What you say from the pulpit is one thing. What people hear is often something else.
I don’t remember now who told the story. A pastor had been preaching on the theme of how we belong to God, punctuating the sermon with the pithy phrase, “You are all God’s.” Later, he was approached by a church member with whom he had debated because of the man’s New Age beliefs.
Oh, dear, the pastor thought silently. What now?
But the man was smiling with appreciation for the sermon. “Finally,” he beamed, “you understand what I’ve been trying to tell you.” The pastor was confused; it took a bit more conversation before he realized that the man had thought he meant, “You are all gods.”
Good thing the pastor wasn’t preaching from Psalm 82 — “I say, ‘You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you” (Ps 82:6, NRSV).
Uh, come again?
As we saw in the previous post, Jesus’ opponents had taken up stones to kill him. In response, he asked, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” (John 10:32). They reply that they are not executing him for any good work, but for blasphemy (vs. 33), because he, as a mere human being, had claimed to be one with the Father (vs. 30). Jesus answers by quoting Psalm 82:
Is it not written in your law, “I said, you are gods”? If those to whom the word of God came were called “gods”—and the scripture cannot be annulled—can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, “I am God’s Son”? (John 10:34-36)
Whatever the psalmist meant, it’s clear that God’s children are not being made equal to God. The psalm as a whole is about God’s judgment against the people’s injustice, and in verse 7, declares that they will “die like mortals” despite being “gods.” Some rabbis interpreted the psalm as being addressed to the people as those who had received the divine law at Mount Sinai, but had not become the righteous people the law envisioned. That may be the imagery behind Jesus’ phrase, “those to whom the word of God came.”
His point, of course, is that Scripture itself sets the precedent of calling mere mortals “gods.” He should not, therefore, be found guilty of blasphemy on the basis of his words alone.
There’s much more to his argument than that, however. When Jesus asked for which of his good works he was being stoned, his opponents didn’t respond, “What good works? We don’t know how you did it, but we know you’re nothing but a trickster.” There was no denying the evidence that the miracles happened.
But they could refuse to read the signs. More on that in the next post.