In John’s gospel “the Jews” don’t mean the Jewish people as a whole, but those segments of the Jewish religious hierarchy who antagonise and fear him. Their aim is to try and trip Jesus up, to get him to incriminate himself, so he has to be very careful with his replies.
Today’s gospel has Jesus out walking in the Temple when another group of them comes up to him and probably in a taunting manner say “Come on then, tell us straight”. “Who and what are you?” “Are you the messiah?”
Except that Jesus doesn’t give a straight answer at all. He evades it again. Because to answer it would just serve to confirm all their pre-conceived ideas and prejudices about him and their own interpretation of what the Messiah ought to be like. In 1st century Israel, their idea of the messiah was of a warrior king that would fight the Romans and establish a free Jewish state – but Jesus was no warrior, so how could he be?
When people ask these kinds of loaded questions, the truth is usually the last thing they are looking for – they usually just want their pre-conceived opinions confirmed.
All those loaded terms like messiah, son of man, son of God – they all meant different things to different people and a straight yes or no answer would have meant falling into their trap.
It is like when people from other more fundamentalist Christian traditions ask me if I am a Christian or that fateful question “Are you saved?”. What they are really saying is. “We don’t really think you are. Just confirm that for us would you?
So in like manner – and it is fair to say it is probably the only way that I am like Jesus – is that I like to throw the question back to them in a different form that might make them think.
At this point I think it is good to explain one important property that all these terms share in Israel at that time. Terms like Messiah, Son of man, even the title son of God, does not infer that Jesus was divine. All those terms are titles properly given to human beings. To be a son of God was to be God-like not “God”. In the same way as we Christians also after Jesus’ example call ourselves sons and daughters of God.
And when I use the word God I mean God the Father, which is just what Jesus meant too. The sourceless source of the cosmos. The formless one – the divine mystery that cannot be explained or described.
The same formless source that Jesus prayed to. Jesus did not use any formulary to approach God other than as the Father and he taught us to do the same. Our Father who art in heaven.
I am a follower of the way of Jesus in that I follow Jesus’ example and address my prayers only to that divine mystery, the unity of all things, whether that mystery be called, Yahweh, I AM, Allah, Father, Friend or some other appoximation. The intent is the same.
In an answer to their taunts, Jesus does give a straight answer but not in the form they recognised. He said plainly, “See how I act, love, and live – see what I do and what I say and discern the spirit behind my words”. There is your answer.
People who recognise my words and actions as having a divine origin will respond, because I am transparent to the will of the Father as much as any human being can be. Which is what Jesus means when he says “I and the Father are one”.
There is the innate unity with the Father that all created things share, and then there is the transparency to God’s Spirit that Jesus modelled in his life.
It is in trying to realise this sense of innate union with the Father, a property of being human that is ours by right that is the goal of the Christian life – and also to become transparent to the will of the Father as Jesus was – an aim recognised much more strongly in the East than in the West. The Orthodox, using the incarnation as their starting point say “God became man so that man can become God”.
With so many voices claiming to speak the word or will of God, how do you discern the will of the Father or know you are hearing his voice?
Here I would recommend that we pray for discernment and intuition. For actually when a connection is made you can actually feel it. You know it. You know it in a deep way. It is not knowing in the sense of “I know the world is round” It is a kind of knowing like “I know my mother, my friend, my husband, my wife”. You know in a deeper way that mere facts and appearance.
By their fruits you will know them.