The Gospel John Wrote
Are You the One?
Temple Distress and the Night Enquiry
Talking at the Well
Healing at the Pool
Defending the Healing of a Man
Stones or Sand
Who is Blind and Who Can See?
The True Shepherd of the Sheep
Reflections on Spiritual Abuse
Some Quotes about Laughter and Faith
The theme of spiritual abuse will be considered from the vantage point of the story of the man born blind who was healed by Jesus. This narrative holds intriguing insights on the topic of spiritual abuse for the Gospel reader. In posing the question: Can the blind lead the spiritually abused–what kind of answer might we find? Most people’s understanding is that if they follow a blind man then they will fall into a ditch. Therefore, how can a blind man truly lead anyone? On our way to this account, insights will be gleaned from other stories in John’s Gospel. Chapters one to ten pave the way for a fuller understanding of this incident included in John.
Over the Easter Holiday, there were two good motion pictures about the life of Jesus that we watched on our television. Seeing how each movie portrayed the various stories from the Bible made them come alive. Seeing the actors in a Middle Eastern setting with the tension of the biblical narrative makes for stimulating reflection on the biblical passages that were written so long ago to describe the life of this one man, Jesus of Nazareth.
The directors and producers of a motion picture or a stage drama seek to capture imagination and give people a fresh look at what they think they understand about the biblical accounts. How easily a skilled portrayal can quicken a particular story that it comes alive in a fresh new way. There is often an ‘Aha moment’ as something connects and makes the biblical account richer in one’s understanding. Viewers are further invited to consider the linkages with what the writer has included before that story and what they have selected to include after it. Seeing a drama or watching a movie draws afresh on creative and emotional thinking about the ancient text.
One of the Easter movies presented was called: The Gospel of John. As an interested viewer, I was immediately transported into the story. The beginning statements in the Book of John are quite familiar to many. Here they were spoken with the backdrop of a Judean countryside with all the bustle of life at that time. As the story line quickly unfolded, I considered the character of Jesus in this movie. Yes, I liked him. He had a smile when he talked and a glint in his eye, which was compelling. He was energetic and represented the charisma and determination that I think Jesus, the Lord, might have demonstrated as he lived among his people back then.
The narrator begins the motion picture with these words:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
The Gospel John Wrote
The Gospel of John was not just written to tell people about the life of Jesus, as a historical figure, but to confront them with their need to put their trust in Jesus Christ, as the Son of God-both for their life in the here and now and for their life after death. What was incomprehensible to people then, and still is today, is the fact that the Word, the very God of Creation, chose to become flesh and make his dwelling among mankind. John testified that God, the One and Only, desired to make himself known. He did this by becoming flesh. The Gospel of John, along with the other three Gospels, is made up of selected accounts of what each author chose to include about the life of Christ and his ministry, according to the purpose of each book. John’s stated purpose is found in the last part of his work:
“But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
All through Christ’s life, the challenge of a man being God was at the forefront of the contentions between the religious leaders and himself. Just how could this be? It was thoroughly out of the question that Yahweh would do anything like that-it was simply incomprehensible! It was a hard sell for Jesus even among those who daily knew him. At about the time that the reader thinks that his followers almost get it, they revert back in their thinking and assume a neutral and safer position about him.
It was not until after Jesus was glorified that all of the pieces came together. His called disciples along with his other followers only grasped the magnitude of the incarnation when he appeared to them later after his resurrection. They, with one voice, could express the words of Thomas: “My Lord and my God!”
The idea of God, Himself, coming in the flesh was now complete. The God-man idea finally made some sense. These followers of Jesus were fully convinced and were prepared to die in order to defend this truth. It is the fundamental belief in the Christian faith. Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man. The Scriptures verify the fact that Christ remains the glorified Man in the heavenlies-seated at the right hand of the Father. It is still an awe-inspiring fact to comprehend!
In Acts 2:29-33 it is recorded:
“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.”
Are You the One?
In the first chapter of the Gospel of John we read that John, the Baptist, was asked if he was the Onefor which they had waited for. He promptly qualified that he was not! Yet, John the Baptist had been given a special commission as the forerunner of this One. The Baptist verified that there was Oneamong them, even at that very instant, who they did not recognize. In fact, he was the One that all Israel had longed for.
At the end of this first chapter, we find John the Baptist, this cousin of Jesus, dressed in camel’s hair clothing declaring: “He’s here!” “That’s the One!” John declared that Yahweh had given him a clear sign to guide him. It would appear that Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son did not know the identity of God’s Anointed until the moment that the Spirit revealed to him who it was. This intersection of time was the Divine Reveal. The Baptist, at that moment, had no doubt and declared with certainty that: This is the Son of God!
The next day, as Jesus passed by John with two of his followers, the Baptist pointed his two disciples toward Jesus and said: “Look, the Lamb of God!” Without any hesitation, these men changed direction and began, instead, to follow Jesus. By the end of this chapter Jesus has four disciples, his very first followers. Apparently, these men had “found the Messiah” and were prepared to fully follow this new rabbi. His ministry team was slowly beginning to take shape.
Temple Distress and the Night Enquiry
John used metaphors and contrasts as he wove his literary tapestry. He contrasted light and darkness with spiritual sight and spiritual blindness. We see this contrast between the religious ruler who comes at night, in secret, and the contrast between the woman at the well at midday. This woman clearly transitions from spiritual darkness to spiritual light, but the reader is left to wonder about the religious ruler.
The stage was now set, the actors are in place, and the life story of this man, Jesus begins to unfold. Chapter two finds Christ situated in the temple courts-the center of national and religious life. He was deeply distressed and angered by what he saw. It would appear that this was probably not the first time that Jesus had been faced with these commercial activities in this place.
With his ministry launched, this time was different; he took action regarding this offense in the holy place. Things were set up in preparation for the holy Jewish festival of Passover. His grief rose to holy anger at the shabby practices that had been allowed to invade this place dedicated to God. His forceful action was coupled with this denouncement: “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” This action caused his new followers to remember the Scriptural reference from Psalm 69:9. David, the writer of this Psalm described that: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:13-17)
Chapter three records the secret night visit to Jesus by one of the religious leaders, named Nicodemus. This encounter is rich with dialog about the new birth and the fact that such a spiritual experience would be life changing. It would evidence the fact that an individual had been born of God and not through the works of a man.
This chapter reiterates how John the Baptist saw himself. John was confronted by his followers with this fact: Rabbi, that man has more disciples than you do! John was not threatened as a leader by this fact. He knew that he was called to be a forerunner, a witness to Christ, and was not simply a collector of disciples for himself. John’s testimony was about this One who came from above and that whoever believed in the Son had eternal life.
Talking at the Well
Chapter four finds Jesus in the heat of the day weary and thirsty. His disciples were elsewhere and he is found talking to a Samaritan woman at this historic well. It didn’t take long before the woman makes this statement: “How can you ask me for a drink of water?” Culturally, such a conversation simply would never happen. Since Christ often appeared to be extremely unconventional in his ministry practices to those who looked on, the reader grasps that he took cultural liberties in order to accomplish Kingdom work.
Jewish culture did not allow a man to talk with a woman in public, nor for a Jewish man to talk to a Samaritan. Single men were never to talk to or touch a woman. On that occasion, Jesus seemed to park himself right in her path. There was an exchange of words and religious ideas between them. Though this woman was marginalized with a few strikes already against her, Jesus had a plan and took the time to initiate and carry on a conversation with her–which led to personal and eternal benefit.
After the disciples returned to him, it was noteworthy that no one dared to ask why he was talking with this woman! For Jesus to engage this woman theologically was also unheard of. Theological education, in this culture, was only for men. To teach women or girls was not only considered a waste of time but it was to profane the sacred. Jesus broke the cultural and religious rules on several counts! Though a weary and hungry traveller, Jesus expressed that he already had ‘food’ to eat. This confused his group of disciples since they thought that he had gotten some food from somewhere else, other than through their efforts.
What he was really talking about was that his inner being was bursting to overflowing by this woman’s confession of faith in him as the Jewish Messiah. She was already telling others in her personal context about this encounter with the God-Anointed One. As a woman, she was testifying to this man’s credibility; his divine calling. Her life and her town’s folk were forever changed. Jesus confirmed that his food, that is, his sustenance was to do the will of Yahweh and to finish his work! That is what motivated his life and brought him deep personal satisfaction!
Healing at the Pool
In chapter five, we observe Jesus healing a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. This was such a long time for this man to be in this severe debilitating condition. This scene takes place at the Pool of Siloam. This man was one of a multitude of people who hung out around this pool. They had the faintest of hope that they might be one of the ones who would be healed when an angel came and stirred the water. It is interesting to note that though Jesus had previously healed multitudes in various towns and places, in this instance he interacted solely with this man. With a few short words, Jesus exhorts this man: 1. To get up, 2. To pick up his mat, and 3. To walk! This is exactly what the chap did and was instantly healed as a result.
How extraordinary for this individual-to be miraculously released from this debilitating condition and to be able to join with the rest of society in doing everyday activities. It was just too good to be true! There was one more thing about this miracle of healing-Jesus had healed this man on the Sabbath. So to speak, he had ‘hell to pay’ for that un-law-ful action.
The Jewish religious leaders weren’t astounded by the fact that this man could now walk and would now be able to perform his religious, cultural, and daily duties. Instead, they reacted, with an extremely negative response based on their interpretation of the law. They were true to form, as this was their religiously patterned way of responding.
These authorities plainly rebuked the man who was healed by stating: “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” The healed man countered with: “The man who made me well said to me, “Pick up your mat and walk.” So they asked him: “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” The man had no idea who it was. Later Jesus found him at the temple.
The man went and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. These rulers were geared for full heresy-hunt mode. They had a compulsion to eradicate this violator of Moses’ Law. He was judged as one who was not only breaking the Sabbath, but he was also calling God his own Father! This was unconscionable. Making himself to be equal with Yahweh was too much to swallow-it was far beyond the boundaries of common sense!
Though the common people followed him, he was far too radical to be allowed to perpetuate his bizarre teachings. This new rabbi was, therefore, out of control and needed to be dealt with-for the sake of preserving their cherished belief system, not to mention their nation. Jesus was not only in danger of being shunned or expulsed from the Jewish religious community, but he was in danger of being exterminated.
Keeping the law was the ultimate task of the nation of Israel. The scribes and Pharisees were to ensure that the nation did not deviate from the law and will of Yahweh. Their experience of Exile taught the Jews to remain true to their calling and destiny as the people of God. These leaders were the watchdogs of religious and social life, but were their methods far too strict for what Yahweh had originally intended?
At every turn, Christ challenged their practice of rabbinic Judaism. In chapter five, Jesus confronted their diligent study of the Scriptures–which was their practice and what motivated them. They had an assurance that if they followed this ‘spiritual’ practice then they would possess eternal life.
Jesus opposed their logic by stating that these were the Scriptures that testified about him. He further told them that their accuser was Moses-on whom they had their hopes set. If they really had believed Moses, as Jesus had admonished them, then they would have believed in him–since Moses had written about him. His accusation was that since they did not believe what Moses wrote, how were they going to believe what he said?! Apparently, orthodoxy and orthopraxy had come to a screeching halt. Their practices did not seem to measure up with right belief.
Defending the Healing of a Man
After Christ miraculously provided bread for the multitudes, walked on the water among The Twelve, and declared that he was the Bread of Life among the people, we find him again defending his healing action back at the Pool of Bethesda. At the beginning of chapter seven, the reader catches a glimpse of the control tactics by which these spiritual leaders held the Jewish community in check. We read: “But no one would say anything publicly . . . for fear of the Jews.” Keeping things corked, with no one rocking the boat, was their approved modus operandi.
Jesus defended his bold healing action by pointing the listeners to an important religious ritual, central to Jewish belief and practice and brought it home to where the whole healing situation could be placed. Jesus explained that if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the Law of Moses may not be broken, then why were they angry with him for healing a whole man on the Sabbath?! (John 5:1 – 15; 7:21-24)
Again the religious leaders didn’t seem to be dazzled by the healing of an individual from a long and confined invalid condition. Their concern, as in so many other instances, was around the fact that the Sabbath law had been broken. There was no amount of grace extended. What was done was plainly wrong, in fact, it was outright sin. Sin needed to be dealt with or it would spread. The nation and their jobs were at risk in this Roman dominated setting. Their assessment of the mob, that is, the people under their care was described this way: “No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law-there is a curse on them.” (7:49)
Stones or Sand
John chapter eight finds a tense situation unfolding. At dawn Christ appeared at the temple courts where all the people gathered around him to hear him teach. At that moment, the teachers of the law and the Pharisees arrived with a woman under tow. Reading John’s account a little further indicates that their question was cunningly devised in order to trap him. A devious plan was in place to bring him down. This would take place in front of all his devoted followers. It was a good plan, indeed!
Were these leaders counting on Christ’s inclination towards grace and compassion? Did they expect that Jesus would just get too choked up about this woman’s situation? Could he be counted on to intervene and possibly scrap the Law of Moses’ regulations about stoning someone caught in adultery? Or, in front of everyone there, would he judge that God’s law was to be observed regardless. Sin was sin and it needed to be judged. Either way, he would be in a supremely vulnerable position. This would be how they would entrap him. This was a very good plan, indeed!
The perceptive reader of this narrative notes that there is no mention of an accomplice with this charge of adultery. Where was the male in this twosome activity? The ‘he’ part of the equation does not seem to be anywhere in this picture. This Gospel account does not answer the reader’s unspoken question, but the question remains, nevertheless.
The point of this masterful plan was to publicly embarrass this renegade, prove that he did not keep the Law of Moses, establish that he was a sinner, and therefore, should be discounted by everyone. Or, would Jesus uphold the law, since the required witnesses were there-then this woman would be judged and then punished, that is, publically stoned. The witnesses would cast the first stones. In the eyes of these scheming leaders, this woman was expendable; there was no concern for her soul. They were willing to sacrifice her in order to uphold the law. The issue of law or grace was paramount. The choice was plain. Either Christ had to condemn her and sacrifice his dedication to grace OR forgive her and sacrifice his dedication to God’s law!
A secondary thought arises-was this how a charge of adultery was handled at other times? Was it often/always considered the woman’s fault/sin? Is this scenario an indication that there existed the proverbial double standard-even in rabbinic Judaism? The reader is left to imagine how messy, and possibly prejudiced, such a sin was dealt with in Jewish society. Although witnessed sin required the action of the law, it is obvious that Jesus was grieved with how those in charge were applying it. In religious communities, there is harsh treatment for those found committing sexual sins and judgment is often swift. There is public shame and the community is controlled by it.
Back to the story . . . Jesus bends down and writes something with his finger in the sand. The effect is that the people gathered there begin to leave–from the eldest to the youngest. Everyone loves the dramatic turn-around that happens in this story. With a few precise sketches in the sand, the effect was immediate crowd management. The tables are turned. There was no throng gathered–it had dissipated. Instead of a stoning, with the devious entrapment of Christ in process, the whole effort suddenly lost momentum.
The focal point is no longer on the trap set up for Jesus. The woman is suddenly left alone with the Galilean. He simply asks her: “Where are your accusers?” “Has no one condemned you?” She replies: “No one, sir.” His final admonition to her was both personal and private: “Go and leave your life of sin.” Jesus did not treat sin lightly, but the sinner was offered an opportunity for new life.
Hooray, no stoning today! Stoning cancelled on account of lack of stone throwers!! In effect, Jesus had won; the woman had won; and the common people had won. The religious leaders, well they were hooped this time, but they would seek for other opportunities to trap this rogue.
Who is Blind and Who Can See?
We have now arrived at this impressive story in the Gospel of John, which is a classic. John chapter nine makes for a wonderful case study. In this section John gives further insight into how the religious leaders esteemed and treated those under their care. It begins by the side of the road with a man born blind.
One reason this account could have been recorded was to expose the ridiculousness of the hard heartedness of those who claimed that they knew the Torah. In this tense situation, the reader begins to see a significant point of amusement and delight as it unfolds. When a beggar waxes eloquent, when the underdog has a voice, the audience is caused to contrast the seriousness of those trying to be in charge with the humor of the now-seeing man speaking out. It is a comparison in seeing who ‘really’ was in charge with those who thought they were. Since this man had nothing really to lose, he could speak his mind before this austere and humorless crowd–something that he would never have attempted in his formerly blind state.
We begin with Jesus in transit, walking along a dusty road to his next ministry opportunity. The attention is momentarily drawn towards a man who was born blind from birth. Glancing at this individual prompted a question by Christ’s disciples. Their burning enquiry was: Who sinned–this man or his parents? The implication was that such a condition must be directly linked to sin–someone’s sin–either the man’s or his parents. When you really think about it–how could a fetus sin–since the man was ‘born’ blind? This seemed to be a far-fetched question, but maybe in their context, such thinking, such a concept, was in the air. Was it a common belief, something to be tossed around; a belief that was pondered or maybe totally believed by some? Whatever the reason, the question was raised.
Jesus put a quick end to this flawed thinking. In fact, there was a greater purpose that would be revealed out of this debilitating, physical condition that this man endured since his birth. As I watched the Jesus character in the movie do just what John had recorded–spit and make mud, this story took on fresh meaning. At that time, spit may have been deemed as having healing qualities. In our modern culture, that action has a disgusting and uncomfortable feel to it. From the Gospel accounts, so many of the healings that Jesus performed seemed to depend on his specific spoken words. Usually, the instant that he spoke the words the broken or the diseased were made whole. This healing would be much more involved than that.
As this story continues, we are informed that this miracle of healing takes place on the Sabbath. Again, the reader is faced with the hardness of heart of the Jewish leaders. Since they were the religious overseers, it was their job to track down reports and verify if they were accurate or only idle speculation. If something spurious was going on, their religious community might be in danger of offending Yahweh or the Roman authorities. They seemed to be diligent in getting to the bottom of this unusual report. This would need quick and immediate scrutiny in order to clear up the growing rumor that a man born blind–could now see. Since this was just not possible, these escalating rumors needed to be squelched before they became run away.
The first people who seem to be aware of this change in destiny for this known blind man were his neighbors. There was an apparent division among those who knew him. Yes, he was the man, some had said–while others said, no, he only looks like him. The man, himself, cleared up the indecision by emphatically stating that he was the man! He was then asked how it happened and who did it. He explained that it was done by the man called Jesus.
Somehow, ‘they’ in this group of people become the ‘they’ who bring the man before the Pharisees. The Pharisees continued to ask for an explanation as to how this sight thing happened. The first response from the Pharisees was not a favorable one. They did not celebrate this man’s sight by saying: “Hey, looks like you can get a real job now that you can see. What line of work are you thinking about getting into?” No, on the contrary, this sentiment was nowhere near their response. Instead, their first grinding thought about this healer was: “This man is not from God”–and their reason was that: “he does not keep the Sabbath!”
Not to get away with that declaration quite so fast, other Pharisees put forward the thought: “How can a sinner perform such signs?” That turned out to be the point of division about this happening. In an attempt to grasp the scope of the situation, those interrogating “turned again to the man and asked what he had to say about the man.” The now-sighted man suggested that–his healer must be a prophet!
Exasperated because of complete unbelief in such a questionable occurrence, these religious rulers called for the parents to testify that this man was: 1. Their son and 2. That he was born blind. To the third question: “How can he now see?” the parents deferred to their son–out of fear of the leaders, since they might be in danger of being excommunicated from the Jewish religious community there. They had to be careful what and how they commented. This was risky business. They quickly turned the attention back to their son by saying–ask him, he’s old enough!
Since their son was not there with them while they were being questioned, he needed to be summoned to come there a second time. The Pharisees began with these statements: “Give glory to God” and “We know this man is a sinner.” This was probably geared to influence the shape and content of this ‘uneducated’ man’s response. Somehow, as he grasped the magnitude of his full-seeing ability, he found himself empowered to speak with confidence. His memorable response was declared. He personally could not determine if his healer was a sinner of not, but one thing he did know, without a doubt, was that: “I was blind but now I see!”
The Pharisees were frustrated and were quickly losing their patience. This man could ‘see’ their dilemma. He saw a crack in the proceedings and took delightful advantage of this development. The student of this account soon comprehends that there was no care or concern for the man; for his release from this life-long impediment, or his ability now to be a worthy contributor to their society, rather than being a disabled one. None of these positives seemed to factor into their thinking. They were typically distracted by their own agenda. Someone had healed on the Sabbath. This teacher was growing in popularity, he posed a huge threat to their institution, and this caused their instincts to run wild. What really drove them was being continually exposed for all to see.
The fearlessness of the man in the ‘hot seat’ seemed to grow. Some might call this type of encounter with religious authorities a ‘star chamber’ event. His asking them if they were now his disciples too–was the last straw. How impudent! Observe how they handled being challenged by this know-nothing peasant: 1. They hurled insults at him. 2. They said: You are his disciple. 3. We, on the other hand, and unlike you or him, are Moses’ disciples. Therefore, we have got it right and you do not! 4. We know that God spoke to Moses but for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from! Therefore, our assessment is that he is a complete nobody and is not worth paying attention to!
This apparently impertinent man fired back at them: 1. You don’t know where he comes from, he questioned–which equaled the fact that he had no credentials -but look, he opened my eyes. 2. We know God does not listen to sinners–but look, he listens to the godly man who does his will. 3. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. And lastly: 4. If this man were not from God–he could do nothing!
The implication was that since this man could ‘do something’–that is something totally unheard of and entirely miraculous–then there was a slight chance that this fella might be “from God.” With that type of logic, this examining board had had enough! With sharpened tongues, they told the healed man that: 1. He was steeped in sin at birth! and 2. How dare he even think to lecture them!
The final action was theirs-they threw him out! He was now socially and religiously disfellowshiped. He was dislocated from community. He was disenfranchised. Though now seeing, he could only ‘look in’ from the outside. Socially, he was to be ignored and avoided by everyone in the community. People who associated with him would also be in danger of shunning or excommunication. Though he had courage to take a stand for the man who had healed him, his moment in the hot seat found him being publicly shamed, cast out, and so very alone. He had fully experienced spiritual abuse in his community. This was the painful yet predictable behavior that he was forced to endure at the hands of his spiritual overseers.
Thankfully, this story in John does not end here. As it happened, Jesus heard about all the kafuffle that had gone on regarding the man’s expulsion from the religious community. Jesus wasted no time to seek and find the man in this ostracized condition. When he found him, Jesus posed this question: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Jesus then explained that he was the one standing before him and speaking to him. The healed man expressed his devotion to Christ in an instant: “Lord, I believe!” and he worshiped him.
Christ’s final words were of judgment: “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this, so they demanded: “What? Are we blind too?” To which he replied: “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” To further understand the components in this case study, it doesn’t take much to observe how controlling the religious leaders were. They struck fear into anyone who differed from their views. The common people were controlled by the fact that they could be shunned or expelled by them. The people were kept in line and avoided stirring up their anger since the consequences would be far too great. To cope as an oppressed people by the Romans and to avoid trouble with the religious leaders kept the Jewish masses from tipping the balance or drawing attention to themselves.
Christ Jesus came into the midst of this cultural/religious situation. His words of truth and his evident lifestyle were too much of a threat to their practice of the religious and social system of Judaism. The fact that he could do signs and wonders to release people from their physical, mental, and spiritual weights increased his threat to the very existence of what these leaders thought that they were there to protect and to carry forward as their esteemed tradition. Their Mosaic tradition, along with their interpretations, additions, and deletions were what was important to them. Jesus’ dynamic life, lived in harmony with the Father and empowered by the Spirit had no appeal for them. He was, instead, a problem that needed to be removed.
The True Shepherd of the Sheep
The well-known Shepherd and Sheep passage in John chapter ten highlights a contrast with the happenings of the previous chapter. The words of The Good Shepherd describe the behaviors of the true shepherd around his flock. The following are the qualities of an authentic shepherd:
- He enters the sheep pen by the gate and does not come in any other way.
- The sheep listen to the shepherd’s voice.
- He calls the sheep back by their name.
- He leads them out and goes ahead of them.
- Sheep are afraid to follow strangers; in fact, they run away from them because the voice that they hear is different.
- Jesus plainly stated that he was the gate for the sheep. Those who came before him were thieves and robbers.
- Sheep must enter through The Gate, that is, through the Shepherd in order to be saved.
- The nature of a thief is only to steal, to kill, and to destroy.
- Jesus stated: I am the good shepherd who lays down my life for the sheep.
- When wolves come, hired hands run away leaving the sheep who are then attacked and scattered.
Hired hands simply lack the ability to care and protect, which is so needed by the sheep.
Jesus reiterates: I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me, just as the Father knows me.
There is an interesting tie in with these two chapters. The reason that chapter ten can be tied back with the story in chapter nine is by a short statement in John 10:21b: “But others [referring to the other Jewish officials] said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
John 10:19 demonstrates that the description of the good shepherd and his sheep did not sit well with the Jewish authorities. Christ’s words here again caused division among them. Many emphatically stated for the record that they thought that he was demon-possessed and was raving mad! That view was the assessment of the majority of them.
There was no good reason why they should listen to that babbler. Yet, not every one of them was convinced of the ‘demon-possession’ or ‘madman’ designation. These ones reasoned that:
1. These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon.
2. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?
With these words, chapter ten is drawn to a close. There is direct linkage with the previous chapter which situates the role of a true shepherd in huge contrast with those who were acting the part of being the religious shepherds of God’s people. In the Old Testament, Yahweh described himself as the Shepherd of his people. Jesus followed up with this Old Testament motif with a description of the Good Shepherd. This recurring theme follows in the footsteps of the original cast for ‘Shepherd’ in the history of Israel!
Let’s take a brief look at some Old Testament passages regarding Yahweh as the Shepherd of Israel.
“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”
“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD.
Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the LORD.”
Jeremiah 23:1, 2
“‘For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.”
“I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd.”
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 23
Christ carried on with this motif of the Sovereign Lord having the worthy characteristics of a caring and protective shepherd. At the Feast of Dedication in the winter, Christ reiterated that his sheep hear his voice, that he knows them, and that they follow him. He gives them eternal life. John 10:27-30 is a well-known passage, which is often set to memory.
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.
I and the Father are one.”
Christ’s accusers stated that stoning was deserved by him,
not because of the miracles
but because he, a mere man, claimed to be equal with God!
In an attempt to hold their place and their nation together, these spiritual leaders failed. Judgment fell on Jerusalem in 70 A.D. All they had done to hold it all together was lost.
Reflections on Spiritual Abuse
There is so much that could be said from reading the Gospel of John. It is an endless source of theological reflection. I am keenly interested in the lessons found in the story of the healing of the blind man. Our initial enquiry was: Can the blind lead the spiritually abused? Though we know that this man no longer remained blind, it was through his experience from blindness to sight that he found himself being in the hot seat with the religious authorities.
Through the tension in the story, one could wonder: Would this man survive their barrage of questions and retain his composure? Would he wilt under their fierce interrogation? Would he be a role model for the underdog or would he crash and burn under their pressure?
Our question, after careful study of the text, can be answered in the affirmative. Yes, this formerly blind man can ‘lead’ and be a worthy role model for those who have been spiritually abused.
The reader is delighted to find that the man was able to stand up to the pressure of the religious rulers. In fact, the formerly blind man found his voice–he was able to challenge the religious authorities in this highly developed religious system. This man’s boldness makes him a valid role model for those who find themselves experiencing spiritual abuse.
Individuals who are being faced with impossible sanctions which are invariably harsh and foolish can take courage from this man’s example. So even though he was harmfully treated and then excommunicated, he no longer considered himself to be a victim, but saw himself as an overcomer. After all, he had his sight–both physical and spiritual–what could be more significant than that! He quickly became part of a new community of faith–through the One who had given him sight!
Like the blind man, people who have faced spiritual abuse in their church have gained fresh insight through the process of re-examining what they had always believed. Through this distressing experience they are forced to consider all that they have been taught. Since so many things now don’t weigh up, everything is now questioned.
With fresh sight, people who have been spiritually abused take a serious look at biblical leadership and their view of the church. Their entire belief system is up for examination and is most likely to experience a complete overhaul.
What is forged out of their disheartening church experience is a far deeper and richer understanding of the entity of the church, the Body of Christ, and their part in it. Their renewed understanding of church leadership, in the local church setting, is based on a correct view of the Good Shepherd’s love and care. This is now their ideal for spiritual leaders.
There is no going back to their former way of practicing their faith. Their untimely experience of spiritual abuse in their home church has created a reason to examine, sort, jettison, and then restock a biblical faith on the solid principles of Scripture. This can be empowering. Instead of despair over being disenfranchised, those formerly spiritually abused can now see that this trial has brought forth faith–which has gone through fire and has come out as pure gold. This passage from 1 Peter 1:6, 7 has renewed meaning:
“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
In the story of the miraculous healing of the man born blind we are intrigued by the humor found in this situation. Laughter comes from two ideas that are different; that makes people gasp, be surprised, and laugh. Though humor can be dangerous, sanctity can also be dangerous. Humor can be used to teach and to expose. Humor needs to be balanced. It can be something that heals, upholds, and gives hope.
By paying close attention to this story in the Gospel one can see the humor in it. Though the religious leaders were convinced that they were in charge, we see the formerly blind man increasing in his ability to withstand them.
The heart of the reader is warmed as they watch the former blind man rise in prominence through this trying circumstance. He is able to make specific points, he is able to hold his ground, and he is able to be himself. In that intense setting, he was doing the impossible! This evokes joyous mirth.
Was the God that the Jewish religious leaders had created, the real God of the Old Testament? Jewish religious practice flowed out of who they understood Yahweh was. That is, religious teaching and interpretation of the Torah flowed out of their interpretation of who they thought Yahweh was. These religious leaders were simply not ready for the God that Jesus was!
Today, some people still cling to a God shaped by Judaism’s view of the God of the Old Testament and not by the God-man who came to reveal who the Father really was and how they could come to know him through his Son. The Pharisees rejected any likeness to a God who looked or acted like the man Christ Jesus. The Gospel of John teaches who God is by how Jesus taught and lived.
Spiritual abuse can also be seen in John’s Gospel so that the reader is forewarned and forearmed to understand the nature of spiritual abuse and how to recognize it in religious communities who claim that they know and work for God.
Fruit testing is still a Kingdom principle and must be part of discerning that which is good from that which is not. The stories in the Gospel of John help people to discern when a belief system strays from the truth and it encourages them to continually sift the good from the un-good.
“Faith without laughter leads to dogma and laughter without faith to despair.”
~ Conrad Hyers
“From our sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us.”
~ Teresa of Avila
“We cannot really love anybody with whom we never laugh.”
~ Agnes Repplier
“In hell there is no hope and no laughter.
In purgatory there is no laughter, but there is hope.
In heaven, hope is no longer necessary because laughter reigns.”
“Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.”
~ Karl Barth
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