6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
Jesus doesn’t very often say things plainly. We should take warning that the disciples did not understand what Jesus was talking about. It’s not only John that utilizes this narrative element – the disciples come off poorly in all the gospels. Part of this, of course, is that we cannot understand Jesus until we have seen the cross and resurrection. The crucifixion is the interpretive center of everything Jesus says and does. Words like redemption, which generally meant throwing the Romans out, gain an entirely new meaning in light of Jesus’ death. The meaning of loving our enemies is missed if it’s only seen as a method of getting rid of them or living peaceably with them.
We should not imagine that we understand. Too often we laugh at the thick-headed disciples as if we were clear-headed. Jesus is and should be a puzzle. What he asks of us isn’t naturally obvious. Loving our enemies is widely acknowledged but rarely accepted. And we have substituted one false notion of salvation for another: we think salvation is a prize waiting for us beyond death rather than living now under the reign of God.
People sometimes complain that they don’t understand the Bible – and I want to say, “Good.” The Bible isn’t meant to be understood; it’s meant to change us. Confronted with the puzzle of Jesus’ words, in the struggle to understand, we are changed.
So Jesus talks in parables and metaphors and allusions. He makes us wrestle with who are the thieves and robbers and whether we are sheep and to whose voice we listen. Whose voice do I follow? Does it lead me “in and out”? Does it lead me to good pasture? Does it lead me to life? Does it shape my daily going forth? What is good pasture? What is the pasture to which Jesus leads me? Does he lead me to happiness? Service? Religious ecstasy? Assurance? Peace? Communion with God? A spirit of compassion and mercy? Do I recognize his voice or am I listening to robbers? Am I a robber, plundering other sheep?
Listening to Jesus is not a simple process. He is not transmitting facts. Knowing that the earth is the third rock from the Sun is a different thing than seeing that image of the earthrise on the moon and recognizing what it means that we all inhabit that one small blue marble in a sea of darkness.
Believing the notion that God created the world in six days is far easier than seeing and understanding what it means that I and everything around me arises from the hand of God. I was startled by a spider yesterday and immediately crushed it. My primal instincts asserted themselves – fear and revulsion lead to violence. But I did apologize to the to spider as I tossed the tissue bearing his crushed carcass into the toilet; I am still struggling with the notion that all life is from God.
But these words with which I struggle lead to good pasture. They lead to Life.