The Voice of New Life
We live in a world where lots of voices demand our attention. Sometimes they come to us one at a time, but other times they come all at once. A few years ago my wife and I were on an anniversary date at a new restaurant that was recommended to us. We were excited for the meal, the conversation, the night together.
We asked for a table out of the way, where we could talk, laugh, and enjoy just being alone with each other. We were seated in an area, where the ceiling above us was a dome shaped and decorated beautifully. We thought it was perfect. Very few people were in the restaurant at the time, so it was generally quiet and peaceful in that corner. A strange thing happened, though, over the next thirty minutes or so. As the restaurant filled up with people, the noise of conversation seemed to grow intensely as it echoed off of our dome-roofed area.
It finally became a bit overwhelming. Our conversation had to get louder and louder in order for us to hear each other. At times we could hear specific voices as crystal clear as if they were sitting next to us. We finished our dinner, and decided to take dessert home, where we knew only our voices could be heard.
As our passage opens the scene of the story has shifted to winter time at the festival of the Dedication in Jerusalem. The festival of Dedication, also known as Hanukah, was a relatively new festival for Israel. Like Tabernacles it was a feast celebrating God’s protection in the wilderness. It recalled God’s care during the Exodus, but it’s more specific focus was the celebration of God’s ongoing care for his people by restoring the Temple, the place where God dwelt among his chosen ones.
The evangelist tells us again that the Jews have gathered around Jesus at another important festival. This time they ask their question again, as if Jesus had ignored them up to this point. Their question: Are you the Messiah? At another feast the Jews argued among themselves as to whether Jesus had the credentials to be the Messiah. Now they ask him directly. They want to know just who he thought he was.
There is a fair amount of humor in the question, however. He had already answered their question three months previous. His answer is unambiguous, but it is not the answer they were looking for:
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So, there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father (John 10:14-18).
The voice of Christ is once again loud and clear, but the Jews seem to be hearing other voices. They are wanting to hear him declare a military overthrow, a political coup, a religious rebellion. Like that restaurant we mentioned earlier in our message the voices are getting louder and louder. They are making it impossible to hear the voice of Jesus. He keeps telling them who he is, and they keep hearing other voices. They keep pressing him, and he keeps repeating his message.
The problem is you can “hear” a message, and be unwilling to respond to it. You can “see” something, and still not discern what it is you are seeing. This is their problem. They refuse to hear Jesus and respond to him. They are requiring his answers to fit their preconceived notions about life with God. Their unwillingness to genuinely listen and respond takes them outside of his flock. It’s not because he doesn’t want them. It’s because they won’t receive him.
For those who hear and respond they will know eternal life with him. Those who follow him are not lost, but this is only true for those who respond favorably to his voice. This means listening for his voice and agreeing to his demands. Life in the kingdom is not life on our own terms. Rather it is life with Jesus as the Messiah on his terms. The other voices we want to hear have to go away. We must avert our ears, our eyes, our lives from alternative ways of living in the world.
The Jews could not accept this, and we always run the risk of being just like them. Sometimes we wish Jesus would be against the people we don’t like, but he says, “…the Son of Man must be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14). Sometimes we want Jesus to take up our political views and support “our” political party, but he says, “I am the Way, the Truth, the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do known him and have seen him” (John 14:6-7).
The voices are very real, and they seek to drown out the clear and definitive voice of God at work in Jesus Christ. Here at the festival of Dedication the Jews are ready to celebrate with great pride the reconsecration of the Temple. In this festival they are only listening to the voice which says “the Temple is the physical evidence of their belonging to God, and in some way of belonging to them.” The religion is their possession, they insist. We are not much different.
We come to faith in Christ, and over time we are tempted to imagine our salvation is our possession. We too easily see it as something we have accomplished. Thus, the voice we hear can too quickly be coopted, coerced, and made to sound like our voice. Yet, here in this story, Jesus cuts through it all, and makes his voice crystal clear. The Temple is no longer the location of the presence of God. He is. The voice that comes from the Temple has been replace by the voice of the Mary’s son, who is the Messiah on his terms, not their or ours. No messianic expectation of the day would have imagined the irrelevance of the Temple. No messianic hope then or now could have dreamed of the work of God being accomplished by a Father and Son. The voice we are listening for is not our own, or our culture, or even our church. We are listening for the singular voice of the Father and the Son, who are one in purpose and united by an act of love and obedience deep in the heart of our God.
 Francis J. Moloney, SDB, The Gospel of John. Sacra Pagina. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1998, 313.
 Marianne Meye Thompson, John: A Commentary. The New Testament Library. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, 232.
 Moloney, 315.
 Moloney, 316.