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If we combine all religions, everything will be fine….. won’t it?

April 28, 2015

John 10: 22-30                                               Tuesday 28 April 2015

It’s always interesting to look into the background of the Gospels. There is so much richness in the Gospels, but so much of it passes over us because we don’t necessarily know the details of the history of the Jewish People and the significance of where things happened.

A clue for when to look something up for people like me who are preaching is when some detail is given and you think, ‘Why is that detail given?’

At the beginning of the Gospel today it said it was the time of the Feast of the Dedication being celebrated in Jerusalem. OK, what is that about? The Feast of the Dedication marked a significant event in Jewish history – and at the time of Jesus it was recent Jewish history. In 164BC, one hundred and sixty-four years before our Lord was born, there was a successful revolt against the foreign power that was occupying the Jewish homelands. That foreign power was the Seleucids – there’s a weird name! – but they came from somewhere we all know about because ‘nothing changes – the Seleucid Empire was based to the North of Israel up in Syria and in Mesopotamia: Syria and Iraq to you and me; to the South there was another empire, the Egyptians, traditional enemies and always with a tension between the two peoples. The Seleucids were in charge not long before Jesus was born. There was a revolt because the Seleucids had said that across their whole Empire they wanted everyone to be the same: let’s give up all our different gods, let’s all be the same.

(We see this same tendency today don’t we, in the arguments about the future of Europe? Is it going to be one single state where we’ll all be the same? And people don’t like that sort of thing. We are British and we’re proud of it. That is just the way we are, and all nations are entitled to be like that. To try and have uniformity artificially imposed is not right. And when you enter into matters of religion and you try to standardize those, you are in very tough territory.)

The Seleucids tried to have everyone praying to their own pagan gods. And the revolt 164 (or rather, 170 years) before Jesus was born was because the Seleucids had taken over The Temple in Jerusalem and turned it into a pagan temple. The Feast of the Dedication of the Temple is a celebration of the uprising against them, the victory against them, the re-dedication of The Temple. It is still celebrated today by the Jewish People. We tend to know it as Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights.

Why is all this significant in terms of Jesus being in The Temple? Well, that revolt was led by a man called Judas Maccabees. And you’ll find the two Books of Maccabees in any good Catholic Bible. (At the Reformation the reformed churches removed those two books – they don’t really know about this stuff because it is not in their bible, they have edited it out.) Judas Maccabees was a military leader. He was eventually killed, and his brothers were killed.

The Jewish People were waiting for The Messiah. We Christians tend to merge together Jesus as the Son of God with The Messiah; Jews see this as two very separate things. The Messiah they were waiting for would be a great leader, and a lot of them were expecting a military leader like Judas Maccabees, and people were saying, ‘Is Jesus the Messiah?’

There He is in The Temple. Is He the successor to Judas Maccabees? Is He going to help kick out the Romans? People want to know. Jesus is in The Temple and He tells them something they don’t like: basically He says, ‘No, I’m not going to be a military leader, but I am the Messiah.’

But then he really angered them – and if you follow up this gospel a few verses later, from what He said at the end (after He had talked about His sheep following Him), he said, ‘The Father and I are one.’

This is heresy to the Jews. He is saying He is God. The Jews very devoutly say that there is only one God, how can you split God like that? (Incidentally, the very same thing that the Moslems tend to say of Christians – they say the Christians believe terrible things because they say God is split into three Persons. It is a misunderstanding, and difficult to overcome.)

So the people asking Jesus if He is The Messiah, a military leader, got an answer that really shocked them. In effect He answered, ‘I am not a military leader, but I am with the Father, We are One.’ At that time that was a shocking thing to say. We are not shocked by what Jesus says because we are used to hearing these words; but also we are not shocked because we know what Jesus says is true because we hear the words after The Resurrection, so that is when people realised that Jesus was The Messiah AND the Son of God, and the two ideas came together.

So just a little line from the Gospel today reveals a lot of hidden history that places the story into context.

God’s ways are not our ways; Jesus’ answers were not what they expected.

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