As the page turns from where we were for the past few chapters-seeing Jesus ascending in both influence and impact on the people around him. The authorities, at least most of them, reject him and his teaching. The crowds respond with an increasing interest and energy. What makes this part of the Gospel different from the other three is that while Jesus seems to be entering into a popular relationship with the crowd in Matthew, Mark and Luke, here there seems to be a separation taking place. Jesus begins to talk about leaving, soon. The hour is coming, he tells them...get ready...but, really, you can't get ready. So, be watchful.
Chapter 8 begins with Jesus' encounter with a crowd that has gathered with the intent of stoning a woman who had been caught in adultery. Most textual scholars agree that this was not an original element of John's Gospel, but that it was added later. Still, this piece has deep roots in the verbal tradition and in its placement in the early chapters of the Gospel speak a great deal to both Jesus' authority as a teacher and judge-and to the radical address he offers to the authorities who live within a dramatically expanded (read, Pharisaic) version of Torah. Still, it has to be said that the woman is guilty of the sin, is liable under the law and this is a "legitimate" judgment-though we might find it repugnant in this day and age. She is condemned. Jesus is challenged by the leaders of the crowd, not to have him offer supportive judgment, but instead to catch him out. This is a recurrent theme, but in this case a woman's life is at stake. He squats down and draws circles with his finger in the dirt...and under continuing pressure responds that the person without sin should cast the first stone. Simple logic...and devastating to the intent of the crowd. Note that he is NOT calling anyone a hypocrite, nor is he contravening the Law. He is simply and in a straightfoward way offering up that judgment is God's when it comes to condemnation...and unless we are willing to accept responsibility for our own sins, even as we seek to visit sentence on those who sin around us, we should be very careful indeed when it comes to choosing to take up stones to hurl at anyone, regardless of guilt.
After this event, and the woman's apparent pardon/release, Jesus enters into a discourse on how he is the light of the world. Again, he is involved in arguments over semantics. One cannot testify on one's own behalf. And yet, Jesus seems to be doing just that...while Jesus challenges them with the invitation to accept not only his teaching, but also his nature as the one who is come down from the Father to teach and to model the life of the kingdom. This exchange resolves, if it can be called that, with claims and challenges of primacy. The Pharisees claim that as descendants of Abraham they are "entitled" as heir of the kingdom. Jesus challenges that assertion of freedom. Anyone can claim anything, but it is in the life they live that they show themselves either worthy or false. The chapter concludes with another ratcheting up of the argument that Jesus is the very Word..."before Abraham was, I am." That nearly gets him stoned. Full circle from the woman who skirts that fate and Jesus who provokes it.
Chapter 9 opens with more arguments at the expense of a human being's comfort and safety. A man, born blind, is brought to Jesus-not so much for healing; but to beg the question about the inheritance of sin and its transferance across generations. If someone is blind from birth; and blindness is the product of sin...who then sinned? The man as an infant...or as an embryon in utero? His parents? Is this the reality of a just God who creates and then visits punishment for one generation's sin on the innocence of the next? Jesus' reply is direct. The man's blindness is not a sign of sin, but a witness to the dynamic power of God and the Word to heal. And so, the man is healed...but can people accept that one who was once blind has now become one who has sight? He had no eyes, and now they are whole and functional inside his head. What/who does that? To what purpose? Can we truly be open to the Son of God alive in our midst and are we ready to accept the changes and transformations that are bound to occur as that incarnation bears fruit and grace?
How many times has someone been transformed before us, healed, and we simply and utterly fail to accept that transformation? The "Jews," the Pharisees, the authorities, bang around the event. He can't be the same man. He can't be healed in a "legitimate" way because he was healed during the Sabbath rest. He can't be sighted now...much less forgiven...because no man can possess the power to do this incredible thing! It all boils down to the basic question: Is Jesus from God? To say "yes" is to accept that God is doing a new thing, and that is John's whole point in a nutshell. This Jesus, incarnate Son, is God's active presence in the world-and thus his actions supercede all that was before. Not a great thing for people who have based their lives on aligning themselves firmly with tradition-and in John's eyes', who have forsaken the dynamism of God's intent to reveal the Son to the world.
Chapter 10 is perhaps the most powerful, and most poignant of exchanges to date in the Johannine Gospel narrative. As Jesus begins to discourse with the great "I AM" statements, the rejection also continue to pile up around him. For those who follow, Jesus is truth...is THE Truth. For those who reject, he is a blasphemer. The middle ground is shrinking fast. Soon, there won't be much left at all. You are either for the Son of Man, or against him...
Chapter 11 takes us to one of the great moments in John. Lazarus, a beloved friend of Jesus and brother to Mary and Martha, is ill. Really ill. Sick to death. Jesus is told to come, quickly...and yet he delays. "This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God's glory...." What stands out for me in this story is a two-punch depiction of Jesus who is at once both the Son of Man (who KNOWS what he is doing, about to do and why he is doing it) AND a man who mourns the death of his friend. John is at his best here, as he depicts both a divine agent of life and at the same time illustrates how a person REALLY feels when someone he loves REALLY dies. Lazarus' resuscitation does more than offer witness to Jesus' power as the Son. It also provides the final, galvanizing element that those who opposed him needed to resolve to seek hi death. This sign is the tipping point in way people are going to be reacting to Jesus from this point forward. The debate is past being polarized. Those who "love" Jesus are trying to stay with him as the opposition grows. Those opposed to him are getting their ducks in a row. He won't last much longer....