|"The Pharisees Question Jesus" Tissot|
Jesus tells Israel's religious teachers as plainly as possible about their spiritual position. They are slaves.
What is their reaction? "Teacher, we see you are from God because no one without God can do the things you have been doing. Please show us how to be free." Sadly, no. Instead they say, "We are descendents of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone." (Coming from a people enslaved by Egyptians, scattered by Assyrians, captured by Babylonians and at this time occupied by Romans)
How many people have justified injustices because of misplaced pride in where they are from and who their family is? How many of us feel the need to treat others however we choose because they are inferior anyway?
The term "human rights" is a popular term today. But, we repeatedly fall short of this ideal because we always seem to find a group who are not entitled to the same "human rights" we claim for ourselves. The current attempt to establish international "human rights" will fail because the commissions and panels have already discriminated against humans who are under a certain age. All it takes to take away a person's "human rights" is to judge them as less than human.
Today, our authorities seek to see our neighbourhoods in terms of all kinds of "identities". These cultural anthropogists believe they can see the trends, successes and failures of our culture by simply knowing who is where and manipulating particular pieces around the board in order to socially engineer the preferrable outcome.
When we vote, when we fill in a census, when we pay our taxes, when we apply for a job, we are asked for our identity. Are we male or female? What colour is our skin? Where is our family from? How much money do we earn? Do we work as a labourer or in an office? Etc...
But, Jesus has none of it. "If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are indeed doing what your father does."
Jesus bluntly informs the religious leaders that their standing with God has nothing to do with who they are but what they do. It's that way for all of us. It doesn't matter whether we are Americans, Australians, Iranians, Israelis, Kenyans, Jamaicans, Italians, Russians, Chinese, Japanese, Kiwis, etc... The same rule applies to all of us. Our standing with our Father in heaven is not evidenced by who we are but by what we do. Children do what their Father does.
I often have a wincing moment when I often find one of my children doing something that I wish I didn't do, but do anyway. Recently, I had to come to the realisation that it is hard to lecture my son about taking way too much from the pantry for a snack when I do the exact same thing. Children only do what we say when what we say matches what we do. Children do what their parents do.
Jesus makes it painfully simple for those of us who like to erect complicated justifications for unjustifiable actions. "Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word. You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me."
In the eyes of the Kingdom, there are two identities. Those who are sons of our Father in heaven or those who are sons of the devil. According to Jesus, children of the devil reject truth and seek to kill and destroy. Such people cannot accept Jesus or the One who sent Him because Jesus is truth and life and restoration.
Again, it is about the heart. What do we want? And who are we trust will get us there? The religious leaders were able to control many people through their man-made authority. They were respected in their nation as they built up and tore down the reputation of whoever they chose. They were able to amass great wealth and influence because of who they were and who they were able to please. All within the cloak of following the Living God.
And, yet, when One sent by the Living God comes among them, they want to kill him because of the threat he posed to their favourable social order. Generations later, we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Church leaders, pastors, prophets and teachers have been given an incredible responsibility. Are we doing what we are doing because we want people to think better of us and/or give us what we want? Or are we serving an audience of One? Are we willing to do what Jesus does even if it means being rejected as he is rejected?
In the face of Israel's most favoured, in the face of an angry mob, Jesus proclaims:
Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.
Jesus makes it plain. And Jesus turns his eyes to me. What do I believe?