I’ve had this ready for over a day now. Due to the vagaries of life and my “day” job, I have not been able to take the time to post this, which is too bad because I thing it’s an important subject. I’m going to start doing things a little different for now, and schedule my posts for 6:30 PM on a regular basis. Maybe this will be better than just my random post times. Also, I still have to figure out days of the week and get more regular in my postings. Not too oversimplify, but myself and my blogging are both a work in progress. After reading this post, many of you may not want to read my writing anymore regardless of the time or the day. So, here goes nothing…
Collective murder and the lies we tell ourselves about it. Lies we still need to be set free from…
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus is speaking here to Jews, probably Judeans, who had believed in Him. They had recently come to believe Jesus was Messiah, that he was indeed Israel’s true king. A “belief” of which Jesus seems more than a little skeptical. He says ok, If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. It’s great that you believe in me, and that you want to follow me. But if you stick with my teaching, you’re eyes will be opened up to some things you need to be made free from. These disciples were looking for a Messiah for sure. They were looking for a Messiah to lead them in their war of independence from Rome. Was Jesus the one to pick up the sword and lead them in their war, or not?? These would-be new disciples don’t handle what Jesus says to them about truth and freedom very well. They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
I’m proud to be an Israelite, at least I know I’m free! Something like that, right? Jesus tells them they need to be set free, they declare that they are free!! (So just why were they looking for a Messiah, anyway?). By the time this scene is finished, this crowd would be looking to stone Jesus. So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. So much for being new believers in Christ!
The truth Jesus was telling these believers they needed to be set free from was no bumper sticker slogan. The truth Jesus brings in John chapter 8 incites this crowd of would be disciples first to insult their Messiah, then to try to kill him.
For these Judeans coming to Jesus, the freedom they sought was political. Their truth was the same as Pilate’s truth, the power to kill. “So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?”” John 19:10 ESV. Their idea of freedom was that freedom came from power, especially power over their enemies. Freedom for them was a euphemism for lethal power – Pilate’s power to kill. When you have the power and the will to kill your enemies, you will be “free”. But for Jesus, freedom in the form of lethal power is not true freedom. Freedom is the liberation from sin, especially the sin of collective killing.
Sound like a stretch? Here’s Jesus’ response to their declaration the they are children of Abraham. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. This conversation has gone way off the tracks!! Remember, these are not the scribes or Pharisees that Jesus was continually at odds with. These are Jews who had begun to believe in Jesus. Also remember that they had probably either just witnessed or maybe participated in a public stoning of a woman in adultery which Jesus had stopped by putting the onus back on the individual, cutting through the demonic mob mentality that controls such scenes (Let he who is without sin…). If they were actually listening and hearing what Jesus was teaching them, they would have known killing was incompatible with the way Jesus was leading them. Jesus knows the foundation of the crowds “freedom” was violence and murder. Freedom was another word for the power to kill their enemies. The crowd says “we’re talking about freedom”. Jesus says, “no, you’re talking about killing.” Jesus was revealing a truth about themselves which this crowd is unprepared or unwilling to understand. The truth which will set them free is a truth they don’t want to know. By the end of the chapter, the crowd seeks to stone Jesus. Six months later they would cry out for his execution.
For Jesus, the truth he is showing this nationalistic crowd of Judean disciples is that freedom maintained by killing is another name for slavery. What they think makes them free actually enslaves them. They are slaves to the practice of us vs them collective killing for the sake of power and think this is freedom. For this crowd, freedom is another word for killing. For Jesus, freedom is another word for love. If these would be disciples are truly ever going to follow Jesus, to see the kingdom of God, they are truly going to have be born-again, to rethink everything they think they know. Is freedom the power to kill, or is freedom the choice to love?
Let’s continue with what the Bible tells us here. They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did. Jesus keeps bringing this conversation back around to killing. Does this make us uncomfortable? This is an unpleasant subject, maybe an unpleasant passage. Do we trust that Jesus knew what he was doing or talking about here? He was trying to set us free! Think about what Jesus is saying here. This crowd repeats their assertion here that they are Abrahams children, Jesus says if they were really Abrahams children they would not be trying to kill him. Jesus says directly This is not what Abraham did. Well, what did Abraham do?
We know the story of Abraham, the call of God, the covenant and the promise. We know the promise fulfilled in his old age through his gathering of a family past the age of 100. But Jesus is talking about killing here, what does Abraham have to do with killing? What did Abraham do specifically that Jesus says these disciples needed to do. Abraham put down the knife. Abraham did not sacrifice his son Isaac on Mt Moriah. He abandoned the sacred violence of human sacrifice (which was normal and expected during Abrahams time).
We read and understand the story of Abraham and Isaac in a very 21st century way. We can’t get our heads around the fact that the Bible tells us God asked Abraham to sacrifice his first born son. To us, this is grotesque, abhorrent. But Abraham’s contemporaries, especially his Canaanite neighbors (he was living as a foreigner in Canaanite land) would not have seen it this way. The sacrifice of children, especially first born sons, was what the Gods required. It was part of our quid pro quo arrangement with the Gods (we still have these arrangements, don’t we?). The firstborn was offered to God to ensure future fertility. A blood sacrifice to secure future blessing. His Canaanite contemporaries may have seen it as a tragic irony that Abraham was asked in such old age to sacrifice his long awaited son, but they wouldn’t have been scandalized. The gods can be cruel. They were not to be messed with.
What Abraham did on Mt Moriah was revolutionary. What he did at what we erroneously call the “sacrifice” of Isaac (erroneous because Isaac was not sacrificed) was to gain the revelation that God, Yahweh, does not want human sacrifice. He put down the knife. If Abraham is the father of monotheism, he also ended human sacrifice, at least for what would become the Hebrew people. When Abraham put down the knife and offered a ram instead of his own son, humankind took a giant leap in the right direction. One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.
Abraham abandoned killing in the name of God. This is what Jesus is talking about. This is what Abraham did. This is why Jesus is telling these would-be Judean disciples that if they were truly his disciples they would do what Abraham did and not seek to kill in the name of God.
Jesus and these disciples are at a real impasse. The problem is that Jesus and these Judeans have such differing views of God. They are really talking about two different, competing beings. One is the Abba father of Jesus, the other is the satan. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father. The Abba Father of Jesus is a giver and preserver of life, the father of the crowd is a killer. Jesus is pulling out all the stops to shows them that God is not as they had imagined him. God is not a killer demanding blood sacrifices. God does not sanction the slaughter of enemies. The freedom that comes from God is not power to kill, but the choice to love. Freedom is another word for what Abraham did when he put that knife down and chose not to kill his son.
Now Jesus is really about to lay down the hard truth that sets us free. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Jesus understood that he was sent by his Father to liberate humanity from false ideas about God, including the lie that God wants, requires or sanctions killing of any kind. But even would-be disciples of Christ are mostly not willing to engage in a complete reevaluation of God (be born-again) if it undermines the basic foundation of their world. This frustrates our Messiah, desperately trying to get his message across – Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.
We, still, really do not want to hear that God wants us to rethink what it means to be free. Jesus in this debate with the Judeans repeatedly juxtaposes love and killing, showing that only one leads to true freedom. We still can not and will not hear that true freedom will never be achieved by killing our enemies. Peace on earth will never be achieved by the next war to end all wars. Because war can never end war. War can only lead to the next war. What Jesus teaches here goes against everything we’ve been taught to cherish. What Jesus is teaching is that killing in the name of freedom is just another word for being a slave to systemic sin, the systemic sin introduced by Cain right from the founding of civilization (our world).
To which this crowd responds by insulting the messenger – We were not born of sexual immorality. In other words – we know the circumstances of your birth, at least we are not illegitimate children, like some around here! These people were just talking about following Jesus, now they are calling him ugly names. Doesn’t take long. But now Jesus speaks the whole truth to them and lets the chips fall where they may. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Jesus is pulling back the curtain on the foundations of the world. Jesus is telling these Judeans (and all who would listen throughout history) that in holding to their false violence-based freedom instead of true love-based freedom, they are of their father the devil. They were neither children of Abraham or God, but children of the devil. Jesus describes the devil as a murderer from the beginning and the father of lies. Jesus is referring here to the story of Cain and Abel.
Satan was present in the Cain and Abel story. “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”” Genesis 4:7 ESV. Sin, the devil, was crouching at Cain’s door. This is where he got the idea, the thought, that he couldn’t be free until he imposed his will upon his brother. Cain, the tiller of the ground, could not share the land with his brother Abel, the tender of flocks. Something had to give. Cain wanted to be set free. Free from having to love his brother, having to care for his brother, having to share land and territory with his brother. His father, the devil, was crouching at his door, and Cain opened it wide and invited him in. Doing the will if his father the devil, Cain saw his brother as other, as enemy, killed him, buried the body, lied you himself and God about it, and with his hands covered with his brothers blood crying from the ground and his head full of lies, Cain founded human civilization.
To this day, this is the pattern of civilization. When problems or competition with our neighbors comes about, we call them enemies, kill them, and lie to ourselves about it. We justify our killing in the name of freedom and hide the bodies behind monuments and myths, anthems and altars. “They are not us, they are them. In the name of our rights, our land, our nation, our security, our honor, our freedom, it had to be done. They had to be killed.” We do it all in the name of freedom.
But Jesus says that kind of freedom is from the father of lies. It is precisely this satanic freedom Jesus wants to set us free from. And – it wasn’t for a bumper sticker slogan these disciples end up ready to hurl stones at the son of God. The crowd wanted to kill Jesus for uncovering the lies they tell themselves, for uncovering their very own deal with the devil.
Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.
Jesus began this teaching by saying “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12 ESV. Jesus is free from the darkness of Cain’s system of collective murder and the lies we tell ourselves about it. Jesus is the light of the world, shining his light on the dark system of violence that lies at the foundation of the world. (“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” John 3:19 ESV). Unlike us, Jesus is not implicated in the human system of violence. He is untainted by the legacy of the city Cain built. It is only in the light of Christ that we can begin to recognize our complicity in violence and seek a better way.
Jesus is completely innocent of all complicity with systemic sin. This is why he can ask the question Which one of you convicts me of sin? Jesus cannot be charged in our systems of foundational murder and the lies that cover it up. Which in and of itself guaranteed that Jesus would himself become a victim of our system. Violence can not stand in the presence of one who owes it nothing, which is why at a stoning, every one must throw a stone. Don’t participate…you might become the next victim. By not throwing a stone, you become a prophet shining a light on the collective sin. The community as a whole must either repent or stone the prophet. (O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! Matthew 23:37 ESV).
In the end, Jesus himself was also killed. But his death shames our whole system of what has been called “redemptive violence”. We can finally see that if we use violence as a means for achieving “justice”, we are capable of killing anyone, even murdering God himself. The killing of Jesus brings the entire evil system into the light and exposes it for what it is. (“Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” John 12:31 ESV). “Seen in the light of the resurrection, the crucifixion of Jesus demands that we once and for all renounce violence as a means for achieving just ends.” – Pastor Brian Zahnd.
The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” So much for becoming disciples and following Jesus! Now these Judeans are reduced to hurling racial slurs at Jesus, and have no hint of the irony as they accuse Jesus of having a demon. They’ve turned down the wrong path and have arrived on that dead end street of hatred and hostility. They are sprinting back into the darkness they know so well, the darkness Jesus is trying to save them from. Instead of embracing the truth that would set them free, these shoulda been disciples choose the chains of racism and witch hunts. They loved their darkness more than the light.
Jesus finishes up this friendly conversation by speaking of Abraham, in whom these Jews took much national pride. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” Jesus was early in his 30s at the time. I guess being the Messiah will put years on you.
“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.”
John 8:31-59 ESV