Today’s passages: 2 Kings, chapter 23; 2 Chronicles, chapter 35; John, chapter 7
Scripture: John 7:32, 45-52 (NRSV) – The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering such things about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent temple police to arrest him…Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not arrest him?” The police answered, “Never has anyone spoken like this!” Then the Pharisees replied, “Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law – they are accursed.” Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” They replied, “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.”
Observations: I’m intrigued by this passage today. The temple police – who surely would normally have deferred to the religious leaders in theological and biblical matters – refuse to arrest Jesus, because “Never has anyone spoken like this!” In these circumstances, that amounts to the temple police telling the religious leaders that there is no reason to arrest Jesus! They had seen pretenders, trouble makers, and heretics before, and they knew that Jesus didn’t fit into any of those categories. Maybe they thought that the religious leaders had not actually heard Jesus. Maybe they thought if the leaders listened to Jesus, they would understand that Jesus wasn’t like anyone else.
Most people in high positions – the chief priests and Pharisees, in this case – are not accustomed to people refusing to carry out their orders. The temple police had been told to arrest Jesus; they had failed to do it. It wasn’t because they couldn’t find Jesus; it was because they recognized the truth and the power of his teaching. They evidently weren’t thinking about what the response of the leaders would be; they were captured by Jesus’ teaching.
But the religious leaders weren’t giving up so easily; they clung tightly to their position that Jesus was a dangerous pretender who would cause problems for the nation. “Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him?” Well, actually, yes – although it wasn’t public knowledge at that time. Nicodemus had gone to Jesus (back in John chapter 3), and his response to the authorities – defending Jesus, and reminding the council of Jesus’ right to a hearing before being condemned – demonstrates that he was, at the very least, willing to consider that Jesus actually is the Messiah. But he was quickly shouted down as well.
The critical point is that people who were willing to listen to Jesus without a preconceived idea of who he was and what he was teaching were impacted by his message. Those who had already decided that he was wrong, however, would not consider that they were wrong, no matter what Jesus did or said. That was borne out through the rest of Jesus’ ministry, as they ignored miracle after miracle, truth after truth, in order to push ahead with their agenda to get rid of him.
Applications: God is reminding me that even today, when people are willing to actually listen to what Jesus taught, and consider what he did, his message will impact them. The problem is that too many people are just like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day: they have an agenda, and Jesus doesn’t fit into it, so they reject him out of hand. What we are called to do is to live as Jesus lived, and love people as Jesus loved them, to bear witness to the transforming power of a relationship with Jesus. That’s a big task – because everything that we do and say affects the way the message is received. We need to recognize how important it is for our lives to be consistent with what we proclaim. If we talk about mercy, we need to be merciful. If we talk about forgiveness, we need to forgive. If we talk about God’s love for people, we need to love them, too.
Prayer: Father, it is a bit daunting to think of the importance of modeling the truth of the message of love and forgiveness. All of us have experienced the hurt of seeing people who said one thing and did another; I don’t want to be like that! Help me to demonstrate the transforming power of Jesus’ love and forgiveness; help me to share that message through my words, and through my life. Thank you today for the reminder that when Jesus’ message is proclaimed, it impacts those who are willing to listen and receive it. Help me today to share that message in a way that connects with others. Amen.