You all have no doubt heard about the three Florida seniors who were out walking together. One said to the others, “It is windy today.” One of the others replied, “No, it’s not Wednesday, it’s Thursday!” The third chipped in and said, “Yeah, me too, let’s stop and get a drink.”
Or perhaps you also heard about the two older men who were talking. One of them was bragging just a little bit. “I just purchased the most expensive hearing aid ever made,” he said. “It is imported and is guaranteed for life.” The second man asked: “Really, what kind is it?” The first man looked at his watch and said, “Five past two.”
For those of us who struggle to hear clearly, these jokes are only kind of funny. Hearing loss is no joke, really. But even more troubling than our physical hearing loss is the kind of hearing loss that Jesus refers to in our gospel reading today. The event takes place at the time of the festival of the Dedication. In 167 BC, about 150 years before the birth of Jesus, Syrian Antiochus Epiphanes conquered Jerusalem and desecrated the Temple by setting up pagan altars. The Jews revolted under the leadership of Judas Maccabaeus and recaptured the Temple. For eight days in 164 BC the Jews rededicated the Temple. They chose to commemorate this occasion by a yearly celebration lasting eight days entitled, “The Feast of Dedication.” This festival is still celebrated by Jews today commonly referred to as “Hanukkah.”
In the mind of the first century Jew, the Feast of Dedication was the last great deliverance they had known. This festival was a constant reminder as to how they presently longed for God to deliver them from their current “Roman” oppression. It was their continual prayer that God again would raise up another deliverer or better yet, the Messiah, who would bring freedom to the land. So this sort of thinking is in the forefront of the Jews minds when they come to Jesus. They say to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense.” Actually, what they really say is kind of funny, “They say, “How long will you take away our life?” In other words, “Jesus, you’re killing us. Tell us plainly if you are the Messiah.”
Jesus replies with “I have told you and you do not believe me.” He clarifies this a bit and says that all one needs to do is to look at what he is doing and then that person would know whether or not Jesus is the Messiah. It is at this point that being able to hear comes into the story. He tells them that the reason they have not been able to figure out whether he is the Messiah is because they are not his sheep and they cannot hear his voice. But on the contrary, “My sheep hear my voice.”
What does it mean to hear the voice of Jesus? I daresay that most of us have not ever heard the actual voice of Jesus speaking to us as the first century Jews heard him speak to them. So what does he really mean then? Have you ever heard the expression “What you are doing is speaking so loudly I cannot hear what you are saying?” We have another expression, “Actions speak louder than words.” Jesus said one has to do is to look at what He is doing. Just earlier in this same chapter in John Jesus has healed a 40 year old man born blind. You need to understand that a man born blind cannot ever regain his sight. Even if one replaces the bad eyeballs with new ones, a man 40 years old does not have the connections in his brain to process signals the eyeballs are sending. A baby has to learn to process images and it takes a bit time for the brain to figure out how it all works together. But a man born blind, if he got new eyeballs, his entire brain would now need to be rewired. This is what I meant, this is an impossible healing. Yet, Jesus did it and they all have seen that he did it. Jesus did something only God could have done. Now granted these guys in the first century did not grasp in totality what Jesus has done in this healing, but even in the first century they understood it that this was something only God could have done.
So Jesus is telling them that because of these works they have seen him do they should be able to figure whether or not he is the Messiah, that is, if he is the anointed one. That’s what the Jewish word Messiah literally means, anointed one. In the Greek Christ means anointed one. In the Jewish culture when a man became king he didn’t simply put a crown on his head, no, what happened was a priest or a prophet came and anointed him with oil. This oil symbolized God’s Holy Spirit. So Jesus is telling them, “Because you have seen me do these incredible works, it should be pretty obvious that I have been anointed with God’s Holy Spirit. And if I have been anointed with the Holy Spirit then I am the Messiah; I am the anointed one.” This is what Jesus is telling them.
He says the reason they see these works but still do not believe is because they are not his sheep. His sheep hear his voice. His sheep look at what Jesus is doing and saying and they realize that Jesus has come from God. Jesus says that he knows his sheep and they follow him and He will give them eternal life and no one will be able to snatch them out of His hand.
Then Jesus says what is one of the most remarkable statements in the Bible, “What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of my Father’s hands.” What is it that God the Father has given to Jesus that is greater than everything else? Is it his miraculous powers to heal, like healing this man who was born blind? Is it the authority over demons? Is it his ability to make food multiply like he did with the fish and bread? Or is it his power over nature like when he tells the wind to stop blowing and the waves to settle down? So what is this incredible gift? The gift is us! We, the ones who are His sheep, we are what Jesus is calling the greatest of all gifts! You and I are that precious and important in the eyes of Jesus and God the Father! Are you stunned? Did you know that Jesus and God the Father think you and I are that valuable? We are! And it is because God views us as this valuable that He sent Jesus into the world to redeem us, to buy us back from death, to die for us and save us from our sinful and selfish way of life; so that we would be able to live for God.
So the question for us today is can we hear Jesus? It is a spiritual hearing. Jesus calls us to believe in Him and follow him. Do we see what he has done; do we understand that this means God in the flesh of Jesus has come to earth to save us? Do we see how much we are loved; do we see how much value God places upon us? Those of us who can perceive who Jesus really is; those of us who can begin to grasp how much we are loved; are called to follow Jesus. We are called to serve him and obey him.
As our collect for today says, may God help us to hear the voice of Jesus and follow where he leads. Amen