Devotional excerpt for today:
We are not surprised to find Jesus in conflict with religious leaders after performing an amazing miracle. They used to call it the “evil eye” of jealousy, where you view the success of others as a threat and you strike out to bring them down a notch.
The Pharisees in this story are symbolic of anyone in leadership who is intimidated by “lessers” or outsiders. Their protest that Jesus has broken the Sabbath is weak—one that no Pharisee with any depth would have made sincerely at the time. The complaint seems more like a petty individual looking for an excuse—and a poor one at that. Jesus has done something they cannot do. They are supposed to be the ones with a connection to God. Who does this nobody think he is? By contrast, Christian love rejoices with those who rejoice. When something genuinely good happens to someone else, the Christ-like thing is to be happy for them, even if we wish it had happened to us instead.
It is not at all likely that there was a universal policy at the time of Christ that believers were to be kicked out of synagogues for believing in Jesus. It did happen from time to time after Jesus rose from the dead to be sure. It happened with Greek-speaking Jewish believers in Jerusalem around the time of Stephen. It happened in Rome in AD49 when Claudius kicked believing Jews out of Rome. Oppression is always close at hand in a small community where a few bullies can wield inappropriate power. We can be sure that this sort of thing was happening at the time John was written. Its audience did face the choice of serving Christ or continuing to be part of the synagogue.
How often do we miss the point because of some personal preoccupation or defense mechanism? Perhaps Jesus is doing something spectacular in front of us and we cannot bring ourselves to participate because it somehow makes us feel small or exposes our deficiencies. “Is Jesus a sinner?” “I’m not sure, but did you know I had been blind all my life?” So a new person comes to your church seeking God. What a great thing! Then we criticize the way she is dressed or the way he talks. Someone does a good thing that everyone can see. “Ah, but is their heart that we cannot see really good?” We should be pleased when good is done, even when it is done by someone we do not like.
Father, heal us of our petty jealousies. Make us bigger people than we are, people who rejoice when good is done.
“Never make excuses. Your friends don't need them and your foes won’t believe them.” John Wooden, in Wooden