A few years ago I got to play the role of Jesus in The Canadian Badlands Passion Play. The production was based solely on John’s gospel. In early rehearsals I felt shaken by how much of John’s gospel is heated debate. I realized that when I read John, I prefer chapters 1-4 or the upper room conversation of chapters 13-17, the feel good sections. Yet in between there’s a lot of conflict, much of which Jesus himself provokes. His kingdom is here and every other domain is under siege.
The context for today’s passage includes Jesus sneaking into the Feast of Tabernacles in order to teach the crowds and to stir the pot of Israel’s religious/political establishment. He’s also responding to their stunt with the woman caught in adultery. Jesus is not the uber-nice-guy that I might prefer. He actually goads the leaders whom he knows are seeking his life. He’s not solely responsible for the lengthy verbal sparring match that ensues, but he picks a fight with these people who believe they have God wrapped around their finger and abuse their positions of power.
In the Passion Play it was challenging to portray those arguments in a way that kept the dramatic action of the scene alive rather than degenerating into a shouting match. What is Jesus trying to do by saying this right now, what’s his internal logic? The directors and I decided that Jesus’ disputes with the Jewish leaders is a subversive means of wooing them. He is arguing with the leaders as a way to call the crowds (and us) to truth.
Verses 27-28 say: “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” His first hearers missed Jesus’ point because of their own pride. But Jesus says this again to us. To me.
“Following me means gripping my teaching with all you’ve got. Actually listen to what I teach in the gospels, and then do it. Experiment with how to obey. Especially when it’s hard. Then you will know the truth of what I’ve taught. You will know that what I have for you is the best information ever revealed about how to live well. And you’ll know me. I Am the Truth, remember? And I will set you free from all that binds you, as we do this together.”
Jesus, Master of the Universe, would you meet me in my doubt that you really know best how to live well? Help my unbelief become trust. Would you confront me in my pride that I already know what your teaching means, or that I already am free enough? Open my eyes to my deep need. Grow my awareness of your presence as I seek to follow. Reshape my life from the inside out, and set me free to be fully alive by your Spirit, for the sake of your world. Amen.
College Park Covenant Church