Monday, March 18, 2013

Self-Deception Meter: Lenten Midweek Missal (5)

God doesn't deceive- we do it to ourselves!

John 8:31-42 (CEB)

Jesus said to the Jews who believed in him, “ You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teaching. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. ” They responded, “ We are Abraham’s children; we’ve never been anyone’s slaves. How can you say that we will be set free? Jesus answered, “I assure you that everyone who sins is a slave to sin. A slave isn’t a permanent member of the household, but a son is. Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you really will be free. I know that you are Abraham’s children, yet you want to kill me because you don’t welcome my teaching. I’m telling you what I’ve seen when I am with the Father, but you are doing what you’ve heard from your father. ” They replied, “ Our father is Abraham. ” Jesus responded, “ If you were Abraham’s children, you would do Abraham’s works. Instead, you want to kill me, though I am the one who has spoken the truth I heard from God. Abraham didn’t do this. You are doing your father’s works." They said, “ Our ancestry isn’t in question! The only Father we have is God! ” Jesus replied, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God. Here I am. I haven’t come on my own. God sent me."

"Don't tell me how to lie about my drinking!"
--from the movie, Flight 

The "Jews who believed in him" catches my eye, simply because there is much in the Fourth Gospel about the rejection of Jesus by his own people. "His own people did not receive him," announces John's Prologue. Pinchas Lapide, the late Jewish scholar, once wrote that for Christianity to have been born in and then grow out of Judaism, one of the historical prerequisites was that a small minority of Jews from within the faith had to wholly be convinced of Jesus as Messiah, while the vast majority would have constituted the Jewish "no." 

However, to expect these believers of John 8 to give Jesus a pass would be expecting too much. What gets the whole argument going happens when Jesus suggests that these folks needed to be set free. In other words, they needed deliverance, along with a deliverer. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us," I John claims. How about this paraphrase: "If we say we are free, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,"

The claim that "we've never been anyone's slaves" is totally false and on the politico fact finder of that day, the arrow would have pointed to "pants on fire." The long history of the Jews contains many eras in which they were under slavery, captivity, or some kind of oppression. They were not their own masters under Rome, whose troops occupied their land during Jesus' ministry. The decisive event in Israel's history, the Exodus and the high feast of Passover in which the Exodus is celebrated, told the story of the deliverance from slavery in Egypt. We've never been anyone's slaves? Really?!?

Would Americans appreciate having someone telling us we're really not as free as we think we are? Jesus moves the argument to freedom from slavery to sin. Jesus' antagonists counter with claiming to be Abraham's  descendants. The mention of Abraham's lineage is nothing new. Remember what John the Baptizer says about children of Abraham, that God can raise from stones children of Abraham. (Luke 3) According to Albert Nolan, in Jesus' century, to prove you were of authentic Jewish heritage, it often required that you fish through hundreds of years of genealogy. This is supposed to make you free?

Jesus opponents throw one more salvo, the one about their ancestry not being in question, and by implication, Jesus' ancestry- who his father was- as being in doubt. Their appeal to Abraham, who was known for his gracious hospitality, is debunked by their actual rejection of the truth (that they are not really free) and desire to kill Jesus, the embodiment of the truth. Jesus' opponents finally drop Abraham altogether and claim something about having only God as their Father.  

We cannot be both free and deceived. If we think we, by acting alone, can make ourselves free from the forces of slavery, oppression, and evil, without becoming the evil we deplore, we're kidding ourselves. Our United Methodist baptismal vows ask, "Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin? Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?"

Perhaps it's a good week to renew these vows in the name of the One who speaks truth to our self- deception, who sets us free indeed.

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