After this Jesus traveled throughout Galilee. He didn’t want to travel in Judea, because the Jewish authorities wanted to kill him. [John 7:1 Common English Bible]
Every so often, it is good to hear Scripture read from a translation of the Bible that one is not normally accustomed to. It is almost like learning a new language. When one hears familiar passages repeatedly from the same version of the Bible, the tendency is to gloss over phrases and ideas that perhaps one should pay closer attention to.
I will probably always use the New Revised Standard Version as my default translation. But there are times when another version explains things better and is just plain easier to understand. When I struggle with certain readings, I will turn to another version in hopes of finding more clarity. Such is the case with today’s reading from the Gospel according to John.
Throughout the Gospel, John makes reference to the “Jews” without distinction. I find that troubling. Jesus was himself a Jew, as were most, if not all, of his followers. So who were these “Jews” who opposed Jesus and were the source of constant conflict? Here is where the Common English Bible is helpful in that it refers to them as the Jewish authorities.
These authorities can be categorized into three groups, Pharisees, scribes, and the Sadducees. Without getting too deep into detail here, they were mainly responsible for interpreting and upholding religious law.
In Jesus’ time, Israel was under the domination of Rome. It was under the Roman authority that governors were appointed, and the Temple was allowed to operate, so long as it obeyed Roman law and did the Emperor’s bidding.
Jesus didn’t always play by the rules of the Temple authorities, or the Roman authorities for that matter. He healed on the Sabbath. He kept company with people who were considered the outcast of society. He taught as one with authority, despite having no evidence of ever attending any Rabbinical school. He was developing a following.
The religious leaders wanted to protect their system. They wanted to maintain the status quo. They didn’t want to stir up trouble with Rome, so they became defensive. They saw Jesus as someone who would undermine their authority as leaders of the temple and the people of Jerusalem.
The religious leaders seemed intent on protecting what went on inside the temple while ignoring the cries for help and compassion that were taking place on the outside.
Today, the church in general tends to be influenced by society’s judgmental tendencies. Our politicians in particular are constantly scapegoating people who, because of their lack of means, place an undue burden on the rest of society. The current debate being played out in congress on the pandemic relief bill is one vivid example.
As we move from one public debate to another, today’s “sinners” includes the poor, the marginalized, the undocumented immigrants; but apparently does not include respectable people who conduct business in predatory ways, or pay a less than adequate living wage to their employees.
In yesterday’s meditation I took a swipe at the church for its sometimes ambivalent response toward the problems that plague our society today. While some may have viewed that as harsh criticism, it is no secret that, in many cases, the desire to be the voice of, and the advocate for justice and peace, yields to the power and control of those who hold the purse strings, who simply want to maintain the status quo and uphold the institution. We avoid controversy or controversial topics for fear of losing the wealthy givers.
“The world…hates me, though, because I testify that its works are evil,” Jesus said. [John 7:7]
We can’t live our lives without submitting to authority. But we do have a choice about what authority demands priority in our lives. As we move onward in our season of Lent, it is worthwhile to ask ourselves questions that help us live out the gospel:
How do we as Christians respond to the cries for racial justice?
How do we as Christians provide for the victims of hunger, homelessness, and poverty?
How do we as Christians do our part to stem the rise of incidents of COVID-19?
It is the purpose of the church to proclaim the words of Jesus over and over again to its people. The hearers can choose to believe or not believe these words. The hearers can choose to follow Jesus or not. But it should not stop the church from proclaiming the message, no matter the cost.
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It’s Saturday, and again, a reminder that there will be no post tomorrow, the Third Sunday in Lent. Blessings!