Jesus caused division. How about us?

This Sunday, the lectionary invites us to ponder John 10:11-18. The English Standard Version translation supplies the passage with the title “I am the Good Shepherd.”

The word “shepherd” is used often in the Bible. It’s used for God, for leaders, rulers, pastors.

In the passage, John tells us that division followed after Jesus explained himself as The Good Shepherd. We read, in verse 19, that:

“There was again a division among the Jews because of these words.”

From the previous chapter, we know that “the Jews” points to the Jewish religious leaders, in this case, Pharisees.

Many of them must’ve disliked the prophetic book of Ezekiel, for chapter 34 of that book presents God as disappointed and angry with leaders. Because instead of feeding and protecting their people, the leaders enriched themselves. And Ezekiel presents God as the Good Shepherd, who does what the leaders failed to do.

The leaders listening to Jesus would’ve known immediately that when he said “I am the Good Shepherd,” he was presenting himself both as God, and as one who cared so much for the sheep that he would even die to save the sheep. And that he was also presenting them as thieves who kill sheep instead of feeding and protecting them.

King David was a shepherd before he was king. The Jewish prophets spoke of a Messiah, a saviour, who would rise from the line of David. And Jesus was of the line of David.

Jesus’ lineage was one of the things which made King Herod try to kill him. I wrote about this in my column titled Why Didn’t Matthew Hide the Astrologers.

Matthew’s account of the astrologers, Herod, and Jesus, provides strong evidence that people were divided over Jesus, even before he spoke a word.

Many today think we must avoid creating or even pointing out divisions.

But we know that the great men of the past caused divisions. People took sides over Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad, to name just three.

And if we consider those who followed those great ones, we see the same thing.

China today treats the Dalai Lama as a person who causes division. The contemporaries of Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr, Desmond Tutu, and Ayatollah Khomeini treated them as people who cause division, who call people to take sides.

The words and actions of those who preach often cause division. So much so that Islamic religious departments restrict the freedom of Muslims to preach.

In 2017, Khalid Samad almost lost his seat in Parliament after “the Klang Lower Shariah Court fined him RM2,900 … for teaching Islam without credentials over a talk he gave at a surau in Kapar, [Selangor], in 2011.” (link)

Courts regularly issue decisions to “settle” divisions. For example, the Federal Court decision in the case Nik Elin brought against the government of Kelantan upset many. In this case, the court ruled that the Kelantan state government, when it enacted laws concerning offences such as theft, had contravened the Federal Constitution.

Division was also “settled” when, in 2014, the Federal Court upheld a Court of Appeal decision to prevent  The Herald, a Catholic newspaper, from using the word “Allah” in its Malay edition (link).

As I reflect on the “Good Shepherd” passage, I think Jesus must’ve had in mind not only Ezekiel 34, but also Psalm 23.

Psalm 23 is perhaps the most-preached-about Psalm of all time. It’s so beloved because it portrays God as a shepherd who always protects his sheep.

Good shepherds protect their sheep better than hired hands who are likely to flee at the first sign of trouble. Good shepherds protect their sheep from thieves, from wolves.

John tells us Jesus said:

14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

The Jewish leaders were divided by what Jesus’ said because he modelled godly, sacrificial, leadership, whereas some of them modelled egoistic, corrupt, and self-enriching leadership. He called them thieves and wolves. He exposed them.

Some of the Jewish leaders “heard his voice” and recognized him as the promised Messiah. And they saw in themselves – and in others – a need to repent, to change their ways. But not all of them. This is why John says there was a division among them.

Jesus was a preacher who divided people. He insisted that there are ways which please God, and ways which don’t please God. He used the terms “narrow way” and “broad way,” as we read in Matthew 7:13-14.

If we are faithful in conveying the message of Jesus, we too will cause divisions.

What divisions have we caused? Are we faithful?

Peace be with you.

2 thoughts on “Jesus caused division. How about us?”

  1. Pingback: The single, most important sentence I ever heard – Bangsar Lutheran Church

  2. Pingback: Seriously? You want to be a friend of Jesus? – Bangsar Lutheran Church

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