At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered, ‘I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.’
The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus replied, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?’ The Jews answered, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.’ Jesus answered, ‘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”? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.’ Then they tried to arrest him again, but he escaped from their hands.
He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing earlier, and he remained there. Many came to him, and they were saying, ‘John performed no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.’ And many believed in him there.
The first thing which strikes me as I begin reading this passage is the very precise and specific time and location, placing Jesus in the temple and at the time of the festival of Dedication. The people gathered round – potentially a threatening group – laying down the challenge to Jesus. The question “How long will you keep us in suspense, if you are the Messiah tell us plainly” does not seem to be a question asked with friendly intent.
Are these people who really want the answer to their question? As the conversation continues it becomes very clear that those present fail to understand Jesus and his all-important relationship with God. The image of the sheep and the shepherd which runs through this chapter of John’s gospel has a tradition of illustrating the soft and caring elements of shepherding but if we look more closely we might find a different picture.
Jesus’ reference to ‘the works I do in my Father’s name’ points to something deeper perhaps leading those gathered round to a fear of the underlying power of those works and a recognition that they really do not understand what Jesus is talking about.
Jesus’ challenge back to his listeners is to say if I am not doing the works of my Father then don’t believe me.
This is not a passage about what is said or what is done. It is a passage about Jesus’ relationship with God and in turn our relationship with Jesus and through him with God. It is an invitation to us to step up to the plate, to be prepared to see the ‘good works from the Father’ and to learn from the one who performed them so that we may do likewise.
Challenging God, may we not hide from your call. may our daily living be a demonstration to those around us of our relationship with you. may our words and actions offer hope in a hurting world. Amen