22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah,[b] tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.[c]30 The Father and I are one.

Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.

“Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, “Disarm, disarm! The sword is not the balance of justice.” Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession.

As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each learning after his own time, the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.

The author of this piece was quite a sensation during their life time. A celebrated personality and a hero to many folks. If this author was alive today, she would have thousands of followers on Twitter. She was quite the celebrity and is the reason folks celebrate Mother’s Day.  Julia Ward Howe was an American poet and author, best known for writing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic“. She was also an advocate for abolitionism and was a social activist, particularly for women’s suffrage. In 1870 wrote this proclamation for peace – the original intent of Mother’s Day.

We too have our own celebrities and there are certain expectations of our heros and public figures. We expect people to enjoy celebrity status, to work hard to achieve it and to then revel in it once it arrives. We expect the people who may become great leaders to herald that fact, to placard it on billboards and advertisements so as to have a chance to make a difference. Our expectation of this is so entrenched that we often don’t bat an eye when we hear politicians or sports heroes making comments about themselves that would strike us as the height of vanity and arrogance if we heard such things said by anyone from within our own families or with whom we work Monday-Friday.

But the famous in our society routinely get away with bombastic rhetoric because that’s just how things work in this world. Although we like and expect a measure of modesty and humility in politicians and other famous folks, we give them a bit of a wide berth given who they are and what they have achieved. (Jimmy Carter found out about this while serving as President: he thought it was entirely too much fuss and too haughty a display to have the song “Hail to the Chief” played every time he entered a room for an event and so he suggested they not do that anymore. But it turned out that people wanted and expected to hear that regal music played when the President arrives, and so Mr. Carter relented and let the tradition continue.)

Pope Francis is reportedly a humble and private man who has his whole vocation long eschewed the trappings of whatever office he was in. He took public transportation in Argentina, lived in a small-ish apartment where he did his own cooking. Since becoming Pope, he has struggled to find his way between who he has always been and the glittering trappings of his office. It’s hard to be the Vicar of Christ these days and actually live like Jesus.

After all, isn’t it curious to see that when the actual Son of God, the true Messiah of the world, arrived here and lived here, he was so loathe to trumpet his credentials and was so adverse to putting himself forward that people actually had to beg him to come clean as to whether he was The One or not? Apparently Jesus was content to let his actions speak for themselves, to allow himself to become a window through which those willing to look would be able to see no less than the one true God, the one Jesus called his Father. If you were interested in that Father, then it was probably because you were one of the chosen “sheep” to begin with. If you were willing to look through Jesus to see the Father with whom he was one, then the mere fact that you were interested and willing to believe indicated that something else was already stirring in your heart. But for those who were unwilling to believe, no amount of overt speech by Jesus would have made much difference anyway.

Years ago my wife and I saw a somewhat humorous portrayal about the differences between how men and women communicate. One part of that presentation showed a husband asking his (obviously distressed) wife “Honey, what’s wrong?” The wife replied, “If you have to ask, then I am not going to tell you!” It was a way of saying in essence, “You know full well what’s up and so your question is a dodge to make it look like you did nothing wrong! What’s more, if you really don’t know, then you’re past help anyway and so I am not going to tell you!”

If you have to ask . . .

It reminds me of the secret room at Hogwarts School in the Harry Potter stories. The Room of Requirement contained many secrets that could help someone in need. But its doorway was invisible and so you had to know where to go (and then be in need) for it to appear. The saying about finding this room was “If you already know, you need not ask. If you need to ask, you will never know.”

Similarly in John 10: if the people celebrating Hanukkah that year in Jerusalem had to ask Jesus if he would plainly fess up to being the Messiah, then Jesus was not going to answer. They either already knew Jesus was the Christ or they did not and if they did not, it was because they were refusing to make the logical connections between Jesus’ work and his unity with God the Father. So their query was one-part a trick question, one-part a prelude to exactly what does follow just beyond the fringe of this lection; namely, an attempt to kill Jesus for blasphemy.

So Jesus’ reply to their question really did amount to his saying, “If you have to ask, then I am not going to tell you!” They had no ear for a tune. They had no ability to hear the Good Shepherd’s voice. Jesus could make any claim for himself that he wanted but they were not going to believe him, listen to him, or most certainly follow him. Their ears were not attuned to hear his message, their eyes were not sharp enough to see the Father who stood behind Jesus every miracle.

And yet they had to ask their question—even if they asked it with cynicism and doubt abounding—because the truth is they were looking for a more typical world leader. They were looking for the dashing figure who was willing to put himself forward because they thought that was the only kind of Messiah who could stand a chance at routing Herod, Pilate, and finally the Caesar himself.

Jesus, however, came to point a different direction, telling us that the secret to life is the willingness to give life away, that sacrifice leads to new life, that dying leads to resurrection. Jesus came and provided so many signs that pointed to a different kind of kingdom. Those who wanted to be part of God’s new order of things followed where those signs pointed. Those who were still hung up on worldly definitions of authority, prestige, and success—and who wanted to amass some of that for themselves—saw Jesus as a loser and as a non-starter. Nothing Jesus could have said would have convinced them otherwise, not even had he said plainly that day while strolling through Solomon’s Colonnade, “Yes, I am the Christ.”

John 10 challenges us to wonder if we always know what is what with Jesus and with being his disciple. It kind of looks like putting ourselves forward just maybe isn’t the first or best thing we could do. Maybe we should listen for the shepherd’s voice, and they follow Him.

Commentary provided by Scott Hoezee, David Lose, Elizabeth Johnson, Julia Ward Howe