We are in the midst of a brawl between Jesus and the ‘Jews’, a term John uses to describe those opposed to Jesus.
The subject is ‘the nature of the Messiah’.
The site of the action is the last remaining section of the Old Temple; the Portico of Solomon.
The time is the Feast of Dedication, the reminder of the restoration of the High Altar after its desecration by the Syrian invader Epiphane. He offered sacrifice to Zeus and erected a pagan altar over the Holy One, hence the ‘abomination of desolation’ or ‘the desolating sacrilege’. This was torn down three years later in a successful revolt led by the Jewish Priest Mattathias.
Into this feisty cauldron of time, place and ideas, Jesus responds to their asking “Are you the Messiah?” in those and similar words that we hear “I am the Good Shepherd “and the closure of that claim with today’s words: “The Father and I are one.”
This, in effect, seals his death warrant.
It is always proper and useful to gain some insight to the context, time, place, setting and history of important events. In effect, Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel what is reported elsewhere: “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up”. Another nail in the cross!
What does the Good Shepherd ask for and offer?
He seeks of us to hear his voice, to follow him, and he promises that we will have eternal life and that we would never be lost.
For two thousand years it has been as the other readings report today: “It made the pagans very happy to hear this (proclamation of the Word) but the “Jews worked upon some of the devout women of the upper classes and the leading men of the city and persuaded them to turn against Paul and Barnabas”. Sadly, recent events have proved, be it Christchurch, Sri Lanka and elsewhere, that in our world “these are the people who have been through the great persecution”.
Expressing faith in the ‘other’ is still a major challenge. It calls us “not to do our will but the will of him who sent me”.
We have a Good Shepherd to help us.