Jesus says, “What the Father has given me”, which, if you look carefully at the reading is a reference to his flock, the church, “What the father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand” (John 10.30). Just pause for a minute and consider what Jesus is saying: He considers his church to be the most precious thing in the world. To which most of us reply… Really? Have you seen the church? This rag-tag assembly, hopelessly stuck in the past, it’s faded glory reminding us of a simpler age of faith, of the goodness of community, of all those things we romanticize about, but secretly are rather glad we left behind. Like a fossil, the church seems generally incapable of any great influence for good, and far too often, responsible for great ill. In truth, for most of us, the church is a cause of doubt rather than an inspiration for faith, hope and love. How on earth can Jesus say that the church is greater than all else?
The church has such a bad reputation these days that it is probably the last place you would choose to set out on a spiritual journey. Surely a place with fewer taboos, with less hierarchy, with less prejudice would be the community you would choose to sustain the journey of faith? A place where God was more unambiguously present?
The crowd gathered around Jesus didn’t want ambiguity or cryptic stories about God’s kingdom which Jesus had been offering, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly’ (10.24). But faith is never like that. As we grow and wrestle with our faith, we all have times when all we want is clarity, ‘tell me plainly, God…’. The important thing to remember is that knowledge of God doesn’t come through plain, unarguably clear facts. Whilst we rightly strive to know God, God cannot be known fully through our hardest striving, or most clear thinking.
Knowledge of God comes as a gift from God.
The gift of knowing God comes to us in Jesus Christ.
But to receive the gift of knowing God in Jesus, we have to open ourselves up to listening to Jesus. On the face of it, the crowd wanted to listen to Jesus, ‘Tell us’, they say, ‘are you the Messiah?’ But the truth was that they were only interested in listening if Jesus was willing to fit within the confines of their own preconceptions. But to listen whilst only being prepared to have our opinions confirmed, is really not to listen at all. To listen to Jesus means listening in such a way that we open ourselves up to being surprised by how different the God who shows himself to us in weakness and vulnerability of this extraordinary human being truly is.
Jesus says that the place where we can hear his voice, follow him and receive his life, the place where we can begin to open ourselves up to the counterintuitive way in which God works, is the weak, vulnerable, messy, disappointingly old-fashioned, much beloved, and amazingly beautiful community we call the church.