BIBLE READING:†† John 10: 22-30

 

SERMON

It was the Festival of Dedication, John writes. Now it is called Hanukkah, an eight day celebration in Judaism which Jesus observed, held in memory of the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

The festivalís history began in 333 BCE, when Alexander the Great conquered Syria, Egypt and Babylonia and promoted a lenient form of Hellenistic culture, encouraging the study of the language, custom and dress of the Greeks. A legend says that Alexander asked for his statue to be added to the Temple, and the High Priest told him that was forbidden, but that the Jewish people would honour him in a living memorial, naming their first-born sons after him, and Alexander agreed.

A century later, in 167 BCE, his successor, Antiochus IV, known as Ephiphanes (God made manifest), appointed a Hellenised high priest to the Temple and required pigs to be sacrificed on the high altar, thus desecrating it. The Jewish people changed Epiphanes toEpimanes (madman). In 165 the Hasmonean family of the legitimate High Priest, Mattityahu, and his son, Judah Maccabee (The Hammer) organised a revolt, and eventually evicted the Syrian-Greeks from Israel.

The legend grew that upon liberation there was only enough purified oil to keep the Eternal Light burning in the Temple one more day, but the oil lasted eight days, until more could be prepared. The festival remembers the eight days in joy. The Light of the presence of God did not go out. And the Temple was saved from true desecration, the loss of the light of the presence of God. This deliverance came not by war but by miracle, not by the sacrifice of blood on the altar or in the streets, but by the miraculous light in the darkness of those days. And yet, the association between these events, revolt and miracle, winning and miracle, the belief that God-is-on-our-side and victory, is also part of the festival.

Jesus, John writes, was in Jerusalem for these festival days. And so were the Pharisees, defenders of Jewish religious purity. They longed for the restoration of Israel.  And they knew how many ways and times Jesus had bent the Law, indulged uncleanness, and even assimilated the unclean into his flock. They were unsure of him.

John, the careful symbolist, writes that Jesus was standing in the Portico of Solomon when he spoke to them. Solomon, the wisest of Kings, assimilated wives from a thousand tribes and nations into his household. Solomon assimilated land, laws, customs, wisdom. His children were hybrids, his vision was expansive, his reign was not purist. Solomon built the First Temple.

Are you the Messiah or not? the Pharisees asked Jesus. They were living in a time not unlike that of Antiochus IV. Caesar had put a Romanised king, Herod, on the throne of Solomon. And the successor son of Herod was proving worse than the father. The Pharisees and others looked to the Temple, for signs of deliverance and for a Messiah.

Jesus tells them their question arises from their own inner confusion, their lack of faith and light. His own flock, he says, know him, know they will not be separated from him, know they are in eternal life with him. And then he adds, What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Fatherís hand. The Father and I are one.

Jesus is permeated with this Oneness, baptised into this intimate union. He shares it with all the world: one Creation, one God, one People. Jesus does not do the maths of Might plus Right equals One God. He does not do the maths of Victory plus Divinity equals Holy God. Jesusí maths adds the Many to himself in Love, until All are One.

His Jewishness is not tainted by his inclusiveness Judaism is rich in assimilated wisdom, wonder, and ways. Elohim and Adonai, the ancient names for God, both have roots in other cultures, as do a number of treasured biblical tales. Jesus understands that true assimilation is love at work, not Antiochus IVís dreadful domination, in which he crushes what is in his way.

Arguments against assimilation, arguments rooted in purity as strength, are part of the angry conversation in our world every day. And they cost lives and cause suffering, as we arm ourselves in fear of people of other faiths and cultures. Terrorism, boat people, fear of people of radically different faiths, are the price we have paid for generations, a price rooted in such fears, which all too easily become permission to destroy.

The Father and I are one belongs to Jesusí inclusive wisdom sayings, along with: And I when I am lifted up will draw all people unto me, Love your enemies, and even his praise for the Syrophoenician woman, who came to him acknowledging she was not of his religion: Great is your faith!

As this world hurtles into a time of rapidly increasing intimacy between religions and cultures, we need the wisdom of Solomon and the mind and heart of Jesus to make the peace to which Christís Easter calls us: peace with nations, neighbours, the children our children choose to marry, and the changes our times will require of us and our culture.

May this passage from the Wisdom of Solomon guide us today and give us hope for tomorrow.

ďFor she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness. Although she is but one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets; for God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom. She is more beautiful than the sun, and excels every constellation of the stars. Compared with the light she is found to be superior, for it is succeeded by the night, but against wisdom evil does not prevail. She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and she orders all things well. Ē ó Wisdom of Solomon 7:26 Ė 8:1.

 

 

 

Acknowledgement: Nancy Rockwell