“…whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.”
Ooooh, that’s mature. For a five-year-old. Why not just stick out your tongue and be done with it?
But when I read the argument between Jesus and his opponents in John 8, this seems to be the level of sophistication to which it had sunk.
As we saw in the previous post, Jesus turned to those who supposedly believed in him and told them that if they would abide in his teaching, they would know true freedom. Instead of receiving those words with gratitude, they took offense. They seemed to think that Jesus was insulting their heritage, and protested that they were descended from Abraham and had never been slaves.
Jesus seems to know that there’s an issue of legitimacy at stake, and responds accordingly:
I assure you that everyone who sins is a slave to sin. A slave isn’t a permanent member of the household, but a son is. Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you really will be free. I know that you are Abraham’s children, yet you want to kill me because you don’t welcome my teaching. I’m telling you what I’ve seen when I am with the Father, but you are doing what you’ve heard from your father. (John 8:34-38, CEB)
First, he redefines the kind of freedom he means: not from human regimes, but from sin. Then he takes up the matter of legitimacy. He reiterates the close relationship he has with his own Father; as the legitimate son, he has the power to bestow freedom. And he acknowledges that they are descended from Abraham. But he calls the legitimacy of that heritage into question on the basis of their behavior. They want to kill him, which suggests that they are not truly Abraham’s children. They belong to someone else.
They protest again: “Our father is Abraham” (vs. 39). And Jesus essentially repeats himself: If that were so, you would behave as Abraham did; the fact that you’re trying to kill me says that your real father is someone else.
They seem uninterested in clarifying what other father Jesus might mean. Instead, they take it up a notch and return insult for perceived insult: “Our ancestry isn’t in question! The only Father we have is God!” (vs. 41b).
John’s Greek translates literally as, “We weren’t born of fornication!” with the “we” given emphatic emphasis. Possible implication: Like you should talk, Jesus. At least there’s nothing fishy about the way we were born. God is our Father. An incredibly ironic claim, considering what Jesus has been trying to tell them about his origin and identity. And darkly, they’ve now gone beyond rubber and glue: Don’t mess with us, or we’ll drag your mother into this.
No more hinting around, then. Jesus says it straight out:
If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God. Here I am. I haven’t come on my own. God sent me. Why don’t you understand what I’m saying? It’s because you can’t really hear my words. Your father is the devil. You are his children, and you want to do what your father wants. (vss. 42-44a)
And what the devil wants to do, by his nature, is kill and lie.
We’re still not done with the verbal sparring. If Jesus dares to speak the truth, questioning their legitimacy and calling them children of the devil, how must they respond? Not with self-examination. And not with anything based on facts. They simply return tit for tat: they call him a Samaritan (we might say “half-breed”) and demon-possessed (vs. 48). Oh, yeah? Well…well…the same to you, buddy!
What a lovely conversation.
And that’s still not why they want to stone him. Not yet. We’ll deal with that in this Sunday’s post.