Providentially, today is my 31st birthday. So, when sitting down to engage this text, I had a certain weight on my shoulders: the existential burden of the past twelve months. Without going into too much detail, the first year of my thirties was one of the most challenging years I have had to date. It is not that any one major event sent me spiraling; the internal crisis was born of a culmination of events. Family, friends, career, finances, faith, and stage of life—each one of these spheres has substantially changed for me this past year, and not necessarily in the way I would have planned if I were the “architect” of my life.
Today’s passage met me in this place and confronted me with the question: “Who is in control?” The obvious answer: not me. The answer my flesh does not want to submit to: Jesus Christ. In this manner I identify with the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ audience.
The Jewish leaders in this passage were comfortable. They were used to belonging to the upper echelon of their society. They were in “control.” They expected a Messiah who would validate the story they were living into. They were not ready for a Messiah who would question the foundational assumptions of the society they controlled.
Let us rehash the events up to this point in the Gospel of John. Jesus drove out the moneychangers from the Temple, insinuating that the current priestly rule had become morally bankrupt. And by now, word had probably circulated of Jesus’ conversations with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman at the well. Through these interactions Jesus had begun to nullify the Jewish leaders’ criteria of controlling who was “in” and who was “out.” Oh, and the miracles. By turning water into wine, healing the nobleman’s son, and healing the lame man by the pool at Bethesda (on the Sabbath no less), Jesus asserted His authority as the Son of God. He is ushering in a new religious era that the Jews are not in control of—and they know it. The response in their heart is murder.
Today’s passage picks up there. Jesus has shown his cards and he does not back down. Facing the murderous hearts of the Jews, Jesus re-asserts his divinity (just in case there was any confusion) and then reveals that the Father has appointed him to be the Judge of both the living and the dead.
If there were any doubts before, Jesus assures the Jews that their religious control has ended. Instead of relinquishing control, we know what they eventually do. Ironically, the death and resurrection of Christ give substance to the very claims that Jesus makes in this passage. The decision we are left with during this Lenten season is what to do when Christ asserts control in our own lives. Do we run? Do we challenge his authority? Do we quietly stoke the murderous thoughts in our own hearts by dismissing Christ’s divinity, thus quenching The Spirit? Or do we submit and trust?
TJ Fleming is a recovering Enneagram 7 who is finally confronting the fact that he can’t “do everything.” TJ lives in Petworth with his wife Bethany, their new daughter Mary Hayley, & housemates: Deborah, Luke, & cats (Pippen & Molly). He is eternally grateful for the Advent community.