Friday, February 3, 2012

My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.

After these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for He did not want to walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill Him. Now the Jews' Feast of Tabernacles was at hand. His brothers therefore said to Him, "Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world." For even His brothers did not believe in Him. Then Jesus said to them, "My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil. You go up to this feast. I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come." When He had said these things to them, He remained in Galilee. But when His brothers had gone up, then He also went up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret. Then the Jews sought Him at the feast, and said, "Where is He?" And there was much complaining among the people concerning Him. Some said, "He is good"; others said, "No, on the contrary, He deceives the people." However, no one spoke openly of Him for fear of the Jews.

- John 7:1-13

Over the course of the past week, since the Friday past, we have been reading Jesus' discourse on the Bread of Life. It began with the feeding of five thousand men on the mountaintop. The crowds wished to make Him king, but He eluded them and went up the mountaintop again alone as it grew dark, while His disciples rowed across the Sea of Galilee. At night, the wind was fierce and the sea rough to the point at which they feared they were drowning. Jesus was there walking on the water toward them, and they became even more frightened! Jesus said, "It is I; do not be afraid." Arriving at Capernaum, the crowds who'd followed the disciples in boats wondered how He arrived. He said to them that they sought to make Him king not because they saw a sign, but only because they were filled. He told them to labor not for the food which perishes, but for the bread which leads to eternal life. The work of God is faith, He told them. They asked what sign He would show that they may believe in Him, and spoke of Moses giving the people manna; Jesus replied, "My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." They said, "Give us this bread always." He told them, "I am the bread of life." This led to controversy as He is in His home country -- how can He say He came down from heaven? He told them, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me." He said, "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world." As they quarreled the more in the synagogue at Capernaum, they asked, "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" He told them, "For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him." Finally, in yesterday's reading, John's Gospel tells us that many disciples left Him over these sayings. Jesus told them, "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe." He said, "Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father." Then Jesus said to the twelve, "Do you also want to go away?" But Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." So the Twelve remained. But Jesus said to them, ""Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?" He was speaking of Judas who would betray Him.

After these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for He did not want to walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill Him. John's Gospel moves us through Jesus' ministry, and all the things that progress as He goes forward. Many disciples have fallen away because of His Eucharistic teachings about His flesh and blood, in His discourse on the Bread of Life. He has also called Himself Son, and God His Father, saying that He came down from heaven. "The Jews" we remind once again, mean the religious leadership, not the Jewish people.

Now the Jews' Feast of Tabernacles was at hand. The Feast of Tabernacles or Succoth in Hebrew is a festival which commemorates the wanderings of ancient Israel in the wilderness. My study bible notes it is an eight-day festival in the autumn, one of the three most important festivals for the ancient Jews, along with Passover and Pentecost. Wandering in the wilderness of Sinai, it was a time when the people lived in tents (or "tabernacles"). In the Prologue at the beginning of John's Gospel, John tells us in verse 14: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." The Greek verb translated "dwelt" here is actually from the word for tent or tabernacle: He "tented" or "tabernacled" among us -- just as the Holy of Holies, God's presence, was among the ancient Israelites. In John's Gospel, each Festival becomes tied to Jesus' ministry.

His brothers therefore said to Him, "Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world." For even His brothers did not believe in Him. Jesus "brothers" here has been understood by the Church Fathers as members of His extended family. Even today in the Middle and Near East, "brothers" is also used to mean "cousins." My study bible notes that "the Eastern Fathers understood 'brothers' as stepbrothers, sons of Joseph by a previous wife; while the Western Fathers understood them to be first or second cousins." However we may understand this reference to brothers, one thing is quite clear: that as many of Jesus' disciples have fallen away because of His "hard saying" about eating His flesh and drinking His blood (in His teaching on the Bread of Life), so also He has family that does not believe. They challenge Him to "show Himself" to the world, even as the leadership in Jerusalem seek His destruction.

Then Jesus said to them, "My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil. You go up to this feast. I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come." When He had said these things to them, He remained in Galilee. Jesus' words are related to the falling away of disciples, and the hostility of the leadership. His word is like a sword -- a sword of truth. He testifies that "worldly" works are evil. He has spoken to the leadership in previous readings about those who seek the "honor" or "praise" of men, that comes from one another, above the honor that comes from God. We remember that Jesus has just finished teaching that the "work" of God is faith, belief in the word of Him whom God has sent.

But when His brothers had gone up, then He also went up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret. Then the Jews sought Him at the feast, and said, "Where is He?" And there was much complaining among the people concerning Him. Some said, "He is good"; others said, "No, on the contrary, He deceives the people." However, no one spoke openly of Him for fear of the Jews. "Not openly" here means that Jesus did not go publicly to the feast. As we can see, the Gospel teaches us that Jesus is by now in the center of controversy. The leadership seeks Him in order to persecute Him, and among the people there is tremendous disagreement about Him. But all are also afraid to speak openly because of the religious leadership.

I think quite often we are under the mistaken understanding that Jesus' ministry is always one of great ease, companionship, acceptance. Perhaps we expect that as Christians who seek to lead lives of love we will always find understanding and harmony. But this once again seems to be an invention of "the world" or popular imagination. The reality here is quite different. Jesus' words have acted to separate those with faith, who can follow them, and those for whom they are too difficult, too hard. His teachings have offended the leadership, who feel they are guardians of the Law, and He has infringed not only on their territory, but made Himself an equal to and Son of God. In yesterday's reading, Jesus indicated that He knows one even among the Twelve He chose will betray Him. In today's reading, we are told that even His brethren taunt Him and don't believe in Him. It all comes down to how we hear His word. In yesterday's reading, Jesus said, "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life." Peter's confession of faith, made on behalf of all the apostles, asked, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." Let us consider Jesus' word, and how it may come to us. Jesus Himself has taught, "It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me." Father, Son, and Spirit -- let us consider relationship, and how we abide in Him and He in us. The living truth is not meant as something uttered 2,000 years ago, but rather that which lives in us, is present in us and to us, and Peter's words live for us now, too. How do you find that word? Through what does it shine for you and teach you today? How is it present for you now? It may force choices as you go forward in that faith, and believe more deeply and powerfully, in relationship that grows more deeply and abides in you. You may find those who seek praise or honor from one another cannot understand the faith that is in you.