Gospel John 8:21-30
Jesus said to the Pharisees: “I am going away and you will look for me, but you will die in your sin. Where I am going you cannot come.” So the Jews said, “He is not going to kill himself, is he, because he said, ‘Where I am going you cannot come’?” He said to them, “You belong to what is below, I belong to what is above. You belong to this world, but I do not belong to this world. That is why I told you that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.” So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “What I told you from the beginning. I have much to say about you in condemnation. But the one who sent me is true, and what I heard from him I tell the world.” They did not realize that he was speaking to them of the Father. So Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me. The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.” Because he spoke this way, many came to believe in him.
When I read this scripture passage, I can’t help but think that Jesus is “toying” with the Jewish leaders. He knows who he is and where he comes from, but he doesn’t come right out and say it. Instead, he gives massive hints. For instance, twice in this reading, Jesus says that I AM. These words were sacred in Jesus’ time and could only mean one thing, God, for this is the name that God gave to Moses when Moses asks for God’s name (“Tell them I AM has sent me to you”, Exodus 3:14b). Another hint is when Jesus says “When you lift up the Son of Man…” This statement is a direct reference to today’s Old Testament reading from Numbers (Numbers 21:4-9) when Moses mounts a bronze serpent on a pole so that the people bitten by serpents can be saved. Jesus is looking ahead to when he, true God and true man, will be crucified, lifted up on the cross, and through this action, complete his saving mission on earth. The thing is, John tells us that “[b]ecause he spoke this way, many came to believe in him.” Why won’t the leaders believe? Perhaps they are just too threatened by his words and actions…and followers. Maybe they are too set in their ways and beliefs. Perhaps they cannot accept a new or different way of seeing their relationship with God. This passage reminds me of the story of Jesus’ healing of the man born blind, which was the gospel two weekends ago. John compares the physical and spiritual sight of the man born blind…but healed…with the spiritual blindness of the Jewish leaders. In a very ironic line, the healed man says to the leaders: “Do you want to become his disciples, too?” (John 9:27b) This is a question for all of us, especially as we come to the final two weeks before Easter: Do we want to become Jesus’ disciples? And the follow up questions are there, too: Do we understand where and from whom he comes? Do we accept his words and actions as our Savior?
Here’s a link to the hymn, Lift High the Cross.