Jesus and the People, some insights from John 8.31-59
These next few posts are going to be a bit different than the devotional posts I have written lately. It will be expositional in nature dealing with the very important topic of spiritual growth and the obstacles we face on the road to Oneness with God.
The first obstacle: spiritual pride.
There are several ways to interpret what is going on here and each has its value in helping us to understand what John is relaying to us in the confrontation between Jesus and “the people”.
Verse 31 tells us these were “people who had faith in him.”
Taken literally we are confronted with an historical incident in the life of Jesus between a group of people who didn’t understand (v.43) what Jesus was saying (v.31 he wants to help his new believers get free.) or doing. There are accusations thrown back and forth; “the people” are demonizing someone who is threatening them and Jesus is returning their accusations. It is the typical argument of I’m right and you’re wrong with a loaded charge thrown in, of demon possession, from both sides. And quite frankly if I came upon a group of people arguing in this way I would just turn around and leave. Honestly these types of exchanges are nothing but the mudslinging of children throwing tantrums. But that is on the surface, the literal historical event which has been played out for centuries between any warring factions, with the inevitable result that one group will want to kill the other: v.59 “The people picked up stones to kill Jesus.”
In other words: “I’m right and you’re wrong and I’m gonna kill you for being ‘wrong’–i.e. not agreeing with me. If there is any lesson to be learned form this literal story it is things have not changed much over the eons that man has been on the planet. This is especially noticeable in the religious and political arenas. And much of the time there has not been the luxury of a separation between church and state as we have in the western influenced world.
“The people” here are the fruit of the religious leaders; the Sadducees and the Pharisees, Jesus’ usual antagonists. I have read that the literacy of the common people in Jesus’ day was maybe 10% and most of those were the religious leaders. What the people were defending were the things taught to them by their religious culture (at that time all the Hebrew culture was religious/political), they did not have the luxury of looking into the scriptures themselves. They were defending their entire world view taught to them, the Hebrew paradigm of the day.
I think it is important to point out that the Hebrew people and their leaders were not the enemy as some have tried to enlist Jesus in their hatred of another race—they just did not understand, this makes them a symbol for the entire human race, they didn’t know what they are doing. Jesus used many metaphors for their spiritual condition: blind, sick, ignorant, crippled, deaf. Jesus never tried to kill anyone and killing another in his name is my definition of taking the Lords name in vain.
Swedenborg pointed out that when we try to kill someones belief we are actually trying to kill that person because a persons faith is actually what keeps them alive. If you have ever seen anyone who has lost their faith you know what he means.
This is the first obstacle we face on the road to Oneness with God, found in those new to their beliefs (no matter how long one has been a believer). “My way is the right way and yours is not.” Our pride quickly gets in the way as the result of our insecurity, not being quite sure of this new way of thinking. Spiritual pride and self-righteousness will be the fruit of this insecurity if not quickly dealt with. And if it is fostered by those in leadership ones spiritual growth will be limited and after a while non-existent. Hatred will be the result and it will be easy to find targets for those wanting an outlet for their anger. See verse 44.
Well there is so much more in these verses beyond the literal and I will get to them in the following posts. For now it will be good to remember My way is the right way for me at this time in my life and your way is the right way for you at this point in your life and respect and tolerance for all our brothers and sisters as they progress toward the Truth that sets us free.