Read John 8
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.’” (John 19:7 NRSV)
When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.
Part 134: The Jews. In the last devotion we discussed the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. While all of them tell the account of Jesus of Nazareth, they do differ on the details within their accounts. Often times, we read the gospels as if they are ONE story told four different times; however, the reality is that they are four separate accounts of Jesus of Nazareth told to different people at different times for different reasons. Thus, not all of the details within the accounts match up.
Still, Matthew, Mark and Luke are very similar to one another and a majority of the events in their accounts are parallel to each other. Certainly, they follow the same basic chronological structure: 1) Jesus was born (Matthew & Luke), 2) Jesus’ ministry began following his baptism in the Jordan, 3) his ministry was based in and around Galiliee, 4) at the end of his ministry he went to Jerusalem and stirred up trouble, 5) he was betrayed, arrested, crucified, 6) and resurrected from the dead.
The Gospel of John, however, followed a different chronological structure. Jesus was seen in Jerusalem throughout his career and, in fact, the cleansing of the Temple (which happens at the end of Matthew, Mark & Luke’s account) takes place at the beginning of John. Also, John’s Gospel is different theologically too. All of the Gospels claim that Jesus is the Christ (aka the Messiah) and the Son of God; however, John’s Jesus is barely touching the ground (though his humanity is still on full display, just differently).
One of the biggest differences in the Gospel of John is the distinction between Jesus and “The Jews”. Sadly, this distinction has wrongly been interpreted in anti-Semitic ways; however, it was not written to be anti-Semitic. The community from which this Gospel emerged was inherently a Jewish community. They were not anti-Semitic as they themselves were Semites.
The distinction between Jesus and “the Jews” is actually, in context, and intra-Jewish distinction. In other words, it was a distinction happening within Judaism among differing Jews. In 70 CE, the Romans destroyed all of Jerusalem, including the Jewish Temple. The further away from that event one gets, the more one can begin to see a distinction being drawn up between traditional Jewish groups and those who followed Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.
First, the traditional Jewish sects wanted nothing to do with those Jesus followers because Rome crucified Jesus as a traitor of the Empire. To align with this criminal, following a time when Rome had already quelled a major Jewish uprising by destroying all of Jerusalem, was to risk losing the remaining religious leniencies that Rome still granted the Jewish people. Second, while Jews looked to the following of the Torah (the Law) in response as to how to remain faithful to God without a Temple to sacrifice in, the earliest Christians (with an increasing number of Gentile members) saw faith in Jesus as the answer.
Thus, the more pushback that the early Christian communities received, the more they began to identify as a community different than “the Jews”. They were Jewish, but they were pushed to see themselves as being counter to what the mainline Jewish sects were advocating. This was not, again, because they were anti-Jewish, but because they were being expelled from synagogues and rejected by mainline Jewish leaders. Compound that fact with the reality that Gentile Christians began to outnumber Jewish Christians toward the end of the first century, and one can begin to see how this identity metamorphosis took root.
Still, it is important for us to realize that “the Jews” in Jesus’ day were not a monolithic group that altogether were antagonistic toward Jesus or his followers. In John, that language was more representing his time period than it was Jesus’. Some of the Jews did believe Jesus was the Messiah, others did not see him that way. What’s more, while some of the Jewish leadership and the Roman rulers had Jesus put to death, the common Jewish person would not have wanted any Jew to be crucified by the Romans. “The Jews” as a whole were not responsible for Jesus’ death. The Roman Empire, under the leadership of Pontius Pilate, was responsible for that.
The challenge for us is to begin, if we haven’t already, to stop viewing Christianity through an “us” versus “them” mentality. In God there is no “them”, there is only “us”. God created us all and loves us all and calls us all to be in relationship with God. Jesus Christ did not come create more divisions than already exist in the world; rather, Jesus came to unite us all to God through him. Let us be reminded of that and live into it.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Be reminded of Christ and begin to model Christ in your lives and in the world around you.
Lord, draw me in closer to you and empower me to witness to others your love and grace. Amen.