Daily Readings in John – Day Twenty-Nine
November 7, 2017
John 8:39-59 (NRSV)
39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did, 40 but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are indeed doing what your father does.” They said to him, “We are not illegitimate children; we have one father, God himself.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word. 44 You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God.”
48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon; but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is one who seeks it and he is the judge. 51 Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, ‘Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets also died. Who do you claim to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, ‘He is our God,’ 55 though you do not know him. But I know him; if I would say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.” 57 Then the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
A reminder of the context we’re in – most of John chapters 6-8 is a collection of conflict discourses between Jesus and the cultural and religious leaders of Jerusalem. John calls Jesus’ opponents “the Jews”, and Jesus conflict with them reaches its climax here, just before Jesus is driven out of the temple.
This passage, particularly verse 44, has an especially virulent anti-Semitic history of interpretation, which thankfully, in the 20th century, the church finally stopped teaching. It’s good that our reading of the Bible can change over time.
At this point, what are some helpful things we can hear from this passage. Some ways it speaks to me:
-My status doesn’t mean much to God. Neither my religion nor my race nor my nationality nor my job have much weight in the kind of person I am today and that I will become tomorrow. How I love and how I listen, though, that will matter a lot.
-Lies come from evil, truth from God, so truth doesn’t need to be threatening. People that are lying, though, however positive they claim their motives or aims are, have lost their way. The ends to not justify the means to Jesus.
-Things really take a turn for the worse here when Jesus’ opponents call him a Samaritan (something like a “misguided bastard” to them) and say he has a demon. Attacking someone you don’t understand looks all kinds of ugly.
-Jesus is quite insistent that he is the perfect representation of God and that he has been so forever – “before Abraham was, I am.” This reminds me of an overarching theme of John, that anything I ever hear or learn about God, I should ask myself, “Does this sound like Jesus? Does this look like Jesus?”