John 10: 22-30
‘It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.’ ‘It was winter.’ I have been to Jerusalem in the winter, and there was snow on the ground, and it was bitterly cold. We think of Jesus in light, flowing robes and sandals, preaching in warm and sunny climes. But not in our Gospel today. John tells us very specifically that ‘it was winter.’ Usually John marks time by referring to the Jewish religious festivals, but here, very pointedly, he tells us that it was winter. As so often for John, seemingly insignificant words carry a profound, symbolic meaning. ‘It was winter, it was night…’
This story at the end of chapter 10 marks the climax of several chapters describing the increasingly hostile controversies between Jesus and the Jewish leaders. Here on this winter’s day, in the very temple itself, the words become ever more cold and bitter. Jesus finally seals his fate by declaring unequivocally, “The Father and I are one”, and the Jews pick up stones to stone him to death.
It was winter in Narnia, when those children in C. S. Lewis’ much-loved stories, first entered through the wardrobe into that magical land. Lucy went first. ‘She was standing in the middle of a wood, with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling through the air. “Why is it winter here?” “The witch has made it always winter and never Christmas. But Aslan is on the move.”’
Acts 11: 19-26
John 10: 22-30
I have found the news these last several month to be quite disturbing as we have witnessed the atrocities of war and persecution all over again. The tenuous grasp that Christian hold in places where we have lived and thrived for nearly 2000 years is further frayed as ancient churches and monasteries are destroyed and Christian communities expelled from their historic homes and lands. Whole Christian villages have been attacked and the inhabitants taken hostage, killed or driven into exile.
What is even more disturbing are the accounts of the deaths and martyrdoms of Christians. Christians have been thrown overboard from dinghies full of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, for the simple act of praying.(1) In Pakistan a young teenager died from burns to his body after having gasoline poured over him and being set on fire.(2) We know about the 148 Christians killed at the university campus in Kenya(3) or the 21 Copts(4) and 28 Ethiopian Christians(5) martyred in Libya. The list could and does go on, and it is incredibly disturbing.
Jesus says in our gospel text: “My sheep hear my voice.” They hear my voice. They are listening to me. The greatest prayer in Judaism begins: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” This prayer is called the shema, from the first word “hear” or “listen.” This is the central prayer repeated over and over through life and the first one children are taught. When people asked Jesus what is the most important commandment, he quoted the shema: “Hear, O Israel” That’s number one, the most important thing to do: listen.
God continually invites people to listen through the Bible. The prophets call: “Listen to me, my people” (Isaiah 51). The psalmist cries, “Hear, O my people … oh, that you would listen to me.” (Psalm 81) Trouble comes when people do not listen to God. Blessing and healing occurs when they do listen, for listening is the beginning of conversion.
It’s been a very long week. How many different emotions we have experienced, from the shock and horror of the bombings on Monday, the profound sadness and grief for those who lost their lives or were so terribly injured, to the growing anxiety as the police identified the two suspects, and then the days of tracking them down, culminating in the weird, almost surreal experience of Friday’s lockdown of the city, and the final relief when the second suspect was arrested on Friday night.
You will each have your own thoughts and experiences of Friday: being locked down, unable to go out. What I remember most vividly was having to lock the door of the Chapel. And then all though the day, the Brothers and our guests worshipping here together, with the door locked – and always just audible from outside, the eerie, unsettling sound of sirens.