Welcome to the Sheep Chapter. Here, Jesus famously declares himself to be the good shepherd and develops the sheep-herding metaphor at length. I had forgotten that it continues directly from the previous chapter. I’d thought chapter 9 was the Man Blind from Birth Chapter, then the last verse of chapter 9, and scene, and then the curtain opens on a new section where Jesus teaches about his relationship to his sheep. But no! All this sheep talk comes hot on the heels of a handful of Pharisees asking Jesus if they are blind, and Jesus responding: yes. Yes, you are.
Let’s just pull off the band-aid right away: today we’re opening the Theodicy Can with all its Theodicy Worms. Apparently someone put a band-aid on the Theodicy Can. I’m not sure what they thought it would do, if they thought the can was injured or maybe the band-aid would help it stay shut, but we’re tearing off the band-aid and opening up the can. All mixed metaphors aside, today’s chapter of John features Jesus healing a man blind from birth, and right off the bat his disciples ask why the man was born blind.
In today’s chapter, we’ve got one of my favorite scenes from the gospels, in which Jesus goes to bat on behalf of a woman caught in adultery.
I’ve never celebrated Sukkot. Have you? Honest question. Leave me a comment and let me know if you’ve ever celebrated it. And if you don’t know what it is, you’ve almost certainly never celebrated it, because it’s not the sort of holiday you’d observe by accident. It’s the Jewish Feast of Booths, and according to the instructions in Leviticus 23:33-43, it lasts eight days, and it requires you to build and live in a temporary shelter, the titular “sukkah.” It also requires you to take leafy branches and rejoice before the Lord. I doubt you’ve ever said to yourself, “Whoops! I just built a booth with at least three walls and a thatched roof and lived in it for seven days, holding a sacred assembly for the Lord on the eighth, and all week long I accidentally rejoiced with leafy branches and presented food offerings to the Lord,” but…where was I going with this? I honestly don’t know. Let’s find out.
What is bread? The question has hounded philosophers and–wait, what? I’ve used that introduction already? What am I supposed to do for an intro? We’re going to be talking about Jesus’ use of bread as a spiritual metaphor again, and I need to create an engaging first paragraph to draw in readers! Oh, what’s that? Contrive a dialogue with an imaginary, unseen interlocutor who brings up the fact that I’ve already used the “What is bread?” introduction and posits an alternative? Seems a bit gimmicky. Do you have any better ideas? No? Neither do I. Okay, we’ll go with it. And with that out of the way, let’s talk about bread.
You know Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken?” Sometimes I open up the day’s passage and find it could not be more “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood” if it tried. Here, on the one hand, is the healing at the pool in Bethesda, and on the other, there is Jesus’ lengthy exposition of the relationship between the Son and the Father, defending his ministry as backed by the authority of God. But unlike Robert Frost’s existentially-minded traveler, I’m faced with two roads that countless expositors and theologians have trod before me; there is no “road less traveled by” here. Moreover, while the traveler doubts he may ever return to that fork in the road, I may find that I have time to cover both sections of John 5 today. But I have to pick one to begin with, so travel with me down the road to the Bethesda healing, or alternately, close the tab and leave the entry unread–for you as well have two roads before you.
I like water. You know what, I’m going to lead with that: I like water. Those who don’t like water typically complain that it has no taste, and they’re right. Drinking water for the taste is like playing Tetris for the storyline. But I’m a runner, and after an hour-long run in the summer heat, there are few things I want more than a cold glass of water. Maybe a million dollars. I would probably forego the glass of water for a million dollars. But there are few things apart from that, because when I get back from a run, I am thirsty, and as great as a million dollars are, you can’t drink a million dollars. You can drink water. And today’s chapter of John is about the thing for which water is a metaphor.