This passage is about the true family of God. It’s a pretty intense scene. In the verses leading up to it, Jesus pulls the rug out from under some Pharisees by telling them they aren’t the genuine descendants of Abraham they think they are. If they were, Jesus says, they would “do what Abraham did” and humbly obey God (John 8:39), rather than resist him and look for a way to kill Jesus, whom God has sent to them. Each time the Pharisees protest, Jesus carefully uses Scripture to show them that the very family they’re laying claim to--the family of Abraham, and ultimately of God--is a family they deny by their actions and pride.
Jesus even invites the Pharisees’ scrutiny with humility: “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?” (John 8:46). They can’t. But they won’t stop trying. When their arguments fail, they insult him (Jews hated Samaritans, so that name was a deep insult), and claim he’s under the power of a demon rather than God. Eventually, they ask him who he thinks he is, and when he tells them--“before Abraham was born, I am!”--they prepare to stone him.
Jesus tells the Pharisees they’re rejecting him not because of their learning or intellect, but because their hearts are closed to God’s voice: “Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God” (8:46-47). In saying this, Jesus redefines the family of Abraham. It’s a family determined not by blood relations but by heart relations, by the heart’s submission to God through the acceptance of Christ. And that submission can’t remain something private. Jesus explicitly connects it to outward behavior, to visible obedience through actions.
I’m thinking, unexpectedly, of the scene in Matthew when Peter climbs out of a boat in the Sea of Galilee, and walks on the water toward Jesus (Matthew 14:22-33). The boat is safety. The boat is comfort. The boat is whatever we have in this life that gives us a sense of security, belonging, identity, or--underneath all those things, really--pride. For the Pharisees in today’s passage, the boat is their identity as descendants of Abraham. My boat changes from day to day. Sometimes it’s my relationships. Sometimes it’s abilities or my appearance.
Regardless of what it is, though, it’s never the safe place I think it is. And my heart is always being called to step out of it, onto the water, toward Jesus. Walking to him in obedience is scary. But as Jesus did for Peter, he’s ready to catch me the moment I cry out to him. What matters is that I open my heart, hear God calling me to his true family, and take that first step out of the boat toward his Son.
Sarah Wade wanted to keep this Lenten blog post to 250 words but then got a bit too excited. She lives in the Woodley House and attends Advent’s Columbia Heights service. She is definitely not a robot engineered by the Russian military.