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Hallo again to all.

In most Anglican churches around the world, today's Gospel was John 10:11-18, which begins:

Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away-- and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 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.

Jesus with actual sheepFor that reason, this Fourth Sunday of Easter is often referred to as 'Good Shepherd Sunday'.

Jesus didn't say 'I am like the good shepherd'. He said 'I am the good shepherd'.* As you well know, he goes on to talk about sheep and flocks and to emphasize that he is the good shepherd. Most of us automatically read this passage as a metaphor rather than as a declarative statement, that Jesus did not have real sheep or look after real sheep. We are not aware of any evidence that Jesus was dealing with actual Ovis aries at the time. By saying that, Jesus made his point to his audience, most of whom were very familiar with the behaviour required of shepherds in order for them to be good at their jobs. The 'shepherd' metaphor has a wide reach; for example, a bishop's crosier is a stylized shepherd's crook to bolster the notion that a bishop is the shepherd of the people in his diocese. None of whom has hooves.

We wrote some weeks ago about the difficulty of effective present-day Anglican evangelisation. One hurdle that we didn't mention then is the thorny issue of whether the Bible is the literal word of God, and that therefore every word and every sentence in it is literally true. Almost every person we have ever tried to introduce to our church has encountered believers in the literal truth of the Bible, and absolutely every person we have ever tried to introduce to our church has insisted that the notion of the literal truth of the Bible is uneducated poppycock. When we have begun discussions of faith and of Anglican belief, it has been common for the potential recruit to throw Biblical literalism in our face, fearful that becoming an Anglican would require (or lead to) a belief therein. It scares them.

The people we have met who believe in the literal truth of the Bible defend their belief that God wrote the King James Bible and that therefore, by definition, every word and sentence in it is the Absolute Word of God. We've learned that it is not productive to open a dialog with anyone about reconsidering strongly-held beliefs (in anything) because it's difficult to argue with beliefs. Most believers are not very interested in re-evaluating those beliefs upon presentation of a reasoned argument. We've never tried to recruit a Biblical literalist to an Anglican church; they all seem to have churches of their own with which they are content.

Through the years we have found that John 10:11, today's Gospel, is our most effective tool for guiding a prospective Anglican recruit through issues of biblical literalism. No one we've talked to about our faith has read that passage and believed that Jesus was saying that he guarded sheep for a living. They have all read it as a metaphor, and a good one, central to Anglican semiotics. That has provided us a simple way to bypass the unwinnable argument about whether or not God wrote the Bible himself, and get on with the business of teaching them enough about Anglicans that they want to look further into becoming one.

Baaaaaaa. See you next week.

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All of us at Anglicans Online

26 April 2015

*Actually, he said 'Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλός·', which isn't exactly accessible to many modern people. Or maybe he spoke in Gallilean Aramaic, the translation of John into which has not yet been done.



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