By James Cornwell
A Reading from the Gospel of 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.
In today’s gospel reading, the Pharisees accuse Jesus of bearing false witness concerning himself. They imply that an individual cannot convincingly bear witness to himself without some sort of external corroboration. Jesus responds by stating that his witness of himself is true, because “I know where I came from and know where I am going.” He later notes where he came from: the Father, and therefore, the Father provides him a corroborating witness.
Each of us was also sent by the Father: sent away from the paradise of Eden into the wilderness to toil, suffer, and die. This sending, unlike the sending of Jesus, has no destination. This lack of direction casts a shadow over our journey. We cannot fully shake the idea that the true testimony of ourselves is one of a meaningless and perpetual sending out, an endless search for purpose without ever truly finding it.
We may try our best to distract ourselves from this fear. Society has maximized our choices, provided us with an endless stream of identities, narratives, and roles which we are free to take up and make our own, each with its own set of destinations. But deep down, we know that this exercise is pointless. Regardless of what we choose, it is still us doing the choosing. Although it pains us, we know that the Pharisees are correct: we cannot solely bear a convincing witness concerning ourselves.
But there is good news. Having been grafted into the family of God, we are now heirs of God through Christ. This rebirth transforms our sending: in Christ, we are no longer merely sent away from a primordial paradise, but also sent toward a future kingdom. Our account of ourselves is no longer chosen, but received. The particulars of our lives will still be as unique as the saints, and the details are still unwritten, but now we know where we are from and where we are going. Through Christ, our story has become true.
James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their six children.
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The Anglican Church of South America
Church of the Transfiguration, Vail, Co.