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Diocese of Charleston Bible Study + June 1, 2016

Acts 14:20-27
John 9:39-10:9

Acts 14:20-27 (NKJV)
However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city. And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe. And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God." So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. And after they had passed through Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia. Now when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed. Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.

John 9:39-10:9 (NKJV) – And Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind." Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to him, "Are we blind also?" Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, 'We see.' Therefore your sin remains. Most assuredly I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers." Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them. Then Jesus said to them again, "Most assuredly I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture."

Commentary 

A portion of today's gospel reading may be very familiar, as the latter portion of today's reading is the first portion of the gospel which we read at the commemoration of a sainted hierarch. This is because it speaks of Christ as the good shepherd of His sheep, and describes what it means to be a shepherd of God's people, and a leader in the Church. What today's reading reminds us, however, is that in its original context, this is a word which Jesus speaks to the Pharisees, to the shepherds of Israel, the leaders of the old covenant, and that it is not only an explanation of his role as true shepherd, but also an exposure of them as false, blind ones.

This passage in St. John's gospel immediately follows the story of the healing blind man, which we will hear at Divine Liturgy this coming Sunday. This healing, as we will hear, was the occasion for conflict between the healed man, his family, and the Jewish ruling class over the identity and authority of Jesus. Christ's first words in this passage are His closing statement regarding that event and that conflict. His statement that He has come to bring judgment to the world may sounds strange, especially considering, for example, John 3:17 in which we are told that Christ came into the world not to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him. It is important here that we understand judgment in its ancient sense. To judge in this context means to bring about justice. There is a situation which exists which is unjust and wrong. Christ has come bringing judgment in the sense that by His coming and His teaching, restoring justice to the world.

In this case, the unjust situation concerns Israel's leaders, who are frequently referred to in the Old Testament as her shepherds. The Pharisees and the other teachers of the Law were given their positions as the leaders of Israel because the common people were blind. They were like sheep who needed to be led to the Truth. The Truth had been revealed to Israel's leaders so that they could then lead the rest to Him. The leaders of Israel, however, had not done so. Rather than themselves following the Truth, and leading others in that path, they had chosen to go their own way, to live and do and lead as seemed right to them in their own eyes and their own minds. Thus they had fallen into sin, and led others into sin as well. Jesus says that justice will come in the form of those who could see, those leaders to whom God had revealed Himself but who had failed to follow, becoming blind and unable to see, while those who had been blind, the common people, would now be given the ability to see for themselves, so they would no longer need the blind Pharisees and teachers of the Law to know the way they ought to go, but that they could now know and follow Christ directly. This promise is ultimately fulfilled in the coming of the Holy Spirit, who had dwelt within the Prophets and leaders of the Old Testament, but who would, following the Ascension of Christ, be poured forth on all flesh.

This is most assuredly not to say that there would be no leaders in the new covenant community of the Church; that the Church would be some sort of anarchic situation in which everyone tries to follow God through their own vision. Rather, this is establishing two principles. First, it describes the responsibility and accountability that will come to all believers in the new covenant. It is now, in the Church, the responsibility of every Christian to come to know Christ, to know the Scriptures, and to lead all those around him or her, be they family, friends, or acquaintances, to the knowledge of the Truth. Every Christian has the responsibility to be a leader in this sense, and to know what it is, and who it is, in whom they believe.

This also means, importantly, that for anyone to be a leader within the Church, they must first also be a follower. Leaders in the Church, be they clergy or lay leadership, are not a special, privileged class to whom God has revealed more than other people or who stand above them. Rather, any leader in the Church must first and foremost be a follower of Christ, a fellow sheep. He or she must be a Christian him or herself, must know Christ Himself, and must fulfill their duties as a Christian first. To be a true leader in the Church is to be able to say to Christ's flock, as St. Paul did, "imitate me as I imitate Christ" (I Cor. 11:1). We become a leader to others in the Faith by following after Christ, and to the same extent to which we follow after Christ.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the leaders of this world seek power, and lord it over one another. The true leader is the one who admits his own failings and shortcomings, and follows not his or own self-interest or understandings, but who follows after Jesus Christ, the true shepherd of the sheep. All others are thieves and robbers who come only to bring about destruction. Our sainted hierarchs, Ss. John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, Nicholas of Myra, and others were as human and as fallible as you and I, but by humbly following after Christ, they were able to lead thousands of others in their own times, and throughout the centuries, to find the salvation that they themselves found in Him.

Questions to Ponder 

  1. Today's epistle reading from the Acts of the Apostles speaks of God opening the door of salvation to the Gentiles and the gospel reading refers to Christ as that door. Do you open the door that leads to salvation for those in your life by letting them know about your faith in Christ? Or do you close the door, or at least hide it, by concealing your faith? Do you welcome people into your life, your home, and your parish if they are very different from you, or only if they are like you?
  2. We read in today's epistle reading that since Ss. Paul and Barnabas could not stay in every church which they planted as they travelled, they would teach them, ordain good leaders, and then commend those churches to God. Are you able to accept your own limitations? When it comes to your children, physical or spiritual, do you teach them what you can, and then commend them to God in your prayers, or do you try to control them? When beginning a new project or venture, do you need to keep your hands in it and micromanage in order to be at peace, or can you do what is within your power, and then entrust it to God?
  3. In today's gospel reading, we see that the Pharisees have gone astray, to their own destruction, because they want to be leaders without being followers. They have fallen into sin because they think and claim that they know more than they really know, and understand more than they actually understand. Thus they not only go astray, but in seeking to be leaders, they lead others astray. Our culture and society respects leaders and not followers or 'sheep', yet this is precisely what Christ tells us we are. Are you willing to admit it when you don't know or don't understand something, to God or anyone else? When making decisions or plans, do you admit your weakness and fallibility and seek wisdom from God as to which way to go, or do you do what seems right to you and deal with right and wrong later? Are there people who look up to you who are following you in ways that they shouldn't?

Questions or Comments? FrStephen@stgeorgecharleston.org

Note from the Author – No rights reserved. If you find anything good, or helpful, or worthwhile in these Bible studies from week to week, feel free to take and use it as you see fit. I do not need credit.


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