Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.
— John 5:23b, NRSV
As we’ve seen in recent posts, Jesus scandalized the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders. To them, he was a Sabbath-breaker, and worse, a blasphemer, claiming a unique and intimate relationship with God. They probably wouldn’t have objected to Jesus referring to God as Father per se. There was ample precedent for God’s people doing that. But there was something about the way Jesus used the words “My Father” (John 5:17) that stuck in their craw. And if that weren’t enough, he claimed to be both the Judge and the Giver of Life — divine roles that should have belonged to God alone.
In John 5, Jesus repeatedly refers to God as his Father and to himself as “the Son.” Indeed, he refers to himself as “the Son of God” (vs. 25), and also as “the Son of Man” (vs. 27), the latter being Jesus’ favorite self-designation in the Gospels.
Knowing the story, we may hear claims to divinity in those titles. But that may not be what the Pharisees heard. After all, God’s people could be thought of as his children in general. The kings of Israel could also be thought of as God’s sons without implying that they were in any way divine themselves.
Likewise, the phrase “son of man” could be used colloquially to mean “human being,” even in the well-known image from Daniel’s vision. The NIV translates Daniel 7:13 thus: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.” Both the CEB and the NRSV, however, translate the phrase as “one like a human being.” Thus, in the New Testament, whenever Jesus refers to himself as “the Son of Man,” the CEB renders the phrase as “the Human One.” That’s a bit awkward, to my ear at least. But it makes the point: Jesus is referring to his humanness.
Thus, the Jewish leaders probably aren’t objecting to the titles themselves. They’re objecting to the claims he’s making about his relationship to the Father — because to them, he is a mere man.
That, in essence, is the scandal of the Incarnation. How dare a mere human being claim to be the Judge of people’s destinies? How dare he claim to be the Giver of Life?
Of course, it’s prudent to be skeptical of such claims.
But what if it’s true? Then we have to push the scandal back one more step: how dare God do such a thing? That’s not the God we know.
If we are to honor the Father, we must honor the Son. The Son of God is the Son of Man, the Human One, the Word made flesh, who begins life on earth as we all do: as a baby.