22 It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication. 23 He was in the Temple, walking through the section known as Solomon’s Colonnade. 24 The people surrounded him and asked, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
25 Jesus replied, “I have already told you, and you don’t trust me. The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name. 26 But you don’t trust me because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, 29 for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”
31 Once again the people picked up stones to kill him. 32 Jesus said, “At my Father’s direction I have done many good works. For which one are you going to stone me?”
33 They replied, “We’re stoning you not for any good work, but for blasphemy! You, a mere man, claim to be God.”
34 Jesus replied, “It is written in your own Scriptures that God said to certain leaders of the people, ‘I say, you are gods!’ 35 And you know that the Scriptures cannot be altered. So if those people who received God’s message were called ‘gods,’ 36 why do you call it blasphemy when I say, ‘I am the Son of God’? After all, the Father set me apart and sent me into the world. 37 Don’t trust me unless I carry out my Father’s work. 38 But if I do his work, trust the evidence of the miraculous works I have done, even if you don’t trust me. Then you will know and understand that the Father is in me, and I am in the Father.”
39 Once again they tried to arrest him, but he got away and left them. 40 He went beyond the Jordan River near the place where John was first baptizing and stayed there awhile. 41 And many followed him. “John didn’t perform miraculous signs,” they remarked to one another, “but everything he said about this man has come true.” 42 And many who were there believed in Jesus.
The people finally corner Jesus and try to force a direct answer from him. Why does he refuse? You will often hear something like: Here Jesus reveals enough to make faith possible, yet hides enough to make faith necessary. But it runs much deeper than that. Jesus refuses to allow the people to define him, the Father, or even the meaning of ‘their’ Scripture, because what we name as “faith” or “belief” Jesus rejects as just so much more failure to trust. We want belief we can possess and Jesus won’t give us that. Karl Barth wrote this regarding this passage:
“In John, believing is equally both coming from the known Father to the unknown Son and also coming from the known Son to the unknown Father. There can hardly be anything contrary to the sense of John if in this context we substitute for Father and Son the concepts of form and content in their distinction and unity. Invariably, then, faith is acknowledgment of our limit and acknowledgement of the mystery of God’s Word, acknowledgement of the fact that our hearing is bound to God Himself, who now leads us through form to content and now from content back to form, and either way to Himself, not giving Himself in either case into our hands but keeping us in His hands.” Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I/1: The Doctrine of the Word of God, p. 176.
What does Barth mean here? What’s the point of “form” and “content?” It is an attempt to get us to see that we don’t get to come to the text with privileged notions about what “Father” or “Messiah” or “Scripture” or “Son of God” or even “Jesus” names. The meaning of these is not self-evident and left to our own we more often than not get it wrong. Typically, we get a wrong notion about who Jesus is, what God is like, what the nature of Jesus’ relationship with the Father is like, and then we construct an ethic – a way of acting in the world – based on that skewed notion.
Just yesterday, I had a lengthy back-and-forth on Twitter with a guy who argued for a subordinate, suppressed “role” for women in the church based on a misunderstanding that Jesus is subordinate to the Father. Such a misconstrual is completely at odds with Christian orthodox teaching. When I pressed him on it, he agreed that the relation between the Father and the Son is not like that, and yet he persisted in his view regarding women because he refused to understand that our hearing of Scripture remains in God, not in our own hands. We don’t get to move outside the teaching and practice of Jesus because he specifically denied that move.
This is why Jesus appeals twice in this passage to the works he had been doing. They are the most concrete things we have, the least susceptible to misunderstanding. He will make this same appeal to his core followers just before his arrest. Apart from Jesus, we don’t understand our Scriptures any better than these people did, and we are as likely to stone Jesus as they were. We don’t get to use the Bible to deviate from Jesus’ own ethic without forfeiting the labels “Christian” and “biblical.” If reading the Bible causes us to suppress, oppress, or treat people differently than Jesus treated people, then we’re reading it wrong.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.