Thought of the week - 8 May 2022
"The Jews gathered around him, saying, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus answered, "I did tell you, but you do not believe."
Today's reading from St. John's Gospel is part of the increasing conflict between Jesus and the Jewish religious authorities, which is very much a theme of St. John's gospel.
From the very beginning of his Gospel John leaves us in no doubt about the person and nature of Jesus. He is the very Word made flesh, the incarnate Son of God. The point is hammered home: his authorative personality, the signs that he performs, his teaching all make it clear that he and the Father are one.
But the Jewish authorities remain obtuse: , "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." But, says Jesus, I have already told you. "Jesus answered, "I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. " What more can Jesus tell them. They have seen his miracles, or signs; they have heard his teaching; they have questioned the one's whom he has healed. And still they can't make up their minds about Jesus.
They know a lot about God. They are, after all the religious leaders of the Jewish people. They have studied the Scriptures. They have prayed and worshipped. And yet they do not recognize the God they serve in the person of Jesus. Really they don't want to recognize Jesus for who he is. When they ask: "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." they really don't want him to answer in the affirmative.
What is it about Jesus that they don't like? If Jesus really is who he says he is does that challenge their understanding of God, so dearly nurtured over the years? The problem for religious people, then as now, is that they can so easily tame God, fashion him in an image they are comfortable with, to the point where he doesn't make much difference to their lives and choices. They pay him lip service but carry on their lives regardless. But Jesus won't let them do that, won't let us do that. He is God's presence standing face to face with people demanding a response.
The terrible, painful fact running through St. John's Gospel, and indeed through the bible as a whole, is that there are those who choose not to believe. It is particularly sad that the one's who here reject Jesus are the one's who should recognize him and know him best. So much of the interaction between God and his people demonstrates that thinking you know God and have got him where you want him is so often a sign that you have not really known him at all. We cannot create God in our own image, only in Christ's image. For, as St. Paul reminds us, Christ is the image of the unseen God.
Choices and the consequences of those choices are the stuff of which the bible is made. The story of Noah's ark which is set as today's Old Testament reading is one illustration of this. The story begins with those who are about to perish because they have chosen not to follow God's way. But that is not the only, or indeed the main emphasis. The focus quickly moves from destruction to renewal. When the waters subside and the covering of the ark is removed the passengers can get on with the task they were saved for: to renew the earth. The are to restore the earth to its fullness and keep the covenant with their maker, the sign of which is the rainbow set in the sky. They are, in short, saved for a purpose.
Both the story of Noah and the words of Jesus in St. John's gospel make it clear that we are created to choose life, and life in all its fullness as offered to us by Jesus. But there is always the temptation to think that the life that Jesus offers is a life of security. What we might call the "ark mentality": thinking that salvation is settling down in security and warmth, battening down the hatches against the world outside. But the whole point of the ark is when the people and the animals leave its security and go out and re-populate the earth, and begin again.
The ark has always been a symbol or metaphor for the Church. Indeed the word nave, the part of the church in which you are sitting, derives from the Latin word for ship. But if the Church is indeed the ark of salvation, then its purpose is not just the security of the people in it. We are to go out from the ark, out from the Church to renew the face of the earth. So often so much of what we do in the Church is insular centred on the Church, when the whole point of the Church is to transform and renew the world. This is what Jesus came to do. This is why the religious authorities were suspicious of him. They did not want their world transformed or troubled, which is why in the end they made away with him. But of course, without transformation and renewal there can be no salvation. The real work is not done inside the ark but in the world outside.
If we choose the life which Jesus offers the reward will be great, as the reading from Revelation reminds us:
And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore,
"they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat upon them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd;
he will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."