This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
STORM AND FLOOD BATTER UK
J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
21 Later, Jesus spoke to them again and said, “I am going away and you will try to find me, but you will die in your sins. You cannot come where I am going.”
22 This made the Jews say, “Is he going to kill himself, then? Is that why he says, “You cannot come where I am going’?”
23-24 “The difference between us,” Jesus said to them, “is that you come from below and I am from above. You belong to this world but I do not. That is why I told you will die in your sins. For unless you believe that I am who I am, you will die in your sins.”
25-26 Then they said, “Who are you?” “I am what I have told you I was from the beginning,” replied Jesus. “There is much in you that I could speak about and condemn. But he who sent me is true and I am only speaking to this world what I myself have heard from him.”
27-30 They did not realise that he was talking to them about the Father. So Jesus resumed, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realise that I am who I say I am, and that I do nothing on my own authority but speak simply as my Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me now: the Father has never left me alone for I always do what pleases him.” And even while he said these words, many people believed in him.
Jesus speaks of personal freedom
31-32 So Jesus said to the Jews who believed in him, “If you are faithful to what I have said, you are truly my disciples. And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free!”
John’s Jesus speaks in a riddling way that doesn’t allow for an easy charge of blasphemy, but he comes pretty near it with his “if you don’t believe that I am who I am”, as this uses the explanation of the sacred name of God revealed to Moses. In effect John’s strongly ironical script for Jesus has him say things that are opaque to his opponents (although they would have to have been very stupid not to understand) and clear to the Christian reader of the gospel. My own judgement is that this decreases the realism of his narrative and perhaps alienates many a reader from his Jesus, who comes over as a bit pompous and even judgemental, although he constantly denies making judgements.
John is trying to find words for a character who is at all times united with the goodness that is God. Of course, all gospel writers faced the same challenge but those who made greater use of the oral tradition of Jesus’ teaching- Mark, Matthew and Luke- are able to create a more convincing Jesus. (Some readers may take offence at my insistence that the Gospel writers “created” their version of Jesus. I don’t mean to be overly sceptical about their reflection of the real historical Jesus, but clearly their use of sources and their invention of precise details such as locations and conversations is central to their construction of “the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God.”)
The kind of speech John gives to Jesus expresses all the time the paradox that this human being is simultaneously the expression of God’s truth. Jesus says he comes from “above” while his opponents come from ” below”; he is is open to the goodness of God while they are closed. He has been “sent” by God; he acts and speaks what he has learned through his openness to God. Although “sent” normally indicates that the sender is at a distance, Jesus claims that because he does what pleases the father, the sending father is present in him: the eternal goodness is present in time, in those who are a channel for it. Jesus prophesies that his words will become clear when he is “lifted up” an ironical phrase, which means both his hanging from the cross and his resurrection to the father. Then all concealment will be at an end; the reality of the world’s evil and the father’s love will be simultaneously made evident.
Disciples (Hebrew “talmadim) are promised that if they are faithful to Jesus’ teaching they will know the truth. John’s word for truth is aletheia literally “unconcealment”. If they hold to Jesus’ words the veils of self-deception and the deception of others will be stripped away, and they too will be able to live in the goodness of God.
In John’s gospel those who encounter Jesus stand before the eternal judgement. In him they choose truth or lies, light or darkness, life or death. “This is the judgement; that the light came into the world and men preferred the darkness.” Some think that the idea we choose our own judgement, rather than judgement being made upon is, is merciful. I think it’s terrifying.