, even perhaps in the nurturing of their offspring by animals.  But devotion to God takes us much further in this quest to understand what love is.  There are all sorts of difficult human questions about healing and love, how we best nurture others, and what is the most loving thing to do in any situation.  Compassion is another aspect of love we must learn how best to express.  These are not easy questions.  And they can't be answered by formulas regarding money and measurement.  This insight from this story tells us something powerful and important regarding our gifts to God and to the world.  Only the real Judge can measure; the truth in the heart that is known to Christ is the true measure.  Love is more than indulgence, it's more than simply doing what someone else would like of you -- much more.  We start with the relationship to Christ, where we receive God's love, so that we can better learn love and grow in that understanding so that we may give love ourselves.  The poor we always have with us; but this is a promise that there is all kinds of need, and all kinds of poverty in need of care.  The statement remains blatantly true in its surface meaning,  but if we look around us there may be all kinds of ways in which love of the "poor," in whatever form "poor" may take, is awaiting its expression through us.  This word for "poor," coming to us in the Gospels, also has meanings of wretched, cowering, destitute, lowly; there are all kinds of ways in which human beings may manifest that.  How do we "lift up the lowly," as He does?  How do we express a real compassion and love, as she does?




Saturday, September 13, 2014

You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish


 Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him.  But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did.  Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, "What shall we do?  For this Man works many signs.  If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation."  And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish."  Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad.  Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death.

Therefore Jesus no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there into the country near the wilderness, to a city called Ephraim, and there remained with His disciples.

- John 11:45-54

We began reading the story of Lazarus (chapter 11 of John) in Wednesday's reading (If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.  But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him), and continued in Thursday's reading (I am the resurrection and the life).   Yesterday, we began at a point where Jesus had not yet come into he town, but was in the place where Martha met Him.  Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, "She is going to the tomb to weep there."  Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died."  Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled.  And He said, "Where have you laid him?"  They said to Him, "Lord, come and see."  Jesus wept.  Then the Jews said, "See how He loved him!"  And some of the said, "Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?"  Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb.  It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.  Jesus said, "Take away the stone."  Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, "Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days."  Jesus said to her, "Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?"  Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying.  And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, "Father, I thank You that You have heard Me.  And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me."  Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth!"  And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth.  Jesus said to them, "Loose him, and let him go."

 Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him.  But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did.  Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, "What shall we do?  For this Man works many signs.  If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation."  And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish."  Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad.  Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death.    The miracle of the raising of Lazarus, in its extraordinary substance and also as witnessed by mourners from the ruling parties in the temple, having come from Jerusalem ("the Jews who had come to Mary"), sets the plot in motion to destroy Jesus.  My study bible says, "Caiaphas, being high priest, is given the authority to speak prophetically.  The failings and even wickedness of the officeholder do not diminish the grace of the office itself.  Here, Caiaphas means only that the death of Christ will spare the Jews from Roman intervention.  God's meaning, however, is that all people will be saved through the death of the Son."

Therefore Jesus no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there into the country near the wilderness, to a city called Ephraim, and there remained with His disciples.  At this point, the threat is so palpable to Jesus' life that He must remain in the country, far away from the center of religious life in Jerusalem.

The greatest and final miracle in John's Gospel, the raising of Lazarus, becomes the final act that seals the decision of the authorities to put Jesus to death.  Ironic to consider that this Giver of life is now sentenced to death becomes of His power and authority of life itself.  How wrongheaded can these authorities be? we might think.  They speak of fear:  the fear of the Romans and what they will do if the people follow someone as powerful as Jesus obviously is.  But this fear doesn't really make much sense at all!  This is particularly true in light of the holiness of Jesus' power; He's no ordinary powerful man.  He's not an "ordinary" prophet, either, nor an "ordinary" holy person.  This, in the context of the present place in John's Gospel, is plainly obvious to everybody.  The real fear here is also voiced by the leadership, that the Romans will "take away our place."  But there is more to think about, because there's a great lesson in the response of fear to Christ.  There's plainly no trust of Jesus, what He will do, how His leadership would guide the people of God.  There are other incidents in the Gospels of those who simply respond to Jesus with fear.  One that comes to mind is the herdsmen who beg Jesus to leave their region after the destruction of their swine -- via the demons Jesus has cast out  (see Matthew 8:34, Mark 5:17; also Luke 8:37).   When we read positively about the "fear of God," this is a different type of fear than we're discussing in today's reading.  An appropriate "fear of God" has to do with the respect of the holiness, power, and mystery of God that transcend our comprehension.  But this type of fear that rejects all trust of God is something inappropriate, misguided, with roots in a completely wrong-headed impulse:  that which acts against God.  This type of fear is a rejection of God's love.  When we need to whittle God down to what suits our stations, our small-mindedness, our limitations on life, then we are in trouble.  We are making wrong-headed decisions, and we are rejecting God altogether.  It is a failure to trust.  And that is a very serious thing, indeed.  The transcendent reality of God that is on display here in today's reading, however, comes with the understanding of John:  that Caiaphas has "inadvertently" honored his office as High Priest by making what is, in fact, a true prophecy about Jesus, His death on the Cross, and Resurrection to follow.  In this sense, we truly see from today's reading that "all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).   When we fear what God might bring, let us remember this moment we read about today.




Friday, September 12, 2014

Lazarus, come forth!


 Icon painting, Miracle of Lazarus being raised from the dead, St. Katherine's Monastery, Sinai, 12th Century

 Now Jesus had not yet come into he town, but was in the place where Martha met Him.  Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, "She is going to the tomb to weep there."  Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died."  Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled.  And He said, "Where have you laid him?"  They said to Him, "Lord, come and see."  Jesus wept.  Then the Jews said, "See how He loved him!"  And some of the said, "Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?"

Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb.  It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.  Jesus said, "Take away the stone."  Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, "Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days."  Jesus said to her, "Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?"  Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying.  And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, "Father, I thank You that You have heard Me.  And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me."  Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth!"  And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth.  Jesus said to them, "Loose him, and let him go."

- John 11:30-44

In Wednesday's reading, we first heard about the illness of Lazarus, and Jesus' delay in going to the home of Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha.   Yesterday, we read about Jesus arrival in Bethany, as He approached their home:  So when Jesus came, He found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.  Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away.  And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.  Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house.  Now Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You."  Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."  Martha said to Him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."  Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.  And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe this?"  She said to Him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world."  And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, "The Teacher has come and is calling for you."  As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him.

 Now Jesus had not yet come into he town, but was in the place where Martha met Him.  Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, "She is going to the tomb to weep there."  Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died."   As everyone in this story is a Jew, we understand John's reference to "the Jews" who were with Mary in the house as being those who have come from Jerusalem to mourn with Martha and Mary for their brother Lazarus, particularly those who are of the ruling parties in the temple, the religious leadership.   This is not a meeting for Mary alone with Jesus.  My study bible suggests we note here that Mary approaches Christ with the identical words Martha used (see yesterday's reading).  It says, "While Jesus engaged Martha with words, here He engages Mary with deeds -- the raising of her brother from the dead."

 Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled.  And He said, "Where have you laid him?"  They said to Him, "Lord, come and see."  Jesus wept.   My study bible says that "John emphasizes that Jesus wept and groaned in spirit [verse 38, later in the reading] to show He had fully taken on human nature and was subject to grief as any man would be.  Weeping is the natural response to the tragedy of death."  At Compline of what is called Lazarus Saturday in the Orthodox Church (the Saturday before Palm Sunday), a hymn is sung:  "Shedding tears by Your own choice, You have given us proof of Your heartfelt love."

Then the Jews said, "See how He loved him!"  And some of the said, "Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?"  Even among the leadership from the temple, the same feeling is reflected here:  Couldn't Jesus have saved Lazarus if He'd been present?  What is palpable is Jesus' great love for Lazarus.  His sympathy for the mourning of these sisters is clear in what is the shortest sentence of the Bible:  Jesus wept.  It seems to me an indication of the great empathic heart of Christ, as this happens in seeing all these with Mary in mourning.  He is truly Emmanuel, "with us."

 Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb.  It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.  Jesus said, "Take away the stone."  Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, "Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days."  My study bible tells us:  "Though Martha's faith had increased [see yesterday's reading], she still understood neither Christ's will nor His power.  The spices and oils used to anoint a dead body would only hold the stench of decomposition at bay for a short time.  Many icons of the raising of Lazarus show bystanders covering their noses, illustrating both the reality of his corrupted flesh and the fact that many did not believe Christ could raise the dead."  (See the mourners in red, with sleeves raised to their faces, in the icon above.)

Jesus said to her, "Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?"  Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying.  And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, "Father, I thank You that You have heard Me.  And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me."  My study bible notes, "To show His divine will was one with the Father's, and that His human will was freely subject in every way to the Father's, Christ prays aloud for the sake of the people."  This is the seventh and final sign in John's Gospel; Jesus makes certain every step of the way that the sign is clear:  Lazarus' indisputable death, even to bodily corruption, the mourning, and all these witnesses, both friends and potential enemies among the leadership -- all are elements present here to everyone.

Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth!"  A note says, "Christ calls Lazarus forth, not in the name of the Father, but by His own authority.  This shows the people that while Christ came from the Father, He fully possesses divine authority in Himself."  His loud shout is unmistakably not just for Lazarus, but for all witnesses to hear what is happening.

And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth.  Jesus said to them, "Loose him, and let him go."  My study bible tells us:  "That Lazarus came out bound in his graveclothes is seen by many Fathers as an indication that he will need them again -- that his resurrection continues an earthly life which will again end in death.  The Savior's graveclothes, by contrast, would be left in the tomb (John 20:5-7).  Unlike Lazarus's, Christ's Resurrection transfigures human nature;  He will never die again.  This sign not only prepared the disciples to believe in Christ's Resurrection, but in the words of the hymn for the day [referred to in the earlier note above], it also 'confirmed the universal resurrection,' proving Christ has the power to fulfill the promise given to Ezekiel that all the dead will one day rise (Ezekiel 37:1-13)."

In today's reading, we have exposed all the fears about death, the great taboo subject, a mystery about which we "know" virtually nothing -- in which all the historical fears of mankind are invested.  In the image of Lazarus coming forth from the tomb (a kind of cave hewn of rock), we modern film-viewers can see images repeated from the early horror films of the 1930s and '40s, even to today:  fantasies about "the mummy" -- an image wrapped in the kind of graveclothes Lazarus wears here in the icons given us throughout the centuries since.  Frankenstein was first a novel and later a film about taking human parts from graveyards, and constructing a man made from "the dead," but without the guiding hand of God to help us to truly understand Resurrection, and true life as well.  All our images, both ancient and modern, come to us in this image of Lazarus coming forth from the tomb, wrapped in the graveclothes.  Christ orders that He should be "loosed, and let go" from the graveclothes, a true image of freedom from the bondage of death, taking away the fear of death from us all.  Christ here answers so much of mankind's questions and fears about death, and the pain and suffering and loss that go with it.  If we think about it, the time of Jesus is the period at the end of the rule of the royalty of Egypt, a succession of generations of a great civilization who hoped for resurrection via the arts of preservation of the dead, buried with their possessions for the afterlife.  Even in the most ancient primitive burial sites in the world that have been explored by archaeologists, we find the symbol of the hope of resurrection buried with the dead:  flowers.  Christ is the answer to these hopes of mankind, the arts developed in hope of the afterlife.  He is the resurrection and the life.  Each detail in this Gospel reading throughout chapter 11 of John gives us the details we know about death, especially our mourning, the palpable sadness of this family, so beloved by Christ that He weeps Himself.  It's visibly the story about death as a great and terrible loss.  But the sign itself tells us something revolutionary and different, an act that defies any power of death (or our fears about it), and that stands as a kind of stop-piece in the middle of history to say that, really, we are not capable of beating death on our own, but with God's help, with Christ present and therefore the Trinity, all things are possible.  Christ here opens our eyes and expands our understanding of just what it means that with God, all things are possible!  The complete defiance of death will come at His own Resurrection, but we already have His promise, made several times in John's Gospel, that with Him we have eternal life and we are not bound by death.  This extends to all in the graves at His time, and all to come.  Death, the ultimate fear, becomes nothing before Him.  Can our own fears remain combatted by His life?  Human beings have not changed, even as today we have the kinds of technology that make death possible in greater and greater numbers.  The horror films and books mentioned above still contain a message about the destructive power of this world, even when we think we might be working for the good -- but without God's blessing, without His words, without prayer and the work of the Spirit.  In Him is the life and the Resurrection; He is the way, the truth and the life.  Can our faith save us from our fears -- and just where those fears lead us?  In Him, we have life, together with all those who have passed before us.  But, when He returns, will He find faith on the earth?






Thursday, September 11, 2014

I am the resurrection and the life


 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days.  Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away.  And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.  Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house.  Now Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You."  Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."  Martha said to Him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."  Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.  And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe this?"  She said to Him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world."

And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, "The Teacher has come and is calling for you."  As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him.

- John 11:17-29

Yesterday, we read that a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.  It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.  Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, "Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick."  When Jesus heard that, He said, "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it."  Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.  Then after this He said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again."  The disciples said to Him, "Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?"  Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours in the day?  If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.  But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him."  These things He said, and after that He said to them, "Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up."  Then His disciples said, "Lord, if he sleeps he will get well."  However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.  Then Jesus said to them plainly, "Lazarus is dead.  And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe.  Nevertheless let us go to him."  Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go , that we may die with Him."

 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days.   Here, my study bible points out that there existed a rabbinical opinion that the soul lingered about the body for three days, but after four days resuscitation would be impossible.

Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away.  And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.   Many people have come from Jerusalem, even those among the temple leadership, to mourn with Martha and Mary.  My study bible says, "Mourning began on the day of a person's death.  Weeping and wailing lasted three days; lamentation lasted one week; and general mourning lasted 30 days."

Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. My study bible notes:  "Not unlike the incident of Luke 10:38-42, the two sisters react differently to Christ's arrival.  Martha, being inclined to active service, rushes out to meet Jesus, while Mary remains in mourning until called by Christ [see the ending verse of today's reading].  Sitting was the traditional posture when mourning and receiving other mourners (Job 2:8, 13; Ezekiel 8:14)."

Now Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You."  My study bible suggests that while Martha possesses great faith, her statements indicate there is a lack of understanding about Christ.  When she says, "if You had been here, my brother would not have died," she reveals she doesn't fully see that Christ is God, thinking that He needs to be present to effect healings (see the healing of the nobleman's son, John 4:46-54).

Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."  Martha said to Him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."  Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.  And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe this?"  She said to Him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world."   My study bible says, regarding Jesus' statement, I am the resurrection and the life:   "To correct Martha's misunderstanding, Christ declares His divine authority to raise the dead at the last day as well as here in this world.   Such is the power of these words that Martha is immediately led to her great confession of faith.  Do you believe this? is a question directed not only to Martha, but to all of us."

And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, "The Teacher has come and is calling for you."  As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him.  Again, we see the roles the two sisters play consistently through all references to them in the Gospels.  Martha is the active one, engaged in hospitality.  Mary sits in mourning, but when she's called by Christ, she responds immediately.

We're given a glimpse into family life, in some sense, here in John's Gospel.  It's a kind of tender and touching scene, getting to know these two sisters, and seeing into their home.  Their brother has just died, and their sadness is palpable through the simple words of the story.  Mary's grief as she sits in mourning must be overwhelming.  Many have come to mourn with them.  Martha must be taxed, as it is consistently her "job" in the Gospels to be the one actively engaged in the necessity and customs of hospitality.  She goes out to meet Jesus as He approaches her home.  But in each encounter, there's something even more intimate, and that is time alone with Jesus.  Think of it, time alone with Jesus.  How many people do we read about in the Gospels that actually have time alone with Him?  There comes to mind the Samaritan woman at the well -- a startling encounter.   There is perhaps the time Nicodemus came by night to be taught, regarding baptism and the Spirit.  There are those who have been healed, or requested healing:  but often, we can imagine, those intimate conversations actually occur in the midst of crowds.  It may perhaps even be true that there were disciples listening to Jesus speak to Nicodemus.  But today's story is quite special in that we see the intimate types of relationships that exist among these beloved friends.  Mary, Martha, and Lazarus play a very special role in Jesus'  human life -- it's not just the other way around!  These are people He considers friends and whom He loves exceptionally as close friends.  Yet even they must learn from Him and about Him.  He must reveal Himself and what He has to teach to them, as well as to the rest who may follow Him.  As we prepare for the seventh final -- and most overwhelmingly powerful -- sign in John's Gospel, let us remember the love that is here in these intimate details of life in this household, among truly beloved friends.  It tells us of the fullness of Jesus' experiences as human being, and at the same time His essential maintenance of real identity.  Let us also be grateful for these friends, to be shown the tenderness and depth of Jesus' love, not only for us all, but to each one.  The uniqueness and difference in character of each sister teaches us about how He approaches each, what it is to truly love the way that Jesus does.




Wednesday, September 10, 2014

If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him


 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.  It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.  Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, "Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick."  When Jesus heard that, He said, "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it."

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.  Then after this He said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again."  The disciples said to Him, "Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?"  Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours in the day?  If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.  But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him."  These things He said, and after that He said to them, "Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up."  Then His disciples said, "Lord, if he sleeps he will get well."  However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.  Then Jesus said to them plainly, "Lazarus is dead.  And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe.  Nevertheless let us go to him."  Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go , that we may die with Him."

- John 11:1-16

In yesterday's reading, after Jesus said, "I and My Father are one," the leadership took up stones again to stone Him.  Jesus answered them, "Many good works I have shown you from My Father.  For which of those works do you stone Me?"  The Jews answered Him, saying, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because you, being a Man, make Yourself God."  Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your law, 'I said, "You are gods"?  If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'?  If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him."  Therefore they sought again to seize Him, but He escaped out of their hand.  And He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was baptizing at first, and there He stayed.  Then many came to Him and said, "John performed no sign, but all the things that John spoke about this Man were true."  And many believed in Him there.

 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.  It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.  Thus begins the story of the seventh and final sign in John's Gospel, the raising of Lazarus.  This will be the sign that "seals the deal" on the Jewish authorities' decision to put Jesus to death.  Bethany is on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, about two miles from Jerusalem.  My study bible tells us that Lazarus is the same name as "Eleazar" which means "God helps."  This is a family very beloved to Jesus.  So well-known to his readers is the story of Mary and the fragrant oil that John refers to it here, although it appears later in his Gospel.

Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, "Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick."  When Jesus heard that, He said, "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it."   My study bible says, "This message is sent back to Mary and Martha to strengthen them so that when Lazarus dies, they may take confidence in Christ's words.  The Son of God being glorified must not be understood to be the cause of Lazarus dying; instead, this indicates Christ will be glorified as a result of his death (which occurred from a natural illness) and his being raised from the dead."

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.  My study bible notes that Jesus waits two more days in order for Lazarus to be dead long enough so that corruption of his body could set in; in this way, no one could doubt the miracle.  The might of the Lord would clearly be seen by all.  It's important to note that Jesus is motivated here by His great love of this family of sisters and brother.

Then after this He said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again."  The disciples said to Him, "Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?"   The disciples refer to the authorities' behavior at the beginning of yesterday's reading, in which they attempted to stone Him for declaring, "I and My Father are one."

Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours in the day?  If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.  But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him."   Again, Jesus seems to be referring back to another statement He has made about Himself, just before healing the man who was blind since birth:  "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."  Compare His words here about walking in the day, to His teaching that He must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day in that earlier reading.

These things He said, and after that He said to them, "Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up."  Then His disciples said, "Lord, if he sleeps he will get well."  However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.   My study bible references the use of the word "sleep" for those who have passed in Acts 7:60; 1 Corinthians 11:30 and 15:6.

Then Jesus said to them plainly, "Lazarus is dead.  And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe.  Nevertheless let us go to him."  Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with Him."  A note in my study bible tells us, "Thomas's statement is an unwitting prophecy of his own future martyrdom.  It also illustrates the path that all believers must take -- that we die daily to the world for the sake of following Christ (Luke 9:23-24)."  See also St. Paul, 1 Cor. 15:31:  "I die daily."

The subject of death itself becomes an issue with today's reading:  an issue that Jesus confronts for us head-on.  He speaks of walking in the light while it is day; He has already told us that "as long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."  Darkness and death go together, along with all the human fears of death itself, death as an entity, as a representation of what evil does and is in all its forms.  But here, Christ, who already knows that He is headed for crucifixion and death on the Cross, addresses death itself, for all of us.  Before His own Resurrection, His friend Lazarus faces death, and enters into that place of death and corruption.  Jesus, as the light of day, will shed light that will change forever our understanding of what death is, and isn't.  It is not "the end."  Not with His light and His help.  Our first hint about the ways in which we are to think of death, as His followers, comes here with the word sleep.  Sleep is not a final rest, it is something from which we are to awaken.  It is sometimes a sign that we aren't paying attention, that we need the light, and that we need to look around and be attentive to the reality that is truly present to us.  But death is forever changed by Christ, and we get a great and powerful preview of what this means in His love for this family, His delay so that there is no doubt of Lazarus' death, and in the seventh and final sign that is to come.  Let us remember His light that is our day, that keeps us from walking in the darkness of ignorance and fear.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Is it not written in your law, "I said, 'You are gods'?"


Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him.  Jesus answered them, "Many good works I have shown you from My Father.  For which of those works do you stone Me?"  The Jews answered Him, saying, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because you, being a Man, make Yourself God."  Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your law, 'I said, "You are gods"?  If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'?  If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him."  Therefore they sought again to seize Him, but He escaped out of their hand.

And He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was baptizing at first, and there He stayed.  Then many came to Him and said, "John performed no sign, but all the things that John spoke about this Man were true."  And many believed in Him there.

- John 10:31-42

In yesterday's reading, we begin while Jesus is still at the Feast of Tabernacles:   There was a division again among the leadership because of Jesus' sayings.  And many of them said, "He has a demon and is mad.  Why do you listen to Him?"  Others said, "These are not the words of one who has a demon.  Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?"   Chapter 10 then moves to the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, in winter, about three months after the Feast of Tabernacles.  The Feast of Dedication is also known as the Festival of Lights (or Hanukkah).  And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon's porch.  Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, "How long do You keep us in doubt?  If You are the Christ, tell us plainly."  Jesus told them, "I told you, and you do not believe.  The works that I do in My Father's name, they bear witness of Me.  But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you.  My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand.  I and My Father are one."

 Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him.  Jesus answered them, "Many good works I have shown you from My Father.  For which of those works do you stone Me?"  The Jews answered Him, saying, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because you, being a Man, make Yourself God."   The accusation of blasphemy follows Jesus' statement of His divinity, "I and My Father are one."  As we noted in yesterday's reading, "One means one in nature or essence.  He is God before all ages, and He remains God after the Incarnation and for all eternity.  The plural verb are indicates two distinct Persons, while confirming a continuous unity."   The leadership clearly recognize this claim of divinity; therefore they accuse Him of blasphemy.

Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your law, 'I said, "You are gods"?  If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'?"  My study bible says of the quotation "I said, 'You are gods'" (Psalm 82:6):  "People who receive God's grace in faith will partake of His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) and can rightly be called gods.  Christ is effectively saying, 'If those who have received this honor by grace are not guilty for calling themselves gods, how can He who has this by nature deserve to be rebuked?"  (quoting St. John Chrysostom).

"If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him."  Therefore they sought again to seize Him, but He escaped out of their hand.   My study bible says, "Because Christ is going to His Passion voluntarily and according to His own will, His accusers cannot arrest Him until He is ready (7:30; 8:20; see Luke 4:28-30)."

And He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was baptizing at first, and there He stayed.  Then many came to Him and said, "John performed no sign, but all the things that John spoke about this Man were true."  And many believed in Him there.  It seems to me we see a kind of increasing "withdrawal" on Jesus' part, even as His ministry increases, becomes more public, and more of a threat to the leadership.  Earlier we were told that He remained in Galilee; here He withdraws to the place where John was first baptizing.  It is still nearer Jerusalem than Galilee, but the ministry has come almost full circle:  now there are many who believe in Him, and who see in Him the fulfillment of the Baptist's promises about Him. 

The stage is set, really, for Jesus' seventh and final sign in the Gospel of John.  We'll begin reading about that in tomorrow's reading.  But for now, Jesus has plainly and clearly defined and declared His divinity, and the leadership have understood it well.  Their response is to accuse Him of blasphemy.  His defense, His witness, in a sense, becomes the works He has done.  And the greatest work, the seventh sign, is now about to unfold.  As His works have become more and more powerful, we see the great challenge to the role of the leadership.  The sixth sign occurred at the Feast of Tabernacles, when Jesus, declaring Himself to be the light of the world, gave a man sight who had been blind since birth.  Jesus' statement, "I and My Father are one," isn't just a statement that we read in the Gospels, and it isn't just a statement that inflames the leadership, as they clearly understand what He is saying.  It is a statement that has defined, and continues to define, the history of the theology of the Church.  It isn't just a simple statement of fact about Jesus' relationship to the Father.  Rather it is a powerful definition of the spiritual reality He has brought to our awareness.  It continues to shape and form theological dialogue and discussion in our world today, and to define for us an understanding of how we are to practice and think about our faith in all kinds of situations, and as response to all kinds of problems.  Those minds trained in all the abstracts and understanding of the philosophy of each age or generation since have also pondered this problem, this great mystery.  And yet, what we understand is the power that is behind it, and especially the promise, the covenant, that is backed up by this statement.  When Jesus says, "I and My Father are one," it is in the context of the promise of life to each one of us, His sheep.  This is life that is defined by the power and absolute reality of God.  It's not life as we understand it, but something exponentially, infinitely greater, longer, deeper.  It is an abundance we can't calculate.  But in this declaration of the "consubstantiality" (and united will) of Father and Son, we are made a promise:  a promise that we will be kept with Him, He and His Father will not lose a single one of us, and we will be kept together into the kind of life and transformation beyond the ages of time as we understand it into an eternity we can't foresee in its abundance of this life.  The theologians may forever debate this problem, while even the scientists of our time debate the nature of time, even as the ancient fathers of the church have understood time to be "multi-dimensional" in the promises of the Church (see here, esp. Sections VII and VIII), and to the present day expand upon our understanding of time (for example, this book)  in the light of this promise.  Jesus' statements invite us into mystery, a deepening and greater mystery that will not lose its promises nor potentials for us.  But we must remember that we are each sheep who are called by name, and whether or not we can delve into such mysteries at the depth of philosophy and/or theoretical physics, we know and are known by Him, and we are each given our own understanding of our faith and where and how it leads us.  The promise is to each of us.  Held in His hand, we go in faith.


Monday, September 8, 2014

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me


 Therefore there was a division again among the Jews because of these sayings.  And many of them said, "He has a demon and is mad.  Why do you listen to Him?"  Others said, "These are not the words of one who has a demon.  Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?" 

Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter.  And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon's porch.  Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, "How long do You keep us in doubt?  If You are the Christ, tell us plainly."  Jesus told them, "I told you, and you do not believe.  The works that I do in My Father's name, they bear witness of Me.  But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you.  My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand.  I and My Father are one."

- John 10:19-30

In Saturday's reading, Jesus was continuing His dialogue on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, at the temple in Jerusalem.  He taught:  "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.  But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.  To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.  Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers."  Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them.  Then Jesus said to them again, "Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.  All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.  I am the door.  If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.  The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.  I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.  I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.  But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them.  The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep.  I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.  As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.  And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.  Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again.  No one takes if from Me, but I lay it down of Myself.  I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.  This command I have received from My Father."

Therefore there was a division again among the Jews because of these sayings.  And many of them said, "He has a demon and is mad.  Why do you listen to Him?"  Others said, "These are not the words of one who has a demon.  Can  a demon open the eyes of the blind?"   This is the end of the passage regarding His dialogue with the leadership (and many who believed) at the Feast of Tabernacles.  We see the divisions; even among the leadership, there is not unanimity, at all, regarding their opinion of Jesus.  We recall that "opening the eyes of the blind" refers to the sixth sign in John's Gospel, Jesus' healing of a man blind from birth at the Feast of Tabernacles (see the readings As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world and One thing I know:  that though I was blind, now I see).  My study bible tells us:  "Those who respond in faith are not merely impressed by the signs, but perceive the holiness of His words."

Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winterAnd Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon's porch.  Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, "How long do You keep us in doubt?  If You are the Christ, tell us plainly."  My study bible explains that the Feast of Dedication took place about three months after the Feast of Tabernacles.  The Feast of Dedication is known as the Festival of Lights (also called Hanukkah).  It commemorates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after the Seleucid King Epiphanes desecrated it in 167 BC (see 1 Maccabees 1-4).  At this festival, the leaders of Israel's past were commemorated, many of whom were themselves shepherds.  The term "the Jews," as used in John's Gospel, refers to the religious leadership.

Jesus told them, "I told you, and you do not believe.  The works that I do in My Father's name, they bear witness of Me."  My study bible notes:  "Both what Christ told them and the works He had already done have already answered their question. Only the Messiah could open the eyes of the blind or perform these miracles that bear witness to Him.  Likewise, only the Messiah could speak to the hearts of people as Christ had."

 "But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you.  My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me."  Jesus tells them, "as I said to you," referring to His dialogue at the fall festival the Feast of Tabernacles (see Saturday's reading, I am the Good Shepherd).

"And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand.  I and My Father are one."  My study bible says here that Jesus responds to their question by revealing Himself to be fully God:  One means one in nature or essence.  He is God before all ages, and He remains God after the Incarnation and for all eternity.  The plural verb are indicates two distinct Persons, while confirming a continuous unity."   In tomorrow's reading, we will see how the leadership responds, recognizing His claim of divinity.

As events unfold in John's Gospel, we see also Jesus' emphasis "unfolding" or growing.  There is a constant stream of thought here that refers us back to His love:  His love, as Good Shepherd, for the sheep.  That is, those who know His voice, those who know Him and are known by Him.  In fact, He has said that He knows and calls each by name.  This is at once an intimate relationship, and a "group" relationship of sheep to shepherd, even those who will come to Him from many disparate flocks.  There is the promise of unity here in His protection and care:  it is the Father who has given to Him the sheep who know His voice and whose names He knows, and He promises that He will not lose even one of them.  He's the good shepherd who will go after even one stray.  But we're given a promise here, that rests on His claim to divinity, that this holding and keeping of the sheep extends not just to our worldly lives, but to something much greater and infinitely more potent.  It is life "of the age(s)" so to speak.  That is, a life that survives the temporal quality we know, into a promise of more life to come.  His divinity allows this to be so; His promise of life everlasting is also a promise of life in abundance, a quality we can't measure.  We simply know this promise, this covenant, and that both His and the power of the Father will maintain this hold, this power to keep and to preserve, so that none of us is lost.  It is at once a statement both regarding the grandeur of divinity beyond our understanding (even beyond the ages or cycles of time we know), and infinitely greater than the kind of life that we know.  When Jesus says that "I and My Father are one," it's not just a statement of divinity, but rather an emphasis on the promise He makes to the sheep; that He is fully equipped with the power to carry out that promise as Good Shepherd, with all the power and might of a universal God that is all at once in this relationship with us as well, and knows each of us by name.  Jesus does not need to declare His divinity except in service to His sheep, the ones who know Him and hear His voice, and who are each known by Him.  From there, it is up to each one to discern and declare whose "sheep" they are, whose flock they belong to.  So, how do you "hear" His voice?  Do you feel that you are known, and loved as precious to the Shepherd?  His sacrifice teaches us of His love for the sheep.