Have you ever walked into a situation with a friend, spouse or colleague where you said something completely innocuous, only to find them snapping back in intense anger? Have you ever had someone do something that causes an intense flush of rage in you, and even you are surprised by its intensity?
Inevitably these “trigger” reactions can be traced back to trauma and a wound that causes you to react completely out of proportion.
This is what happens in John 8:31-59. Jesus here is addressing “Jews who had believed in him” – not adversarial Pharisees or Sadducees he’s often tumbling with – but rather people he’s trying to lead into a deeper relationship with himself.
Jesus says that abiding in his words will set them free. It seems like an innocuous phrase, but it is an intense trigger for those listening to him.
We don’t need to be set free they snap back. We’re already free because we’re descendants of Abraham.
Woah. Didn’t expect that.
They continue: We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.
Anyone with a passing understanding of Hebrew Bible history might say, Um… yes you were. The Egyptians… the Assyrians… the Babylonians… ten of the twelve tribes of Israel were carried off and didn’t ever come back, in fact!
Oh. There’s the rub. These Jews – they have a deep wound. They are afraid of being enslaved. They have built self-defense mechanisms for literally centuries to help themselves get through the trauma of oppression and enslavement, saying to themselves that they are already free because of their lineage. They cocoon themselves in pride and anger, rejecting what Jesus offers in love.
Does this sound familiar to us?
Jesus arrives in our lives, telling us how we might have freedom, and we respond with our own stories. Actually, I’m already really intelligent, which allows me to have the freedom to do whatever I want… Actually, I’m really good looking, which gives me the freedom to enter any social circles… Actually, I’ve got a PhD…. Actually, I’ve been reading the Bible since I was five…
And so on.
We insulate ourselves from our divine need, insisting to ourselves that we’ve got it covered. Because of our jobs, our intelligence, our spiritual pedigree, we see Jesus’ compassionate offer of freedom as a threat to our self-built personal salvation projects that we’ve convinced ourselves will protect us from our wounds.
Like these Jews, we argue with Jesus when he comes to offer us freedom, holding tight to the stories that we’ve told ourselves.
But as in verse 59, Jesus will only bear so much. Eventually he thunders “Very truly I tell you – before Abraham…. I am,” declaring himself personally to be the God of Abraham, and daring to call himself by half of a name (“I Am Who I Am”) so holy it could not be spoken. Jesus is not saying “Checkmate” but instead, “I actually invented chess.”
If you stay in genuine conversation with Jesus long enough, his supremacy will be made known in your life. You will see how Jesus doesn’t just offer you something better than the stories we tell ourselves to salve our wounds, but he created those things and is sovereign over them. The only question is, will we accept the true freedom that Jesus offers, or will we “pick up stones to throw at him”?
Ryan Patch is a film writer and director, small dog dad, and probably the bike commuter who just cut you off in traffic.