After this, Jesus traveled in Galilee; he did not want to travel in Judea, because the Jewish authorities there were wanting to kill him. The time for the Festival of Shelters was near, so Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave this place and go to Judea, so that your followers will see the things that you are doing. People don’t hide what they are doing if they want to be well known. Since you are doing these things, let the whole world know about you!” (Not even his brothers believed in him.)
Jesus said to them, “The right time for me has not yet come. Any time is right for you. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me, because I keep telling it that its ways are bad. You go on to the festival. I am not going to this festival, because the right time has not come for me.” He said this and then stayed on in Galilee.
After his brothers had gone to the festival, Jesus also went; however, he did not go openly, but secretly. The Jewish authorities were looking for him at the festival. “Where is he?” they asked.
There was much whispering about him in the crowd. “He is a good man,” some people said. “No,” others said, “he fools the people.” But no one talked about him openly, because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities.
As a Communist I find that my comrades and I are frequently criticised by ultra-leftists for being too timid, too reformist and not sounding the rallying cry of immediate revolution at every opportunity. We answer that we must respond to the material realities of what is happening and what we might be expected to do to move events forward. Heroic defeats are of no use to the working class.
At first reading, this Scriptural passage suggests a similar and major hesitation on the part of Jesus. It sits in the middle of an extended wave of market research conducted by Him as to who folks think He is. In Chapter 6, his self-description as the Bread of Life polarises opinions; Peter gets it but the Gospel also reports that many disciples have had enough and walk away. In the rest of Chapter 7, His references to the promise of living water and His references to being the Messiah again produces acceptance, ridicule and anger in equal measure.
So it is probably not surprising, from a purely human perspective, that Jesus appears reluctant to go the Temple to celebrate the festival as his followers had urged him. More baffling, is His subsequent decision to travel to Judea incognito, seemingly sneakily listening in to what the people were saying about His claims.
I think what we see here is different concepts of time and hence the Kingdom. For Jesus’ remaining disciples, locked into chronological time, it was all about the now and making great statements in the present, however unprepared people might be to really hear them – and so respond.
For Jesus, divinely inspired, time was measured in terms of Creation’s proximity to and readiness for the Kingdom. In John 7, we see Jesus acutely aware that his audiences’ hearts are by and large far away from the Kingdom and who He really is. More work and words are needed to bring them closer.
We, therefore, must temper our impatience with how slowly God’s will seems to us to be working out. But we musn’t just sit back. Indeed, Jesus’s followers continued with their determination to go to the Temple.
As V I Lenin wrote “there are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”
All will be fine in God’s own time.
Give us the certainty to trust You When the Kingdom seems as far off as ever
Give us the patience that comes with faith When others want to charge into Heaven now
Give us the courage to witness to You When others question Your vaulting love for us
Give us the alacrity of action and thought When the Kingdom is revealed for an instant! Amen
Paul Simon is an Elder at Hadleigh URC in Suffolk.