Preaching from the common lectionary, as we do here at the monastery, presents challenges. One reason for this is that we often listen to texts read as though they stand alone. When, in fact, they are often part of some larger narrative. Often we are unaware of the context of a particular passage.
For instance, this morning we hear Jesus telling the Pharisees that anyone who enters the sheepfold except through the gate is a thief and bandit. He’s not, at this point at least, calling himself the good shepherd. That will come later. For now, he calls himself the gate saying that “Whoever enters by [him] will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”1 Why does he say this and what does it mean? In my reflections this morning on Jesus as the gate to greater life, I would like to take us back a couple of chapters in John’s gospel.
When I was about 9 years old the Sunday-School I attended offered an incentive for memorizing Bible verses; a Bible with imitation leather cover. One of the first verses I learned was the opening verse of today’s Gospel reading; John 3:16. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” I am not sure how much of it I really understood at 9. I knew at least that God loves the world, and he gave his only Son.
Judas is a complicated person. (Aren’t we all.) We know, of course, that Judas had been invited by Jesus to be among his twelve closest followers and friends… and we experience Jesus to be a very keen judge of character. What did Jesus originally see in Judas? What did Judas see in Jesus? We’re not absolutely clear. We do know there was subsequent jealousy among these twelve apostles: who was the greatest. (1) The one nicknamed “the Beloved Disciple” seemed to have the greatest intimacy with Jesus and was the target of some jealousy. (2) Judas seemed to have the greatest… greatest something in Jesus’ eyes – greatest power? greatest stewardship? greatest accountability? we don’t know – because he was entrusted to carry the money. With that responsibility, Judas’ reputation became mixed. Though he upbraided Jesus with the other disciples about their self-indulgence in the face of the poor, he was known to steal money from the common purse. (3)
Whenever you are around people who are very, very happy, you will likely see tears. These are tears of joy, wonder, gratitude, satisfaction that come from a deep place in a person’s soul, when someone has experienced a kind of greatness so amazing, almost too great to behold. Something simply bursts with a release of ecstasy streaming down a person’s face. Of all the things that can be planned in life, tears of joy and gladness do not need to be choreographed. They simply happen. And it is the same for the tears of sorrow, tears of pain or loss, burning the eyes like from the salt of the sea, and coming from a place as deep and endless as the ocean. Tears of sorrow expose a person’s deepest vulnerabilities, longings, and losses.
The metaphor of thirst is used throughout the Gospel of John to characterize the believer’s relationship to the spirit. Whoever comes to me, Jesus says, will never be thirsty, for, “Out of the believer’s heart”, or as the Greek renders it, out of the believer’s belly, “shall flow rivers of living water.”(1) Yet, Jesus himself cries from the cross in his final hour, “I thirst,” suggesting, perhaps, that this side of the grave our deepest longing – our thirst – for wholeness, for union, for belonging, will not be quenched.
It’s been a long winter. We still have snow on the ground at Emery House but it seems that spring has come, at last. Things are late however. Two years ago the snowdrops bloomed on March 8 and the squill ten days later. As yet snowdrops are just up, and bloomed for the first time today. The garlic and onions I planted last fall are beginning to poke their heads out of the ground and the chickens are getting incredibly restless. Whereas a couple of weeks ago they would not even emerge from the coop, now they can’t wait to get out in the morning.
Since moving back to Emery House I have learned a lot: about chickens and ducks and geese; about garlic and onions and leeks; about tractors and mowers and bees (and that some mowers and bees don’t mix!). But I probably only know just enough to be dangerous, and not enough yet, to be a good farmer. I am certain there is a great deal more to learn, and I am sure I will learn some of it this year.