An exposition on the gospel according to St. John 10:22-38, the reading meant for Nov 7.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen+.
As part of the cycle of seasons in the liturgical year, we have come to yet another ‘Hoodos Etho Sunday’ which falls on 7 November. The Syriac term “Hoodos Etho” meaning, “The Feast of Dedication of the Church”, has a connection with “the Feast of Dedication of the Old Testament Church”, which took place approximately three months after the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:1-10:21). It was also called ‘Hanukkah or Chanukah’ which was of 8 days celebrations by the Jews. Like Diwali to the Hindus, it was a ‘Festival of Light’ to the Jews.
The temple of Jerusalem, though beautifully built by King Solomon, was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar. Under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah it was rebuilt and preserved. Again it underwent destruction. King Herod for the third time renovated it extensively. In BC 170, the Syrian King Antiochus Epiphanus, greatly influenced by the Greek culture, wanted to replace the Jewish religion with the Greek religion and custom. He decided to wage war against the kingdom of Judah and finally he invaded the city of Jerusalem. 80,000 people were massacred and an equal number of people were taken captives. It was during this time that St. Solomonia (Morth Shmooni) and her 7 children were brutally assassinated. A large quantity of wealth from the temple was looted and the booty was estimated to be 1,800 talents. The house of God was made a house of harlots. As a result the worship in the temple was obstructed. He even defiled the holy temple of Jerusalem by sacrificing a female swine on the holy altar as an offering to the Greek deity Zeus. Antiochus was permitted by God to carry out this insane desecration of the most holy temple because of the sins of the people. It was not just because Antiochus was bent on destruction, but because the Lord allowed it for the good of his people.
In 164 BC, the Jews succeeded in retrieving the temple of Jerusalem from the Greeks and they renovated and refined the temple. Judas Maccabeus took the initiative in consecrating the desecrated temple. We learn of this story from the books of Maccabees of the Holy Bible. In commemoration of this act of rededication and as a mark of their joy of freedom, the Jews began to celebrate it flamboyantly. This feast came to be known as ‘festival of light’ as there were many lights to illuminate the temple and houses of the Jews who celebrated it. It was in this background, that Christ our Lord said that He was the “Light of the world” (John8:12). It is meaningful that Christ chooses to talk to the people in a ‘winter’ season for the reason that winter has a symbolic representation of darkness or death which is always followed by ‘spring’ indicative of a renewed life and brightening of light.
Antiochus Epiphanus was the personification of all evil. Even in the present time, similar forces of evil still exist causing closing down of many a church. Factionalism, fundamentalism, cultism and secularism are the main factors for such spiritual tragedies. We see in the book of Maccabees that there were some lawless and traitorous men coming forth from the sons of Israel by persuading many to yield to the Hellenistic customs, ordinances of the gentiles and finally succumbing themselves to the authority of King Antiochus . Similarly, there are some extremist people in the present Church too who bear the yoke of evil forces.
The unwavering faith shown by the Jewish scribe Eleazar and the 7 Maccabean martyrs along with their mother Morth Shmoomi , by defying valiantly the sacrilegious commands of King Antiochus IV Ephiphanus and by just ignoring the fierce persecution from the King for the sake of God, are prototypes of all Christian martyrs. They have set a model for true witnessing which we all have to emulate. Please bear in mind that we have a collective as well as individual responsibility to keep ourselves away from defilement owing to our sinful acts , for it is written that we are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in us.( Ref:1 Cor 3:16).
By celebrating the’ Hoodos Etho’ every year, the church is expected to renew and rededicate itself as a community bearing the beacon of light to the society around which fumbles in the darkness of evil. It is the time to introspect whether we are able to commit ourselves fully to our calling or not. Let us prayerfully work hard to be as good as Christ in rendering selfless service to our fellow-beings and to live a holy life to the glory of God and in tune with His statutes.
We read in this passage of an episode where Christ was being asked a question whether he was the expected Messiah or not. Confirming to the fact which he had already made many a time; Jesus is seen speaking inextenso to those who asked him of his identity. He was delineating of his intimacy that he had and would be having with his flock. It is noticeable that the relationship between God and his people were considered in the Old Testament period as something similar to that of a Shepherd – Sheep relationship. E.g.: “Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…” (Psalm 23:1ff).
Here Jesus claims that his flock identifies his voice and follows him pointing to their mutual rapport. He further says that his authoritative words and deeds testify to his divinity. He makes three-fold promises to those who accept him.
(1) Union with the divine.
(2) Everlasting life.
(3) Secured life.
At night, sheep were often gathered into a sheep pen to protect them from thieves, weather, or wild animals. The sheep pens were caves, sheds, or open areas surrounded by walls made of stones or branches. The shepherd often slept in the pen to protect the sheep. Just as a shepherd cares for his sheep, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, cares for his flock( those who follow him), protects his people from eternal harm(John 10:1-18). The prophet Ezekiel, in predicting the coming of the Messiah, called him a Shepherd allegorically (Ezekiel 34:23). Just as a shepherd protects his sheep, Jesus protects his people from eternal harm. While believers can expect to suffer on earth, Satan cannot harm their souls or take away their eternal life with God (Job2:1-6). There are many reasons to be afraid here on earth because this is the devil’s domain (1 Peter 5:8). But if you choose to follow Jesus, he will give you everlasting safety.
At this moment, let me point out that the sheep stealing seen in the present evangelical scenario among the Christians is against the very will of God. Therefore, I exhort everybody to be alert always and to pray earnestly to Jesus, our Great Shepherd, to save us from the mouth of the greedy wolves clad in sheep-cloth.
It is worth mentioning here that Jesus goes on saying of a truth that He and His Father are one. Here ‘One’ means one in nature or essence. God’s essence is love [(agape in Greek) (1John 4:8)] which is infinite, eternal, all-inclusive, self -emptying, cross-bearing and universal sharing as practised by Christ incarnate while he was on earth. Jesus Christ is God before all ages, and He remains God after the Incarnation and for all eternity. The plural verb “are” indicates two distinct Persons, while confirming a continuous unity.
The verses John 1:1-18, 17:5 and Philippians 2:6-11, all endorse to this fact that before Jesus came to earth, he was one with God. At this point, when his mission on earth was almost finished, Jesus was asking his Father to restore him to his original place of honour and authority. Jesus’ resurrection and ascension –and Stephen’s dying exclamation (Act 7:56) –attest that Jesus did return to his exalted position at the right hand of God. The verse John 10:30 is the clearest statement of Jesus’ divinity he ever made. Jesus and his Father are not the same person, but they are one in essence and nature. Thus Jesus is not merely a good teacher –he is God. His claim to be God was unmistakable. The religious leaders wanted to kill him because their laws said that anyone claiming to be God should die. Nothing could persuade them that Jesus’ claim was true. The Jews clearly recognise this claim of divinity (v33) and thus accuse Him of blasphemy.
What Christ our Lord wants from us all today is to live in perfect unity, love and peace. We, being his disciples, are expected to be united in harmony and love as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are united –the strongest of all union. Christians can know unity among themselves if they are living in union with God. For example, each branch living in union with the vine is united with all other branches doing the same.
How do we get eternal life? Jesus teaches clearly that by knowing God the Father himself through his son, Jesus Christ. (John 17:3). The Knowledge of the only true God is far more than intellectual understanding. It is participation in His divine life and in communion with Him. Thus eternal life is an ongoing, loving knowledge of God in Christ and the Holy Spirit. Eternal life requires entering into a corporate as well as a personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ. When we admit our sin and turn away from it, Christ’s love lives in us by the Holy Spirit. And this is possible by active involvement in the liturgies of the holy church and by way of receiving the holy sacraments from there in all our faith, hope and love.
May God Almighty bless us to refresh our vocation! Amen.
Let us Pray:-
O Lord Jesus Christ, our good Shepherd! We, thy humble sheep flock, seek thy loving protection trusting on thy promises made for us. We follow thee wholeheartedly so that we may be made perfect in union with the holy Trinity. Please don’t leave us alone but keep us safe in thy mighty arms. Grant us grace to attain eternal life. Drive away the sheep stealing wolves from thy holy Church which thou hast bought by thy precious blood. We ask this in the name of thy loving disciple and our patron saint, Thomas the apostle. Amen.