By Elizabeth Baumann
A Reading from the Gospel of John 5:30-47
30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.
31 “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. 32 There is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that his testimony to me is true. 33 You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth. 34 Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. 35 He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. 36 But I have a testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form, 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent.
39 “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. 40 Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. 41 I do not accept glory from human beings. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God in you. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. 44 How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47 But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?”
Today, Jesus gives something like a treatise on the grounds of belief. It reads a lot like John’s epistles, threatening to be a bit circular, but taking you down its spiral into the depths if you’re willing to go. I particularly resonate with the last few verses in which Jesus claims that if people really believed the Scriptures they claim to, they would believe in him.
Sally Lloyd-Jones’s Jesus Storybook Bible is a beautiful example of making the Old Testament stories do what Jesus here claims they do: tell about him. But there is a bit of a stretch. It’s not that it doesn’t work that way — because it does — it’s that hindsight is 20/20. When we look for Jesus in the Old Testament, we know clearly what we’re looking for. I’m not as steeped in those Scriptures as first-century Jews would have been, but I find it hard to believe that it was as simple as Jesus makes it sound. It seems perfectly plausible to me that an intellectually honest person could accept the Old Testament and still fail to recognize Jesus.
Only one answer seems to satisfy the conundrum: my formulation of belief itself is lacking. It is not merely intellectual honesty applied to the right material that is needed, but something deeper, something John almost needs poetry to express to us. To really believe in the Scriptures is an act of love, something which comes from inside us and at the same time draws up out of ourselves, an act of love not directed at the words written but at their source. That love could not fail to recognize the Word, Jesus.
On Monday we saw the case of a man whose faith as intellectual assent wasn’t enough, but his desperation, directed at Jesus, fueled by his love for his child, was. Faith and belief are only themselves when subsumed in love, and love covers a multitude of intellectual shortfalls.
Elizabeth Baumann is a seminary graduate, a priest’s wife, and the mother of two small daughters. A transplant from the West Coast, she now lives in “the middle of nowhere” in the Midwest with too many cats.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Kajo-Keji – Episcopal Church of South Sudan
The Diocese of Washington