John 7: 1 – 13 Jesus goes to the Festival of Tabernacles
After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him.
Jesus’ actions and words in Judea had stirred up a hornet’s nest. In particular, St John has told us (John 5: 1 – 36) that Jesus healed a disabled man on the Sabbath, encouraged the healed man to break the Sabbath by telling him to pick up his bed and walk, and when defending himself against the Jewish leaders, had claimed God as his Father. All of these actions carried the death penalty. In practice, the Romans had removed the right of Jewish courts to inflict the death penalty, but the threat alone was potent.
But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, ‘Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.’ For even his own brothers did not believe in him.
The brothers show worldly wisdom. Nowadays they would probably suggest that Jesus hired a good publicist.
Therefore Jesus told them, ‘My time is not yet here; for you any time will do. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.’ After he had said this, he stayed in Galilee.
‘However, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went also, not publicly, but in secret.
I find this troubling. It looks very much as though Jesus tells a deliberate falsehood to deceive his brothers. William Barclay points out that in this passage the word used by Jesus for his time is “kairos”; on every other occasion, the word used is “hora”. “Hora” means a set hour, the hour required by God’s plan. “Kairos”, by contrast, means an opportunity. So Jesus isn’t saying “I’m not going to the festival”, but “I’m not going to the festival yet.”
But maybe I’m missing the point. Maybe Jesus is really saying he isn’t going to the festival with his brothers. St John is telling us of the visit as a means of differentiating between Jesus and his brothers. The brothers in the story represent the world, or humanity. They will participate in the festival in exactly the same way, and with the same motivation, as all the others going to Jerusalem. Jesus will not. His very presence will be a challenge to the authorities and to the conventional understanding of the festival.
And look at what Jesus says. “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil.”
Well, actually, yes.
War. Arms dealing. Drug dealing. Terrorist atrocities. Regimes who disregard human rights. You might argue that you do none of these – but perhaps they’re closer than you think.
Globally, there are hundreds of millions of people who live in abject poverty and squalor. This arises directly from the policies of global trade, which are skewed in favour of wealthy nations. Also, wealthy nations are supplying arms that enable the wars in Syria and Yemen to be fought, and our democratically elected governments are approving this trade.
In fact, injustice, and human inflicted misery are unavoidable features of life; they are systemic. You could describe them as the modern working out of original sin, because they arise directly from the way we organise our society, and they’re inescapable no matter how well-intentioned we are.
So, yes, the world’s works are evil.
Now I’m not saying there aren’t many good things done in the world, because of course there are and we should celebrate them. Aid workers, frontline medical staff in the coronavirus crisis, foodbank volunteers, those who befriend the lonely are all doing good, and are usually not appreciated.
The thing is, that to deal with the evil in the world we need Jesus.
Now at the festival the Jewish leaders were watching for Jesus and asking, ‘Where is he?’
Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, ‘He is a good man.’
Others replied, ‘No, he deceives the people.’
This passage shows us how Jesus polarises opinion. Those who are perhaps more open to the Spirit look at Jesus’ ministry and say “He is a good man”. Others take a more worldly approach. They look at the political situation, perhaps. Israel is under Roman rule; it is an occupied nation. The Romans suppressed any form of dissent and unrest with violence. Jesus has aroused talk of a Messiah among the crowds – very dangerous talk in the eyes of the worldly-wise. “No, he deceives the people,” was a rational and sensible response. Unfortunately, it was wrong. God’s plan is not always comprehensible by humanity.
But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the leaders.
St John returns to the subject of the opening of this chapter. It’s not merely Jesus who is concerned about violence from the Jewish leaders. Everybody recognised that Jesus was causing controversy and that they might pay a heavy price if they spoke out.
In the west, we don’t really risk anything if we speak out for Jesus. What excuse do we have for not proclaiming him?
Heavenly Father, thank you for this chance to come closer to Jesus. Please help me to proclaim him whenever I have the opportunity. In Jesus’ name, Amen.