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Jesus’ claims the ultimate solidarity with those whom he calls ‘my sheep’.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. (John 10:11–13 ESV)

It is possible to imagine that even the most responsible hired hand would practice the craft of shepherding with excellence.

But not at the cost of his life.

The rationale of the marketplace requires that the hired sheep-tender calculate the point at which the job requires more of him than he can rightly give. The horrible expression ‘Every man has his price’ here finds a defensible context. It is so, and it is right that it must be so.

However, Jesus claims a solidarity with his own that runs the path of a different logic. For him, no wolf’s threat is worth the fleeing. He stays, defends, and—here Jesus intimates a most difficult path—gives his life to save his sheep from their most lethal threat. The point is not that he dies in vain—flamboyant, noble sacrifice—when the wolf attacks, but rather that he is willing to give up his own life in fending off the wolf.

Who talks like this?

It is not surprising that this is one of the recorded moments in which at least some onlookers concluded that ‘He has a demon and is insane.’

One simply must arrive at that conclusion, unless Jesus’ care for his own is of a different order entirely. Unless he knows, as one says, what he is talking about.

In that case one properly longs to be loved, shepherded perhaps if the metaphor is sustained, in this way.

We find it convenient to hide behind our supposed complexity, our nuance, our shades of gray.

There exists a genuine sophistication, and it is entirely worthy of admiration. Yet we so easily fall prey to its diminutive imposter: my complexity as my refusal to give an answer to those who matter most. To stake a claim. To declare who I am and commit to remaining that person, growing as that person, becoming strong and wise as that person.

We prefer to keep all our convenient options open.

YHWH is not fooled.

Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the LORD; how much more the hearts of the children of man! (Proverbs 15:11 ESV)

Sheol and Abbadon—roughly abbreviated as Death and Destruction—are indeed complex realities. More, they are declared enemies of YHWH, adversaries who will fight, well, to the very death in their futile war to thwart the Life-giving One and his purpose for his world.

Sheol and Abbadon are the big guns. They’re on the street, and packing.

Beside them, we are children: double-minded, distracted, not as lethal as we imagine. We are small fry, we are minor league stuff.

The proverb probably does intend to stain us with the malice of Sheol and Abaddon. That is not where the comparison and the contrast pivot. Rather, Sheol’s and Abaddon’s earnest and tenacious prowess are contrasted with our relative simplicity.

If YHWH sees through them, then knowing our hearts is as nothing to him.

Our hearts are an open book to this great, seeing God of Israel.

We are, alas, quite simple.

Fearlessly and wonderfully made, that much is true.

But wide open to the eyes of the one who made us and loves us through death.

Misplaced certainty leads to the most regrettable errors.

Jesus’ teaching moved the hearts and minds of the masses. The had heard nothing like this, so compelling it stirred the deepest longings, so clear it seemed a window into truth, so accompanied by power that it must have come from God himself.

Yet they knew their facts, and those facts left no room for Jesus.

When they heard these words, some of the people said, ‘This really is the Prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Christ.’ But some said, ‘Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?’ So there was a division among the people over him. (John 7:40–43 ESV)

The ironies run deep, for the author of John’s Gospel fully affirmed the facts put forth by Jesus’ pained doubters. Yet they did not command all the facts, didn’t have the full picture, lacked a context that would make sense both of what they knew to be true and what they now saw in the Galilean teacher who spoke like no other.

Their certainty touched the truth. Yet it was incomplete.

So, for John, they missed the most important truth. The tragedy of this is palpable and—in its way—terrible.

The argument took on its own momentum, shaped its own tragic outcome.

Nicodemus, an odd protagonist in several brief cameos, stood up for Jesus. So did he earn the opprobrium of the certain.

They replied (to Nicodemus), ‘Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.’ They went each to his own house. (John 7:52–53 ESV)

Truth is captured best—and sometimes only—by those who know some truth, yet find the means to pause in search of greater truth.

Sometimes everything depends on this.

Thing is, the biblical Proverbs have less to say about YHWH than you’d expect.

He is assumed to be the guarantor of the way things are, because that’s the way he made them. But he’s hardly the loquacious divinity who can’t stop talking. Rather, one learns about him indirectly, by scrutinizing what he’s made.

So it feel something like a reversion to the biblical norm when we read in the Proverbs that YHWH is always there and always watching.

The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good. (Proverbs 15:3 ESV)

Even in this God-specific moment, however, the curator of biblical wisdom cannot shake his realism. It’s probably significant that YHWH keeps watch ‘on the evil and the good’, in that order.

In this world, the evil are no asterisk, no after-thought, no marginal detail. They are, sadly, front and center.

The world is full of fools, one might conclude, and only slight less full of evil-doers.

The thing is, they’re doomed. The Guarantor might strike an evasive pose, but he is not absent. The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God’. This is not because he is a conceptual atheist, but because he deceives himself about YHWH’s alleged passivity and his own ability to declare how things are gonna’ be in his barrio.

He could hardly be more wrong, the biblical long view asserts.

Someone is watching us.

People will answer for this.

Truth is a little tricky to corner.

It does not surrender itself easily, requiring of its seeker a bit of diligence to prove his or her worth.

Biblical wisdom traffics in two dynamics that work out this evasiveness in space and time. Continue Reading »

Jesus performed surgery with questions.

The gospels describe him wielding the interrogative like a scalpel. At first sight, these can sound like stupid questions. No doubt onlookers scoffed. He must have known this, yet he pressed into his surgical task with uncommon persistence. Continue Reading »

One wishes we had more of the Baptizer’s words.

What we have makes him sound a little like a provider of set speeches. Every syllable seems burdened with meaning, adding up to become sentences that are always profound. One wonders what his smaller talk was like. Continue Reading »

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