On holiday in Florence many years ago, we were accosted by street traders selling fake fashion bags and accessories. Counterfeiting is a form of theft, robbing legitimate businesses, unwitting customers and supporting criminal activity.
At least a fake YSL handbag is unlikely to kill someone. One of my first jobs in the RAF involved recovering components from aircraft that were being scrapped. These components would then be refurbished and used on other aircraft. There is a large and important market in refurbished aircraft components. That, too, has its shady side with counterfeit components and false documentation. Unlike a fashionable handbag, counterfeit aircraft components or paperwork pose a serious safety risk and can be a matter of life and death.
The thief comes only to steal and kill (Jn 10: 10). No, Jesus was not looking for a job in Trading Standards. One recurring aspect of Jesus’ ministry is healing; the lame walk, the deaf hear, the blind see. Healing miracles work at more than one level. Clearly, the physical cure is valuable in its own right, especially when illness and deformity were seen as signs of judgement. His ability to cure is also cited as a sign of God’s power at work through him; If this man were not from God, he could do nothing (Jn 9: 33). But Jesus’ use of this power also challenges; particularly when he heals on the Sabbath, this man is not from God, he does not observe the Sabbath (Jn 9:16).
Peppered throughout the Gospels we see Jesus in conflict with guardians of the faith; Pharisees, the local synagogue leader, the temple authorities. His interpretation of the Law, his resetting of priorities, challenges their authority and possibly their understanding of the Law they work so hard to uphold. So much so that in John chapter 9, we see a man cast out of the synagogue because Jesus healed him on the Sabbath, and the healed man saw Jesus as a prophet (Jn 9:). There are several similar examples in the Gospels.
This raises the question, Who is the authentic voice of God? This question Jesus answers by claiming to be The Good Shepherd; the one who lays down his life for the sheep (Jn 10:11). Note that Jesus never condemns Sabbath observance (for example). Rather, when the letter of the Law clashes with pastoral need, pastoral need wins. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mk 2:27). Actions, we are told, speak louder than words.
At a distance, the counterfeit handbag looks the part, but put to the test of practical use it soon fails. Do we live the authentic, life-giving word of God; serving the Good Shepherd in others? Or have we been robbed by the street trader and settled for a cheap counterfeit?
Rev Philip Payne Easter 4
The Notice Sheet for 30th April can be found here