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
In yesterday's reading, Jesus continued in His discourse with the authorities over His equality with the Father (see also the readings from Wednesday and Thursday): "I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me. If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true. There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true. You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved. He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light. But I have a greater witness than John's; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish -- the very works that I do -- bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me. And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. I do not receive honor from men. But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God? Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you -- Moses, in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?"
After these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for He did not want to walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill Him. The lectionary skips over chapter 6 of John's Gospel, in which Jesus teaches that He is the bread of life, and made the fourth sign of John's Gospel, the feeding of five thousand in the wilderness. He has also lost disciples for teaching, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 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. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever." By now, as the text tells us, the religious authorities want to do away with Him. We are now in the last year of Jesus' earthly life. The next few chapters (7:1-10:21) cover Jesus' visit to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. The entire section covers eight days of this festival. He teaches in the temple and attracts enormous attention. Some will think He's mad, others will believe Him to be the Messiah, and still others (the Sadducees and Pharisees) consider Him to be a threat. Those who sought to kill Him are the religious leaders, and not the people in general (in John's Gospel, the term "the Jews" is generally used as a political term referring to the authorities, reflecting the period in which the Gospel was written).
Now the Jews' Feast of Tabernacles was at hand. The Feast of Tabernacles, called Succoth or Sukkot in Hebrew, is an eight-day autumn festival which commemorates the time when Israel wandered in the wilderness of Sinai and the people lived in tents (or tabernacles). It's also called the Feast of Booths, with the same meaning. With Passover and Pentecost, this was one of the three most important festivals of the ancient Jews. There were numerous sacrifices and celebrations as a part of the festival (Leviticus 23:33-43). In the later times of this feast, the final day included drawing water from the pool of Siloam to be mixed with wine and poured at the foot of the altar, as both purification and remembrance of the water flowing from the rock that Moses struck (Exodus 17:1-7). It further included the lighting of great lamps in the outer court of the temple. All of these elements will be reflected in Jesus' teachings as we go through the Festival in our reading.
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. We read the tension between the "worldly" and the reality Christ brings into the world. John's Gospel presents very clearly the lack of faith even in Jesus' extended family (brothers here refers either to step-brothers -- that is, children of Joseph by an earlier marriage; or to cousins or other relatives, as is still common in the Middle East usage). It was common for whole extended families to go on pilgrimage to festivals at Jerusalem, and John's Gospel teaches us about the years of Jesus' ministry, recording His attendance at various festivals. But the conflict in ways of thinking is clear: Jesus has a specific ministry to carry out, but expectations of Him contradict the direction given by the Father. In a modern context, we understand the appeal of fame for its own sake. Our time of instant fame (or notoriety, as the case may be) through use of popular media, especially possible through the internet, has itself produced many cautionary tales about this particular "worldly" perspective.
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. My study bible says that not openly means not with a grand, public appearance, as on Palm Sunday (12:12-16).
What is it about fame itself that is so elusive, so dangerous really, so likely to be something attractive and yet destructive? Jesus' "brothers" taunt Him. They say that anyone who wants to be publicly known like Jesus has to go show Himself. But, on the other hand, so much about spiritual life is hidden. The very word "mystery" teaches us about the secret things of the soul and spirit. Jesus Himself has taught us about prayer and the most intimate relationship we have, that with God the Father, in His memorable words regarding the practices of faith in Matthew chapter 6. He says that we should avoid being like the hypocrites who do everything to be seen. If we do a charitable deed, let it be in secret, so that "your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly." Perhaps His most striking words are about prayer. He teaches His disciples, "But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly." We note the double mention of secret (or "hidden"), the Father who is in the secret place, and who sees in secret as well. (It should be noted that this is as "private" a statement as possible, as the "you" both times in that last sentence is singular.) So much of the spiritual life is contrasted with that which is "worldly" by definition, that which is publicly known or seen -- and Jesus warns against fame for its own sake here, lest we become like the hypocrites ("hypocrite" being an ancient word for actor, meaning "under a mask"). Jesus teaches us to understand that reality is multi-layered. It is easy to create appearances in order to convey falsehood and to deceive. We are to be deeper than that in our understanding of our own reality and of our own identities. Most importantly, Jesus has a mission, and the instructions come from the Father. From this He will not sway; it is not yet his "hour," his "time," meaning that it is not the time for the open confrontation that will come at Passion Week, resulting in His crucifixion, death, and Resurrection. This will be the time He "openly" comes to Jerusalem. The crucially important lesson that we take from all of this is the essential communion we maintain within our hearts that directs the rest of our lives. Jesus had a mission, but a mission means that it must be done a certain way -- using discernment, seeking the will of God in all things, and not being fooled or lulled into thinking a certain way because all we depend upon is appearances and worldly ways of thinking. This is the crucial thread for us. It's what we, too, must hang onto in the questions of our own lives, because ultimately everything depends upon Who it is to whom we assign power. Is it the world we must please, or God we must please? A "worldly" perspective is one in which God is absent from our considerations. The true perspective we seek is one in which our faith guides us through the world and in right relationship to others. All else flows from this. We can see the varied responses to Jesus from the people at the festival. We're not to rely on worldly results and responses for our "missions" in life. It all begins with love, and with the love of God in our hearts. Thereby we follow His example. We can understand the torments and difficulties He went through in His life first, so that we may follow Him.