“My father loves me for this reason: because I lay aside my life so that I may lift it up again. No one takes it way from me but I lay it aside of my own free will. I have power to lay it aside and power to lift it up. I received this instruction from my father.”
There was again a division among the Judeans over these words. Many of them said, “He has a demon and is mad. Why are you listening to him?”
Others said, “These are not the words of a demon-possessed man. Surely a demon can’t open the eyes of the blind!”
Then came the Festival of Renewal of The Temple in Jerusalem. It was winter and Jesus walked in the Temple in Solomon’s Portico. Then the Judeans came around him and said to him, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us openly!”
Jesus answered them, “I did tell you and you did not trust me. The deeds I do in my father’s name give testimony about me, but you do not trust, because you are not from my sheep. My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me. I give them the life of the Age to Come and they will never be lost, nor will anyone snatch them from my hand. My father who has given them to me is greater than all and no one is able to snatch them from my father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
The Judeans again picked up stones to stone him.
Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good deeds from the Father; for which of these deeds are you stoning me?”
The Judeans answered him, ” It’s not for a good deed that we’re stoning you, but because human as you are, you make yourself a god.”
Jesus answered them, ” Isn’t it written in your Law, ‘I said, you are Gods?’ If he called the people to whom God’s word came, ‘Gods’ – and the Scripture must be binding – do you tell the one whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are committing blasphemy,’ because I said, ‘I am God’s son?’ If I am not doing my father’s deeds, do not trust me. But if I am doing them, even though you do not trust me, trust the deeds so that you may know and recognise that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
Again they tried to arrest him but he escaped from their grasp.
The background hints the author provides help the reader to grasp his meaning. Just as the Festival of Shelters links Jesus with the harvest joy of the people, so the Festival of the Renewal of the Temple (after its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes) links Jesus with the place of God’s holy presence. The nub of the controversy with the Judeans is precisely the issue of God’s presence or the devil’s in Jesus.
Jesus states that he has power to lay aside his life. This phrase has already been used to insist that the initiative always remains with Jesus even when his enemies move against him; he is never in their power, because unlike the rest of humanity he has power over his own death. His physical dying is made quite clear in this Gospel but it is imagined as if it were the laying aside of a cherished possession, which can always be picked up again. Is there here an indication that Jesus was active in his own resurrection? If so, we would be faced with a contradiction of St Paul and if the other Gospels which emphasise that Jesus was raised by God. I think we must not take the phraseology too seriously but perhaps it encourages an image of Jesus as more than human, freed from certain human limitations. The capacity of Jesus to give away his life and resume it is attributed however to God’s “instruction”- his creative command to his son, Jesus.
The question as to whether Jesus is the Messiah is raised again when Jesus is walking in Solomon’s portico. Solomon as both a messianic figure and the embodiment of divine wisdom is a suitable counterpart for Jesus, who rejects the idea that a messianic identity can be simply declared. It is rather a matter of an enabling relationship with God which makes good deeds possible. These, rather than verbal announcements, are Jesus’ claim to a special identity which is indeed messianic but also much more: an identity shared with God. His identity as good shepherd is also resumed here, emphasising his protection of his sheep, who may be in danger. The fact of opposition to the followers of Jesus is never far away in this gospel. Jesus’ grasp of the lives of his sheep is expressed plainly and with great pathos. Those who put their trust in Jesus will find he is trustworthy because his hands are also the hands of the Father. There is evident here as in other places in this gospel, a pastoral concern for a community of faith under pressure.
The Judeans are depicted as shocked by Jesus’ provocative language. Certainly “I and the Father are one” is beyond the tolerance of orthodox Judaism. Although this gospel is often thought less committed than the others to the historic words of Jesus, this kind of claim is much more likely to have aroused orthodox anger than the claim to be the Messiah which is recorded as blasphemy in the other gospels.
The emphasis on Jesus’ deeds or “works” as evidence of his being God’s son is interesting in that this gospel tells many fewer stories of Jesus’ deeds than the other three. It’s reasonable to ask if we were being told of these miracles as happening now, whether we would see them as evidence of divine power or of human deception – turning water into wine, a couple of dubious healings, the claimed resuscitation of a dead man. I have to confess that I would be very sceptical, especially if the man talked about himself all the time.
Does that make a difference to my view of John’s gospel? Yes, of course. It seems to me that John got one thing right about Jesus, that in his human self he communicated the rescuing presence of God; but concentrated so exclusively on this truth that he lost many of the actions and teachings of Jesus which make that truth compelling.