At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered, ‘I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.’
I have told you, and you do not believe.
What does it take to convince you of something? What do you believe in? Where do you place your faith? Do you believe in those who are nearest and dearest to you, or do you believe only in that which you can hold and possess? Is there anything in which you have faith, something which you can neither hold nor possess and yet which underpins the way in which you live out your daily life?
These are challenging questions because we live in a sceptical age, an age where we have become convinced of the need for incontrovertible proof before we believe, before we have faith. Since our celebration of the resurrection on Easter Day we have been offered a variety of readings from scripture which focus on our belief in Jesus’ resurrection, on our faith in a life-giving and redeeming God.
Throughout his ministry Jesus made it abundantly clear that he was the one who was fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah who was to redeem the world. He foretold all that happened to him during the events of Holy Week, and his subsequent overcoming of the power of death. He did not only say that these events would happen, he also related his words to the scriptures that were supposed to provide the firm foundation for a faithful life. But, he was not believed. People did not have faith. Should we be surprised by this, though?
Let us put ourselves in the position of those who heard Jesus teaching, those who witnessed his miracles and acts of healing. Jesus, the wandering teacher, and his band of faithful followers would not have been an unusual sight in that early first century world. Many ‘messiahs’ offered much to those who would commit themselves to discipleship. The difference with Jesus was that his message was not one of power and wealth, he was not interested in leading an army against the Roman oppressors. Jesus’ intention was to bring a new message of forgiveness and hope to humanity, even if that same humanity had to endure great suffering first.
Put in these terms, Jesus was not offering much to a world in need of relief and joy. Those who travelled with him would have seen inexplicable things happen, but the world of ‘magic’, that which deceives rational observation, would have been familiar. Even the healings may have had a logical explanation! Then Jesus offered a totally counter-cultural message of love for all, even for one’s enemies. How could any rational human being have faith in that? Just as today, everyone knew that it was a matter of the survival of the strongest!
But … Jesus’ message was not for those who struggled to accept that things can and do happen which defy our ability to explain and understand. Jesus’ message is for those who can learn to believe and to have faith in the inexplicably powerful. Jesus’ message is for all who can set aside their worldly priorities and give thanks that he lived and died for each and every one of us.