Then Jesus said to them again, "I am going away and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin. Where I go you cannot come." So the Jews said, "Will He kill Himself, because He says, 'Where I go you cannot come'?" And He said to them, "You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." Then they said to Him, "Who are You?" And Jesus said to them, "Just what I have been saying to you from the beginning. I have many things to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him." They did not understand that He spoke to them of the Father. Then Jesus said to them, When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him." As He spoke these words, many believed in Him.
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
- John 8:21-32
In our current readings, Jesus is in Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles. It is now the eighth day, the last day of the feast, when water is first taken from the pool of Siloam for a particular ceremony commemorating the water from a rock struck by Moses, and great lamps are lit in the outer court of the temple imaging the pillar of fire by which God led the Israelites by night. In Friday's reading, Jesus taught, "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." On Saturday, we read that Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." The Pharisees therefore said to Him, "You bear witness of Yourself; Your witness is not true." Jesus answered and said to them, "Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from and where I am going. You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. And yet if I do judge, my judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me. It is also written in your law that the testimony of two men is true. I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me." Then they said to Him, "Where is Your Father?" Jesus answered, "You know neither Me nor My Father. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also." These words Jesus spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; and no one laid hands on Him, for His hour had not yet come.
Then Jesus said to them again, "I am going away and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin. Where I go you cannot come." So the Jews said, "Will He kill Himself, because He says, 'Where I go you cannot come'?" And He said to them, "You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." Jesus speaks here of His going away -- His death, Resurrection, and Ascension into heaven. He is speaking to the religious leadership, among whom there are some believers, but nearly none dare speak openly for fear of those who want to kill Him.
Then they said to Him, "Who are You?" And Jesus said to them, "Just what I have been saying to you from the beginning. I have many things to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him." They did not understand that He spoke to them of the Father. Then Jesus said to them, When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him." As He spoke these words, many believed in Him. There is that important question again, the center of debate, "Who are You?" Jesus says that they will lift up the Son of Man. This has the double meaning of both being nailed to the Cross and also of being exalted by His Father upon completion of His work. Earlier, when speaking privately to Nicodemus, the only member of the Council to have spoken in Christ's defense (see Friday's reading), Jesus also used the same phrase, when He said, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed." My study bible says that Jesus expects all who follow Him to be disciples, that is, literally "learners." To abide in Christ's word is the responsibility of all believers, not just for the clergy or an "elite class of zealots," says my study bible.
"And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." The truth here refers to two things. One is the virtue of truth, says my study bible. The other is Christ Himself (see 14:6). To be free refers to the freedom from "darkness, confusion, and lies, as well as the freedom from the bondage of sin and death."
Jesus teaches: "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.
And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." There are things here that we must think about that extend beyond the literal understanding of these words (as it happens so often in John's Gospel). As my study bible emphasizes, Jesus will also teach about Himself:
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (14:6). What we understand from this statement, and in the subsequent theology developed in the early centuries of the Church, is that truth is a Person. This may seem like a crazy statement in terms of common parlance, and a common way of understanding ideas. But there is nothing common about Christ, and about the extraordinary "other-worldly" reality that He brings into the world. Jesus comes from a place of cosmic identity, something beyond all our understanding of reality. We think of ideas as lacking real substance -- a sort of ethereal reality that has its impact on our thinking, on intellectual discourse, on the ways in which we choose to analyze our lives. That in itself has an impact we can't even begin to calculate properly. But that in itself is a somewhat watered down, inconsequential understanding of what this kind of truth really is. Jesus isn't just a heavenly being, a man from "outer space," or the "sky" (heaven). He is Logos Incarnate. He's the Second Person of the Trinity. This is a reality born into the world that is of an absolute level of reality, of dimensions within which our world exists but that we are "commonly" unaware of in our worldly state of consciousness. When we speak about a Person who is Truth, when Jesus states, "I am the way, the truth, and the life," this is something much more than can be understood by thinking of "truth" as an idea, or even one we may easily disagree about, or say all kinds of things about. This is Truth as a reality that exists beyond us, within us, within which we and all the things we know exist. This is Truth that shapes what is, even giving us life. And it is Truth that is mostly beyond our comprehension, our ability to grasp in its completeness and fullness. Moreover, it is a Person. We have to start to grasp toward what it is that constitutes personhood, exactly. What do we have in common with this Person who is Truth, as we are also persons? How can Truth be a Person? Jesus teaches, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed." This is linked to the understanding of Truth as a Person. We must abide in His word, but He is also the Word, Logos. To follow His teachings is one thing; to abide by His teachings is something we can understand. But He has already just taught, "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him" (see last Monday's reading). To abide in His word, in the Word, then, is something akin to abiding in Him -- as He abides in us. This is what it is to relate to a Person, beyond an "idea" or intellectual concept. To truly abide in His word, to abide in Him as He abides in us, is to know the Truth as we come to know a person. That is, with something more than merely an intellectual assent, or with debate, or with something that is not personal. To know this truth is to come to know Someone as a lifelong -- even eternally long -- relationship unfolds and grows. It is also a relationship of love, as He abides in us and we in Him. In John's 15th chapter, Jesus says, "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me" (15:4). This is a depth of abiding within one another, of relationship, of love and sharing, that is all about the personal. It is all about extending what it is we share in image and likeness of God; it is about shaping, affirming, growing, and transformation of the fullness of what it means that we are persons. This is not merely intellectual choice alone. It is a truth that affects all of who we are, that shapes our experiences and understanding, and will change even the ways in which we make decisions and grow in our own relationship to the world and our environment and the persons around us. It will shape everything we look at and make choices about. It will shape our joy and our serenity. It will give us the fullness of the reality of love we don't know. These are all components of what it means to truly be a person created in the image and likeness of God. We cannot really understand truth in the fullness of this reality on offer to us unless we understand Truth as a Person, or rather the Person who is Truth -- who is the gift to the world, for the life of the world. When we begin to grasp this reality, we begin to understand not only the fullness of life that we don't fully know beyond ourselves and our world, but even the fullness of what it means to be persons beyond what we already know and understand and experience in the world, from a "worldly" perspective. We don't even really know what the fullness of our own identity is, our own "self." It all comes from relationship, and love, and touches us in places we don't know in ourselves, depths we don't know are there. This is the truth we need that makes us truly free. We need relationship to find that, this relationship of abiding in His word, in Him, and He in us as well.