Many years ago I was required to attend an interview skills and training course for new managers for work. The course instructor advised us that, despite our collective training efforts, “Only 17% of candidates you ultimately hire will turn out to be who you think they are.” Aside from legitimate questions of how one ascertains such weirdly specific knowledge (or test its validity), reading today’s passage reminded me that we all carry latent expectations for people around us, whether it’s someone you are interviewing for a job, a family member, strangers on the Metro, or someone claiming to be the Messiah.
“Tell us plainly, Jesus.”
There is some debate, but scholars generally agree that this passage is a continuation of the conversations starting earlier in John, with Jesus spending time in Jerusalem during and between the Festival of the Tabernacles (Sukkot) and the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah). For Jews, it was a poignant time in a holy place, and perhaps not the ideal circumstance to encounter someone as subversive to the religious establishment and intriguing as Jesus of Nazareth.
The continuing conversation here plays out accordingly in a direct, blunt, and high-stakes manner. Jesus nonchalantly dishes out spiritual wisdom like it is going out of style before deftly escaping the crowd’s grasp during an ensuing attempt at arrest. The back and forth is intense, but before it soured, the dialogue began with a seemingly innocuous and simple request to Jesus: “Tell us plainly if you are the Messiah?”
Reading the dialogue of a passage like this, it is easy to retroactively credit oneself some understanding of what was yet to come. Yet despite our knowledge of the Gospel, we still approach God with the posture of someone coming to collect on a debt, or to air a grievance. I would be surprised if God met even 17% of people’s expectations in our time.
Fortunately, the reason He does not meet them is because He is much wiser, more powerful and more loving than our mistrusting expectations. As we see in this passage, His responses to the concerns-cum-accusations which are brought before Him are that He is actively working to bring life, to save and to protect His sheep per the Father’s commandments.
Lord, as we draw near the end of the Lenten season, help us to rid ourselves of the assumptions and expectations we place on you which limit our understanding of who you say you are, and who you say we are. Help us to encourage one another with reminders of the works you have already done when we are discouraged and vulnerable. Keep us safe from being seduced by the idols of our day, and help us receive the ministry and comfort of your voice and care.
Finally, Father, as we endeavor to follow you more closely in our faith walks, protect us from those who seek to destroy; help us to trust as Jesus did that the way to abundant life is following your Word and keeping your commandments.
Joe grew up in Pennsylvania and has lived in the Washington Metro Area for the past 12 years, most of it in a group house in Brookland. He works at a Think Tank downtown, and in his free time enjoys playing Ultimate Frisbee, reading science fiction, and making friends with the city’s worst paid employees (neighborhood feral cats).