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Jesus said to the Pharisees, ‘I am going away, and you will search for me, but you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.’ Then the Jews said, ‘Is he going to kill himself? Is that what he means by saying, “Where I am going, you cannot come”?’ He said to them, ‘You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he.’ They said to him, ‘Who are you?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Why do I speak to you at all? I have much to say about you and much to condemn; but the one who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.’ They did not understand that he was speaking to them about the Father. So Jesus said, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me. And the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.’ As he was saying these things, many believed in him.
Jesus said: … you are of this world, I am not of this world.
There was a time when it was not uncommon to hear of someone being described as ‘too holy to be of any earthly use.’ This derogatory description was applied to those who seemed to be so obsessed with religious ritual and holy teachings that they were distanced from the mess and mundanity of daily life. Today, Jesus speaks of being not of this world. Perhaps such words lead us down the path of presuming that he is, therefore, of no relevance in the ‘real world’!
In the fourth and fifth centuries there were many debates about the nature of Jesus Christ. These debates developed into the doctrine of the hypostatic union, that is the union of Christ’s humanity and divinity in one individual person. To put it in more straightforward terms, it is the doctrine of the Church that Christ is both fully human and fully divine. It is this doctrine that should be at the forefront of our thinking when we reflect upon Jesus’ declaration that he is not of this world. Rather than being ‘too holy to be of any earthly use’, he is the only one who can act as a bridge between this world and the eternal kingdom of his, and our, heavenly Father.
In today’s reading Jesus tells the Pharisees that, like all human beings, he will die. But, unlike the Pharisees to whom he is speaking, Jesus knows that his departure from this world will mark his return to the heavenly realm he left to bring salvation to humanity. The Pharisees are confused and ponder whether he is about to commit suicide. Rather than pausing to think and pray about his words, they jump to the only conclusions open to their narrow-minded way of thinking.
Throughout his adult ministry, Jesus has been teaching and preaching, healing and working wondrous signs, and yet the Pharisees, along with other religious and political leaders, have not paused to consider the reality of the situation. They have closed their minds to the possibility that they are standing in the presence of the long-awaited Messiah, the one who was foretold as the Saviour of the world. Instead they wear their blinkers with pride as they continue to mislead those who might otherwise know the redemption he brought into the human sphere of existence.
It is not unusual for us to perpetuate the attitudes of the Pharisees. We struggle to accept the miracle of God’s presence in our midst. We point the finger of ridicule and persecution at those who have recognized and embraced the truth of Christ’s incarnation.
Let us pray that we might rejoice that through the totality of his humanity Jesus knows the path we are travelling, because he has already travelled that same path. Let us pray that we might be ever thankful that the risen and ascended Christ has not abandoned us, but continues to walk with us in this troubled and divided world. Let us pray that we might always honour, praise and worship the one true living God as he leads us towards eternal life in his nearer presence.