History Lesson

Gospel: JN 8:31-42

Jesus said to those Jews who believed in him,
“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples,
and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham
and have never been enslaved to anyone.
How can you say, ‘You will become free’?”
Jesus answered them, “Amen, amen, I say to you,
everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.
A slave does not remain in a household forever,
but a son always remains.
So if the Son frees you, then you will truly be free.
I know that you are descendants of Abraham.
But you are trying to kill me,
because my word has no room among you.
I tell you what I have seen in the Father’s presence;
then do what you have heard from the Father.”

They answered and said to him, “Our father is Abraham.”
Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children,
you would be doing the works of Abraham.
But now you are trying to kill me,
a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God;
Abraham did not do this.
You are doing the works of your father!”
So they said to him, “We were not born of fornication.
We have one Father, God.”
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me,
for I came from God and am here;
I did not come on my own, but he sent me.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ audience is a bit… confused. We have one of the most quotable teachings in all of the Gospels (paraphrased by yours truly; I’m sure Jesus would have been more loving…):

Jesus:                “You will know the Truth, and the Truth with set you free.”

The crowd:         “Uh…we’ve never been slaves…” (Psst… Pharaoh? Egypt? Ring any bells?)

Jesus, giving them the benefit of the doubt:

                           “You are slaves to sin. You are trying to kill me. Abraham would not have done that.”

The crowd:          “Our father is Abraham.”

Jesus:                  “Yes, I heard you the first time. Abraham would not be trying to kill me. We serve the same God.”

The crowd:           “We have one Father, God.”

Jesus:                  “Do you even hear yourself?! If you were truly from God you were love me, because I AM TOO!”

Today’s Gospel, in a surprisingly humorous and sometimes sarcastic way (See footnotes HERE), illustrates the need for formation and openness to messengers from God. Last week, I wrote about how our perspective and disposition toward Jesus can dramatically impact how we receive His message, and today is no different.

In this example, I can imagine the Jews thinking that they’ve got this whole “faith in God” thing figured out, only to have Jesus throw them a curveball by saying that he came from God. No, no, God is far away, the Holy of Holies, untouchable in their minds. Jesus’ message is scandalous, but they can’t really refute it. So… they parrot some teachings that they think are good things to say and probably have been praised for asserting at the temple, but clearly don’t know what exactly they mean.

“Our father is Abraham.” Great sentiment and it’s true to a point, but when Jesus challenges their message, they haven’t truly understood what it means to be a son or daughter of Abraham. In God’s upside-down hierarchy, servants and lovers are first, and I’d like to think that claimers of a righteous lineage who do not “walk the walk”, like the Jews in today’s Gospel, are somewhere near the bottom.

But re-read that first sentence in the Gospel. These are the Jews that believed in Jesus. He is not simply putting them in their place, he is also instructing them. It’s some tough-love teaching, but it’s still love and it’s still teaching.

Formation can be hard. Formation, whether through Scripture, prayer, insight, mentorship, community, spiritual direction, etc., can and should challenge our assumptions about God, especially if a complacent faith has led toward exclusion or violence (literal or figurative) toward others as we see from the crowd in today’s Gospel. Our disposition toward the Lord needs to be open to hearing His Word from nearly any medium, not just from those people or sources that we expect.

Jesus was so far outside of the realm of the expectations of his contemporary Israelites that he showed their true colors: the proud lashed out and denounced him as a blasphemer, while the meek and humble hopefully and ecstatically proclaimed Christ’s love and healing message. Our faith in God must have a similar flexibility. We must be willing to examine and even relinquish our expectations of how God will work in our lives.

God always has something better than we could imagine. Do we really have the faith to believe that?

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