I have often wondered what it would be like to testify before a grand jury. Testimonies before the grand jury just seem more significant, don’t they? It’s not a regular jury, but a grand one that we are up against here. I feel like I would be intimidated!
Someone’s testimony is a reflection of who they are. If the testimony is false, the person lacks credibility. If it is true, they are seen as reliable. In general society values people who tell the truth and devalues those who misrepresent themselves.
Despite Jesus’ works attesting to his divinity, people doubted His testimony about Himself. Today we pick up our Lenten journey in John 8:12-20. Here the chief priests and other religious leaders question Jesus’ testimony about Himself.
John 8:12-20 - Dispute Over Jesus’ Testimony
12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
13 The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.”
14 Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. 16 But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. 17 In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. 18 I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”
19 Then they asked him, “Where is your father?”
“You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” 20 He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come.
What is everyone making a fuss over here? What is at stake here is something we can all relate to: power, religious power or authority in particular. Jesus was making some pretty large claims here - “I am the light of the world.” Not only was Jesus making big claims, but He was doing so in one of the most high profile places to do it – the temple during a great festival! Jesus is setting the stage for a pretty big confrontation between Himself and those who claim to speak for God.
Everyone knew what Jesus was saying here. By claiming divine authority Jesus was challenging those who already claimed to have it. The Pharisees didn’t accept Jesus’ words as “proof” of His bold claims.
A kind reading of the Pharisees has them as protectors of the Jewish spiritual landscape. Perhaps many of them were interested in not power, but in protecting the everyday Jew and their religious identity. Sure, they were difficult to get along with, but they had good intentions that actually benefitted the Jewish people. Jesus was seen as a challenger or interloper into the scene here. The Pharisees believed they must protect the Jewish people from yet another fake who were interested in gaining power and leading the Jews astray.
The problem is that this would not be the whole picture. True, we do have examples like Nicodemas, who sought out Christ and seem to believe His words. The larger picture here though is quite different. The Pharisees are in protection mode here in this passage as well as in other passages. Jesus’ words and actions are not good enough for them. They have to solidify and consolidate their own power to guarantee their own existence. Jesuss come and go, but the Pharisees need to live forever.
What do we think of Christ’s claim to be the light? What do we say when He says that those who walk with Him will never walk in the dark? Like the Pharisees, do we automatically come up with excuses for why or why not to follow Him? Do we, out of hand, deny Christ’s authority because we are looking to perpetuate our own religious beliefs versus the truth of what Christ is teaching?
Lent is a time to reflect on Christ’s claim to be the light – to be the Son of God – to be God Himself. Only He is able to take away the sins of the world. He comes to give life and give it abundantly. As we hear and say those words to ourselves how do we respond?