The whole of John’s chapter 9, which precedes this morning’s gospel, describes how Jesus had cured a man born blind and the incredulity of the Pharisees who interrogated both the man and his parents about his blindness. While Jesus’ other miracles had caused his fame to grow and the Pharisees had heard the rumours of his work, this particular miracle was the subject of intense investigation… and rejection… by the religious leaders. This detailed scrutiny of the source of Jesus’ authority forms a significant backdrop to this morning’s gospel. 

The actual gospel for May 8, (John 10:22-30) tells of an exchange which Jesus had with some Jews while in the temple. It took place at the festival of the Dedication (or Hanukah) which, itself, describes a form of resurrection and provides a prophetic setting for Easter-tide. 


The gospel for May 8th opens, At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. 

The festival of the Dedication was a relatively recent but significant feast in the Jewish calendar. Like the resurrection, it is a story of apparent defeat, resilience and restoration. A synopsis of the history of the feast of Dedication, from the first book of Maccabees, follows. 

The Seleucid king, Antiochus IV of Syria, had captured Jerusalem in 175 BCE. He arrogantly entered the sanctuary and took the golden altar, the lampstand for the light, and all its utensils. He took the table for the bread of the Presence, the cups for drink offerings, the bowls, the golden censers, the curtain, the crowns, and the gold decoration on the front of the temple; He plundered the silver and the gold, and the costly vessels; and went to his own land.  

Thereafter, Antiochus defiled the sanctuary, built altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idols, sacrificed swine and other unclean animals and ordered the people to leave their sons uncircumcised. They were to make themselves abominable by everything unclean and profane, so that they would forget the law. He added, “And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die.” Many Israelites accommodated Antiochus’s rules.

His minions desecrated the temple. They offered sacrifice on top of the altar of burnt offering. His soldiers put to death the women who had their children circumcised, and the families who circumcised them; and they hung the infants from their mothers’ necks. But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant. 

A Jewish Priest named Mattathias and his friends led a resistance. They tore down the (pagan) altars; they forcibly circumcised uncircumcised boys that they found within Israel. They hunted down the arrogant, and … rescued the law out of the hands of the Gentiles and kings, and they never let the sinner gain the upper hand. Still, the defiance of Mattathias was more like a guerilla movement than a military confrontation.      

When Mattathias was dying he commissioned his son Judas Maccabeus, a mighty warrior from his youth.. to command the army and fight. Despite always being outnumbered, Judas and his troops routed the armies of Antiochus in every battle.

After they had decisively defeated that last of Antiochus’s forces in 165 BCE, 10 years after the Seleucids initial conquest, Judas’s army went up to Mount Zion. They saw the sanctuary desolate, the altar profaned, and the gates burned. In the courts they saw bushes sprung up as in a thicket. Then they tore their clothes and mourned with great lamentation.

Then Judas cleansed the sanctuary and removed the defiled stones, they tore down the altar (on which the defiling sacrifice had been offered). They built a new altar, like the former one, the sanctuary, the interior of the temple, and consecrated the courts. They made new holy vessels, and brought the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the table into the temple. They offered incense on the altar and lit the lamps and gave light in the temple. They placed the bread on the table and hung up the curtains.  

Early in the morning they rose and offered sacrifice, on the new altar of burnt offering that they had built. On the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps. All the people worshiped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them. So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and joyfully offered burnt offerings; they offered a sacrifice of well-being and a thanksgiving offering. 

Then Judas and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness for eight days.

This story of the Maccabees tells of the significance of the temple to Jews of Jesus’ day. It is a story of a son who carries out the father's commission and symbolically foretells of Jesus’ own resurrection to new life. 


The gospel for Sunday continues; Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” The Greek phrase for keep us in suspense was not only a question of curiosity. It included a hint of anger.

Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 

The recent cure of the man born blind (John 9) and their refusal to accept his or his parents’ testimony that he had been blind, was a reference point for their unbelief. Accepting the works as a sign that Jesus was empowered by God depended on whether people chose to accept what their eyes had seen and their ears heard. The Pharisees, apparently, did not.


My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. The imagery of the shepherd is a powerful Messianic symbol in Israel’s collective memory. (Ezekiel 34 epitomizes this.) When Jesus said My sheep hear my voice, he claimed the Messianic mantle. Beyond that, saying I give them eternal life, is a promise of shared salvation. 

A few verses earlier (before this gospel begins) Jesus had said 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…I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also… For this reason the Father loves me…. I have received this command from my Father.” (John 10:14-18) His role as the shepherd commissioned by the Father is clear throughout the whole chapter.

Changing the focus from sheep to his Father, in a yet more powerful claim, Jesus said, What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” Jesus and the Father are united in purpose and work. It is a core statement of the gospel of John and aligns with the opening verse: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Somewhat later, the church in the fourth century interpreted the statement, The Father and I are one, as foundational to the doctrine of the Trinity… but that is a whole other story!


  • This gospel and its context invite us to reflect on what we have seen of God’s works yet fail to recognize. Is it the beauty of a Spring morning, the song of a robin, a period of quiet joy arising from a time of contemplation, the unexpected kindness of someone? Or is it the stunning reversal of some awful event in your life?
  • ‘Hearing Christ’s voice and following him’ remains a challenge for each of us. Hearing Christ’s voice involves discernment of the signals that Christ sends us moment by moment as well as our ‘big’ decisions. How well we followthat discernment with consistent whole-hearted action is a different order of question. It invites us to consider where we have cut corners in following him or gone through the motions rather than put our heart into following.
  • No one will snatch them out of my hand is an image of comfort. What would it be like to be physically held in God’s hand?