GOSPEL | JOHN 8:12-20
12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” 13 Then the Pharisees said to him, “You are testifying on your own behalf; your testimony is not valid.” 14 Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid because I know where I have come from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge by human standards; I judge no one. 16 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is valid; for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. 17 In your law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is valid. 18 I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf.” 19 Then they said to him, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” 20 He spoke these words while he was teaching in the treasury of the temple, but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.
What reverberates for me is why John would tell us the setting of this episode at the end of the episode: “He spoke these words while he was teaching in the treasury of the temple” (v.20). As someone who loves reading and dabbles in writing, it’s fairly standard across genres to set the scene at the beginning of the episode. As I read and reread this scene, though, the setting creates a kind of jarring contrast with the argument between Jesus and the Pharisees.
Jesus is teaching in the temple, and the Pharisees insist on making this a legal event: bickering about valid testimonies and identities and judgments. Jesus seems to be playing along, but not on their terms.
These confrontations between Jesus and the Pharisees are many and frequent in the Gospels. I’ve been taught many things about these encounters: Jesus is attacking organized religion, Jesus’ greatest opponents were the Pharisees, Jesus rejects “the law,” Jesus’ rhetoric stymies and confounds and catches the Pharisees in their own traps, Jesus’ miracles and parables are a threat to the Pharisees’ selfishly ambitious religious reign, etc. I think some of these are true, and some of these are the result of shallow or weak readings of Scripture as a whole.
In the end, what catches me a little off guard is how Jesus talks about judgment in this legal debate. He says, “I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is valid; for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me” (vv.15b-16). There have been some fascinating teachings throughout John’s Gospel about Jesus’ role as Judge; most notably, Jesus tells Nicodemus:
“And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (John 3:19-21).
This is a much more passive judgment than the fire and brimstone we are taught about in certain churches. This is not the sending of cancer, or of hurricanes, or of plagues or armies or angels of death. This is Genesis 1’s “Let there be light.” Jesus says again this morning, “I am the light of the world” (v.12); and, as if on cue, those who refuse to accept the light insist on a legal debate, rather than being exposed.Lord, Keep my lips from speaking defensively when Your Light reveals my false motives, my selfish ambition, or my distracted laziness. Let me instead come willingly to the Light, so that I may be exposed, and then cleansed. Send Your Spirit to comfort me as I face whatever is in me that is an obstacle to my coming to Christ, to guide me more and more into the revealing Light, daily becoming more comfortable in it, and to lead me further in the journey of sanctification. Amen.