The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope
After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He did not wish to go about in Judea because the Jews were looking for an opportunity to kill him. Now the Jewish festival of Booths was near. So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” (For not even his brothers believed in him.) Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil. Go to the festival yourselves. I am not going to this festival, for my time has not yet fully come.” After saying this, he remained in Galilee. But after his brothers had gone to the festival, then he also went, not publicly but as it were in secret. The Jews were looking for him at the festival and saying, “Where is he?” And there was considerable complaining about him among the crowds. While some were saying, “He is a good man,” others were saying, “No, he is deceiving the crowd.” Yet no one would speak openly about him for fear of the Jews.
The seventh chapter of John is marked by conversations and actions that evidence the underlying misunderstandings, resistance, and conflicts surrounding Jesus. As theologian Gail R. O’Day notes, “All of the conversations in John 7 center on Jesus’ identity and people’s reaction to Jesus. Through the stories of conflict and opposition, through the various questions asked and divergent opinions expressed about Jesus, the Fourth Evangelist emphasizes once more the cruciality of the decision one makes about Jesus.”
In today’s passage, Jesus returns to Jerusalem for the celebration of the Festival of Booths. All Jewish males were required to attend this weeklong festival that celebrated the harvest and commemorated Israel’s journey in the desert following the Exodus. After all of the back and forth with his brothers regarding his attendance, Jesus ultimately goes in secret. His primary line of defense in not going as they have pushed him to do is that his “time has not yet come.” Jesus knows only too well that there are those who are plotting to kill him, and he also knows that it is not yet his time. Jesus has much more work and teaching to do to help shape and define the Kingdom of God.
These questions about Jesus’ identity persist in John’s gospel as indeed they continue for many today. What do Jesus’ words and actions reveal to us about his identity? How do they shape our own lives as we seek to be followers of Jesus? Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” In answering that question for ourselves, it leads us to the next critical question, “How does the answer to that question change my life and how I live it?” That, my friends, is not just our Lenten journey but our lifelong journey of faith.
Grant, most merciful Lord, to your faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins, and serve you with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(Lesser Feasts and Fasts)