Sermon delivered at Raysville Friends Meeting
Reading: John 7:1-19
This week’s and last week’s section of scripture, along with the parts in between are somewhat challenging for me. I guess the way I can best describe the challenge is that it is hard for me to understand why Jesus did and said these things in chapters 5-7. Jesus brothers really did have a point — he was not behaving like somebody who wanted to become famous, or a great leader, or anything. He made powerful enemies, then proceeded to chase away his supporters. After doing this, he went into hiding.
Two weeks ago, we read that Jesus was willing to tell a Samaritan woman that he was the Messiah, but now he’s unwilling to attend a religious festival openly. Scripture tells us that the “Jews” were looking for Jesus at the feast, and Chrysostom tells us that it is because they were so eager for his death that they would seek him a at a feast; and we remember that there is truth to this as the crucifixion was as the feast of the Passover. This is where the march to the cross really starts.
Reading this section of scripture, we see several bits of slander directed at Jesus by his opponents: 1. They accused him of being ignorant, asking how an illiterate person could have learning to teach. 2. They accused him of being possessed by a demon. 3. They accused him of being a demon possessed Samaritan. 4. They implied, without saying, that Jesus’ paternity was unknown, and 5. They accused Jesus of deceiving the crowds.
While one group was making accusations, the other group was asking if this could be the messiah, and was ready to make him King. Nicodemus responded to the accusations by pointing out that these questions were not fair, and that nobody should be condemned without a trial. The response to this was to ask if Nicodemus was also from Galilee.
These days, we would say that Jesus’ opponents used ad hominem, which is a logical fallacy where instead of addressing the topic at hand, you attack the person. They tried various versions of this — but, the topic at hand was that Jesus did miracles, and claimed that his power and teaching came from God. A bigger topic at hand is that there were large crowds that believed that Jesus was the Messiah — and they had their own ideas about what the messiah would do.
Jesus did not openly go to the festival, because he knew that his opponents were waiting there for him, seeking to seize him. When he went in secret, they sent some people to arrest him — but those who were to arrest him went back empty handed, saying that nobody spoke the way Jesus speaks.
The truth I see here is that no matter what names those who wanted to discredit Jesus threw at him, nothing undid the miraculous feeding of the 5000, nor the healing of the man who was born blind. There was something that was special about Jesus that would be able to survive him being a Samaritan, even if that were true.
Jesus managed to drive the crowds away in chapter 6, but this was short lived. Who can give sight to the blind? Who can make the lame walk again? Who brings the promise of salvation? Just as Peter said earlier, Jesus gives words of life, where can we go? The crowds left and the crowds came back as Jesus continued to do miracles; and then they go away again. Jesus’ opposition also became more and more desperate to take care of this problem as the crowds saw more and more.
I’ve said before that these few chapters in John where the opposition of Jesus solidifies is one of the most challenging parts for me to know what to do with. Jesus seems moody and frustrated. His banter, at least in the English translations I read is no where near his best — in other cases, he sees every verbal trap coming, and `wins’ verbal battles with the best and brightest of the time. In these chapters, when Jesus speaks, his hearers are confused. His behavior confuses people, and his banter comes off as exasperated. Perhaps John is reminding us of Jesus’ humanity by showing us what a bad day looks like. These answers are an expression of strong emotion — Jesus sees what the Pharisees are trying to do, he sees that the end-goal for them is his death, and he reacts. Jesus’ supporters are hyper focused on making him a symbol of their movement to overthrow Rome. They don’t care about big miracles, they want Jesus to fit an agenda, they want to make him King; so Jesus is tired, exasperated, and reacts according to his emotion. While I’m not comfortable calling this a ‘human moment’, this is a part of scripture where we are quite aware of Jesus’ humanity. Us humans get tired, burned out, frustrated, and cranky. Even the fabled patience of Job wore quite thin — and, perhaps part of Christ’s humanity is that even His patience had a limit.
I don’t know what to do with this passage — ancient commentators focused on the ruthlessness of Christ’s enemies, and how their hatred took no holidays; and this isn’t a widely chosen section of scripture for modern sermons; this is one of the parts of scripture that the lectionary passes over, and for those who pick and choose, we rarely choose those things that make us say; “huh?” If we are indeed looking at a Jesus feeling frustrated, burned out, and at the very end of his patience, then we are reminded that Jesus is indeed compassionate. We are not judged by somebody who was never at the end of His rope — but by somebody who understands exactly what a whole string of bad days with interrupted sleep feels like; and considering that Jesus’ enemies started looking for opportunities to kill him just 2 chapters earlier, that sleep was often interrupted. I don’t know what to do with this passage, but my best guess reminds me that when I am tired, cranky and feel like I’ve run myself ragged — Jesus knows how I feel, He’s been where we have all been and He remembers and has compassion on us.