14 About the middle of the festival Jesus went up into the temple and began to teach. 15 The Jews were astonished at it, saying, “How does this man have such learning, when he has never been taught?” 16 Then Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine but his who sent me. 17 Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own. 18 Those who speak on their own seek their own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and there is nothing false in him.
19 “Did not Moses give you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why are you looking for an opportunity to kill me?” 20 The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is trying to kill you?” 21 Jesus answered them, “I performed one work, and all of you are astonished. 22 Moses gave you circumcision (it is, of course, not from Moses, but from the patriarchs), and you circumcise a man on the sabbath. 23 If a man receives circumcision on the sabbath in order that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because I healed a man’s whole body on the sabbath? 24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
25 Now some of the people of Jerusalem were saying, “Is not this the man whom they are trying to kill? 26 And here he is, speaking openly, but they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Messiah?] 27 Yet we know where this man is from; but when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.” 28 Then Jesus cried out as he was teaching in the temple, “You know me, and you know where I am from. I have not come on my own. But the one who sent me is true, and you do not know him. 29 I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.” 30 Then they tried to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come. 31 Yet many in the crowd believed in him and were saying, “When the Messiah comes, will he do more signs than this man has done?”
32 The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering such things about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent temple police to arrest him. 33 Jesus then said, “I will be with you a little while longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. 34 You will search for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.” 35 The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? 36 What does he mean by saying, ‘You will search for me and you will not find me’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?”
John 7:14-36 (NRSV)
In today’s passage, Jesus begins preaching in the Temple in Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot. The beginning of chapter 7 records a dispute between Jesus and his followers about attending the festival, and John 7:10 indicates that Jesus attended “not publicly, but as it were in secret.” All the more reason then that those who hear him are “astonished” with his preaching ability, asking “How does this man have such learning?” In the midst of his teaching, Jesus speaks in a way that apparently reveals his identity to the crowds, inspiring further shock, as some listening to Jesus are apparently aware of a plot in the works to end his life. His continuing preaching inspires expressions of both faith and doubt: “many in the crowd believed in him,” but others reject any idea that he might be the Messiah.
As we move through Lent in 2017, over two thousand years later, Jesus’ words continue to speak powerfully to us. Jesus reveals the core reality of our relationship to him as understood by the author of the Gospel of John when he says, “My teaching is not mine but his who sent me. Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own.”
Theologian Brian Gerrish reminds us that the core assertion of Christianity is a simple one: that we encounter God in the person of Jesus Christ. In the end, while we may disagree about the nature of the incarnation or hold varying theories of the atonement, we are held together by a common relationship with a man of love who did not come on his own but was “sent” to proclaim truth to a world so often beset my darkness.
The Word that “was God” (John 1:1) is still present among us and our very existence is defined by relationship with that Word. We are nourished in this relationship as we hear the Gospel preached. We gather with the family of all those also in this relationship as we come again and again to share a simple sacramental meal of bread and cup around the altar or table.
But as with the crowd in Jerusalem, the choice of how to respond is ours. Grace is offered. Love’s feast is ready. The table has been set. But only we can determine how we will react. Will we be like the “many in the crowd” who responded in faith? If so, Jesus promises us that we will be witnesses to the glory of God.
The choice is simple, but not easy, because as Jesus points out, it demands that we truly “resolve to do the will of God.” This means that we embrace different values – not the values of a world that all too often elevates materialism, greed, and self-absorption, but the values of a different world, the kingdom of God that is possible but remains ever just over the horizon. Here on earth, the kingdom will always be coming, never fully here, because there is a struggle between light and darkness, as the author of John understood so clearly. Love and hate battle with each other. Inclusivity and intolerance compete not only in our society but deep within our own hearts. Justice and injustice struggle in the public sphere, in our business relations, and in our daily lives. This Lent, how will we respond?
God of love,
you sent your only son Jesus Christ into the world to bring a message of justice, peace, and truth. Help us understand the choice that lies before us this Lent, to respond to your grace and love or to remain mired in the darkness, to heed the sound of your voice,
or to remain buried in the silence of sin. As individuals and as a society.
grant us the gift of repentance and the courage to believe
that your kingdom is still coming into this world,
so that we may love and serve you wherever our lives may lead us.
We ask all this in your holy name,
Middle Level, M.Div.
Matthew’s home parish is St. David’s Episcopal Church in Chesterfield. After graduating, Matthew hopes to pursue a CPE residency and a full-time career in hospital or hospice chaplaincy.