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Knowledge and Power

By Sarah Cornwell

A Reading from the Gospel of John 7:14-31

14 About the middle of the festival Jesus went up into the temple and began to teach. 15The Jews were astonished at it, saying, “How does this man have such learning, when he has never been taught?” 16Then Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine but his who sent me. 17Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own. 18Those who speak on their own seek their own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and there is nothing false in him.

19 ”Did not Moses give you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why are you looking for an opportunity to kill me?” 20The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is trying to kill you?” 21Jesus answered them, “I performed one work, and all of you are astonished. 22Moses gave you circumcision (it is, of course, not from Moses, but from the patriarchs), and you circumcise a man on the sabbath. 23If a man receives circumcision on the sabbath in order that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because I healed a man’s whole body on the sabbath? 24Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgement.”

25 Now some of the people of Jerusalem were saying, “Is not this the man whom they are trying to kill? 26And here he is, speaking openly, but they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Messiah? 27Yet we know where this man is from; but when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.” 28Then Jesus cried out as he was teaching in the temple, “You know me, and you know where I am from. I have not come on my own. But the one who sent me is true, and you do not know him. 29I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.” 30Then they tried to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come. 31Yet many in the crowd believed in him and were saying, “When the Messiah comes, will he do more signs than this man has done?”


We are a world that often subscribes to the adage “knowledge is power.” We have come to implicitly believe that knowledge is prestige, that knowledge is superiority, that knowledge is a means to an end that secures one’s place amongst society’s elite.

In today’s gospel, Jesus’ teaching is challenged because he was not formerly instructed and trained by the religious authorities. On its face, it may seem like a fair objection.  Let’s see some credentials, Jesus. As it happens, Jesus’ credentials are in who he is. The point was not where Jesus learned his doctrine; as St. Ambrose tells us, he is doctrine. He is the living Word, all knowledge and all power in its highest and purest form. What can we learn from how Jesus uses his perfect knowledge and ultimate power? In other words, how does he use himself? As St. Augustine highlights, Jesus asserts that he is all knowledge, but then immediately lays the true authority for such knowledge at the feet of his Father. He says “my teaching is not mine.” Rather than empowering himself, the Light of the world empowers others to exercise right judgment which will enable them to comprehend the Father.

Jesus is not some lowly messenger, a mere errand boy for God the Father, and yet, astoundingly, this is exactly how he behaves. The smartest, most credentialed people in the world are not on his level, not even close. The King of Kings lives his earthly life as a lowly servant. The Truth, the Light of the world, lives his earthly life as if he is as important as a lackey. And how does he do this? Joyfully and with great love. No matter our IQ, no matter our education credentials, may our own vastly imperfect and inferior lives have no higher aim than to serve God the Father with a loving joy and an egoless devotion.

Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman, ballet teacher, and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have six children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.

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