When Information Is Not Enough
We are used to the image of the Bedouin shepherd — crook in hand, flowing robes, Middle Eastern head-covering.
Now consider today’s e-shepherd — Bluetooth headset in ear, Blackberry PDA attached to belt, Venti Mocha perched desktop alongside GPS receiver. He sits remote from his flock in a warm ranch house, a crook exchanged for a mouse, perhaps playing a game of Internet Spades while still on the clock.
That what many sheperds in New South Wales, Australia are like today where cutting-edge technologies are being applied to an age-old industry. Ranchers attach tiny GPS transponders to the ears of baby lambs, and as these sheep grow up, they can be “watched” from a computer monitor. Throughout the day, sheep move freely from grazing areas to drinking areas to sleeping areas.
Each channel between areas is wide enough for only one sheep to pass at a time, and as they pass between fenced-in zones, their transponders alert the shepherd where they are going and when. “We can keep tabs on a single sheep from the time it is a little lamb to the time that it becomes lamb chops,” says Bill Murray, spokesperson for the Australian Sheep Industry. “However, the main advantage is in sheep handling, because the transponders allow the sheep to make their own decisions, without being hassled by people or dogs.” Apparently, sheep autonomy equals appetite appeal. Beyond tastier flocks, e-shepherds also have well-organized flocks. Remotely controlled gates determine which grazing and drinking areas sheep are channeled into and for how long they remain there. Electronic scales are placed within each passageway so that every time a flock is “shepherded” from one area to another, each sheep can be weighed as it passes by. As a fully grown sheep passes through, a side gate opens sending it into a yard for those animals headed to market. As a pregnant ewe near birth weight passes through, a gate opens to send her to a prenatal area. In the future, animals due for vaccination will be given remote shots as they pass by and diseased animals can be detected and quarantined for medical treatment. All from a distance. All without human contact. All electronically.
In our Gospel reading this morning, we discover that the sheep want to know their shepherd from a distance.
The religious leaders of the Jews want to know everything there is to know about Jesus without actually getting to know him!
It was during the Feast of Dedication, known today as Hanukkah,
had its origin in the liberation and rededication of the temple under the Maccabeans in 165 b.c.,
after it had been desecrated by the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes.
And during this time the major Temple festivals had aquired an escatological signifigance,
associated in popular celebration with the hope of deliverance from Israel’s pagan oppressors
and the blessings of the messianic age to come.
*In other words, it was occasions just like this that reminded God’s people how God had saved them in the past
And they were looking expectantly for him to do it again, soon.
It was the perfect time to flat out ask somebody like Jesus is he was the messiah they were waiting for.
But Jesus refuses to just answer them with mere words.
It isn’t a simple matter of just deciding of whether Jesus fits our idea of what a Messiah ought to be.
And it isn’t a simple matter of processing religious information about Jesus.
What Jesus is trying to teach them and us is that no one can really know Jesus until they begin to follow him.
That what he means by saying that they “do not belong to my sheep – they aren’t part of his flock of followers.
Over and over in the Gospel of John we are reminded of this truth
a. Nicodemous came to Jesus with good information about him - “We know that you are a teacher who has come from God.”
But even that wasn’t enough to really understand who Jesus is and what he is doing.
Nicodeous needed to be “born again” or “born from above.”
b. The Woman at the well, the Samaritan woman, even after Jesus had said to her I am he (messiah)
she went back to her village and said, “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did, could he be the messiah?”
c. The man who had been paralyzed for 38 years that Jesus found lying next to the pool at Bethesda
Even after he was healed, he didn’t even have any idea who Jesus was, let alone his name!
The religious authorities asked, “Who is the man who said to you ‘take up your bed and walk?’
Now the man who had been healed did not know it was Jesus.”
Jesus tell them and us that “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”
-Who Jesus is and what he is doing cannot be conveyed by mere declaration of works “tell us plainly”
*Instead, Jesus shows through his works (miracles, actions and teaching)
that the works he does are the very same works that God does.
Jesus is teaching, healing, performing miracles in his ministry, but none of these things alone can tell us who Jesus really is.
In order to really know who he is and believe in him, we must first follow him, become his disciples.
Then all of his works will show our hearts that Jesus is doing the very things God does. (He is God-in-the-flesh)!
Maybe since they are all in Jerusalem celebrating the miraculous rededication of the Temple
Just as the Temple had been the very place of God’s presence among God’s people,
So now, in a much greater, living way, Jesus is the very “place” of God’s presence among God’s people.
Shepherd illustration bus driver in Holy Land “Shepherds never drive sheep like cattle – instead lead” (He’s the butcher!)
Those who would be a follower of Jesus, to walk behind him, learn after him,
those people come to see through his works that he and the Father are truly one.
Jesus is even more than a mere human messiah – He is God’s very saving presence among us.
And he assures us that his hold upon his people is far more reliable than our hold upon God.