Have you noticed how a situation at work can get into a process which becomes increasingly tense? You may start with a minor difference of opinion over some small detail but that can become the spark which sets off the forest fire of confrontation. As positions get hardened, what could have been settled amicably becomes a serious problem. Lawyers and attorneys have grown very wealthy on the back of such struggles.
Anyone reading the pages of the book we now call John’s Gospel cannot help but notice the growing confrontation between the Son of Man and the Jewish authorities particularly in the south of Israel (including the capital).
If you are in the antiques or art business, you will be aware of the word “provenance”. Debates arise concerning the history and origin of an object, for this will determine the basis of its value.
So the Son of Man, as the chapters of John unfold, is seen to be in an increasingly confrontational debate about provenance.
At the heart of this issue were Jewish leaders who believed that they were descendants of Abraham and as such automatically of intrinsic value by virtue of their ancestry.
The Son of Man, however, made three astonishing statements to them. First, if they truly were Abraham’s descendants they would believe in the Son of Man
Second, that the Son of Man i.e. himself descended, not from Abraham but from heaven. He was not a child of Abraham, but a child of God.
Third, and most shocking of all, that those who were disagreeing with him were revealing that their actual ancestry was the fallen angel they themselves had named “devil”.
So incensed were the listeners that they formulated plans to kill the Son of Man. Perhaps it is not surprising that those who, for hundreds of years, had claimed one noble provenance, reacted angrily to the suggestion that they were otherwise.
In addition, they reacted, not only with an execution plot, but by hurling the same accusations back at the Son of Man, calling him demon possessed as well as a Samaritan (throwing in a racist insult for good measure).
The sadness is that the Son of Man is saying he is the Light come to enlighten them, the Bread come to nourish them, the freedom that they crave and the food that would enable them to live forever.
The reaction was along the lines of “we don’t need this because we, the children of Abraham, already have it”. The Son of Man does not hold back; he calls them children of the father of lies.
Finally, as the argument comes to a head Jesus makes an arresting statement, “I am not possessed by a demon” (John 8:49), rather he continues, “I honor my Father and you dishonor me”.
It is quite clear that the Son of Man is generating a diagnostic tool for provenance. If you believe in me, honor me, celebrate me, then your provenance is divine. If you criticize, try to kill, claim some privilege, you are of a dark provenance.
Can you imagine how hard it was, when his heart was full of light, truth, nourishment and love, to have to say “I am not demon-possessed”. How hard it was for him to tell these people that he loved that they have made terrible error of estimation of their own worth.
It is a measure, not of his aggression, but his compassion that he told them the truth. They eventually did kill him. Their plots and threats were fulfilled.
But the story could not die.
Next time the confrontation gets intense it is important to say who you are as well as who you are not, recognizing that all that matters is your connectedness to the Son of Man. For it is in this that your provenance is revealed.
49 “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me.
See John 8-28 for the bigger picture
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