It has been nine weeks since I last posted on John’s Gospel (see March 20, 2012 http://inaspaciousplace.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/john-660-71-granted-by-the-father/). This morning seems a good time to resume looking at John.
John 7:1-13 is a curious story. It centres around the celebration of “the Jewish festival of Booths” (Sukkot) in which the Israelites recall their journey in the wilderness in preparation for their entrance into the Promised Land. During Sukkot Jews build temporary shelters in which to eat and even sleep over night, as reminders of their fragile state during their wilderness wanderings after the Exodus.
In John 7:1-13 Jesus’ brothers encourage him to go up to Jerusalem to observe Sukkot. Their motivation, however, is not entirely devotional. They want Jesus to go to Jerusalem so that he may be acclaimed as a worker of miracles and liberator of the people of Israel.
So his brothers said to him, ‘Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things show yourself to the world.’ (John 7:3,4)
It is embarrassing to admit how often Jesus’ brothers whisper in my ear. Their tempting voices urge me to seek the world’s acclaim. “Make a public spectacle of yourself” they urge; “you know you want to be ‘widely known’ and to ‘show yourself to the world’. You long for the world’s applause.”
This is the way of the world.
No one who wants to be known acts in secret. (John 7:4)
The seductive voice of the world promises that when I am known, when my name is acclaimed, I will finally feel special. When the world affirms my importance, I will start to believe in my value as a person. I will find rest for my weary soul and sustenance for my failing spirit.
This is not the way of Jesus. Jesus is not interested in the way of the world. He does not seek the world’s affirmation. Jesus understands deep in his being that the way of the world is an enemy of the way of life.
The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil. (John 7:7)
The translation evil is unfortunate and unnecessary. The Greek word is poneros, it can mean “evil” but it can equally well be translated “full of labours, annoyances, hardships, and toil”. The way of the world is hard work. It never brings rest. When I seek the world’s acclaim my life is filled with stress and anxiety. No amount of affirmation is ever adequate. As soon as I reach one level of recognition, my need to be noticed simply grows larger.
Instead of expending his energy doing the work of the world, Jesus chose to act
not publicly, but as it were in secret. (John 7:10)
The fragile shelters of Sukkot are a graphic reminder of the impermanent nature of all temporal reality. To seek to build a permanent shelter in the wilderness is a fool’s errand. It involves endless hard work. There is no final rest for those who try to build permanent dwellings in the wilderness.
The true rest for which my spirit longs comes only when I cease being driven by the “fear of” (John 7:13) those who judge all of life by the standards of the world. I am only able to rest on the journey of my life when I choose to “believe” (John 7:5) in the one who is secretly at work in the depths of my being.
When I travel lightly through this world, my heart opens to the deep and true nourishment that has the capacity to sustain me long after the world’s accolades have fallen silent.