Before Throwing Stones

No, we’re not talking about the kind of stone throwing associated with glass houses in the familiar saying. As we continue following the journey of Jesus toward Jerusalem we are looking at the people and attitudes he encountered along the way to see how those same attitudes might be more familiar than we might at first expect. Today’s text is John 10:18-41, part of which is cited here:

31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 39 Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.
40 He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. 41 And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” 42 And many believed in him there.

The stones in this case were grabbed in anger at what was perceived as a claim too audacious to allow it to pass. A man claiming to be God cannot be taken seriously, unless it is to do away with such a fool. But what if there is evidence to support the claim? What if the evidence provided was so strong that it either had to be recognized as proof of the claim or attributed to some other explanation? If no such alternative was forthcoming, at the very least one might expect the withholding of judgment. In that case, the God hypothesis remains on the table.

The event recorded is far removed from us in time. The attitudes are not; sometimes they can even be found among us. It is difficult for most of us to have our categories for understanding the world we live in shattered by someone we do not know. We fight diligently to find an explanation for the supposed evidence offered in support of the claims. And most of the time we have little difficulty in undermining the case presented. Whether one’s categories are theistically or atheistically constructed, most questions, despite the evidence marshalled by those on the other side of the debate, remain safely resolved by those in each camp. Categories are amazingly resistant to evidence at times.

But it wasn’t a group of atheists with whom Jesus had some difficulties. Neither was it with “the crowds” that he had strained encounters; those folks either walked away and went about their business or they stayed for more of what Jesus had to say. Some were willing to weigh what they had seen and heard and allow the evidence to lead where it may. Not so among those with a vested interest in controlling the thoughts of the masses. Not so for those for whom a change in thinking would mean a change in the way they lived, taught, and thought of themselves before God. For them, the claims were not just a matter of interest. They were a matter of self-understanding and justification before God.

If Jesus is truly the Son of God, he can never be allowed the status of one voice among many when we make decisions about how to live or how to think. If he is not, no matter how special an example of manhood we deem him to be, his voice is always subject to negotiation. Or outright rejection, with or without the tossing of stones in his direction. The question for our reflection is whether or not we have been as accepting of the Jesus’ true identity as we need to be in our discipleship. The call is for repentance when we seek to dismiss his voice, the voice of God HImself.

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