It seems, in this Gospel, there is often a swirl around Jesus, a centrifugal force that spins those who do not believe into umbrage and those who do believe into spiritual enlightenment. For, as the religious authorities were attempting (and failing) to arrest Jesus, many others were coming powerfully into saving faith.
It was now to these people, whose inner eyes had been opened, that Jesus turned.
Though the sun was blazing hot, and the Pharisee group were clearly perspiring through their robes and head scarves, those around Jesus felt refreshed. A light but steady breeze, aromatic with the scent of almonds, had been brushing their cheeks, and cooling their foreheads.
“If you all continue and abide with me,” he said to them, “In my word,” and he used the word “Logos” that also meant “Debar” in the Hebrew language of their faith, an oblique reference to the dynamic, creating word of God, the very emanation of God’s Spirit, power, presence, and will, “you all are genuinely my disciples.”
The warmth in his voice was held also in the love in his dark eyes, as he looked each person fully in their faces. From man to woman to man, when Jesus’ gaze fell upon them, it was as though the sun’s rays shone more brightly and the wind lifted more sweetly. Their hearts were stirred with an ache so exquisite, there were no words to describe it.
“You all will both know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
But at this, first one and then another knit their brows together. They longed to understand, to be the ones who continued with Jesus, who knew the truth so well, it would be a part of them. But this was a strange and troubling teaching.
Jesus waited for them to respond.
Finally, an older woman spoke, “We are descendants of Abraham, and not any of us have at any time been in bondage. By what manner are you saying that we will become free?”
Jesus nodded, for it was a worthy question.
As she had spoken, her heart burned with longing and confusion. Had not Almighty God counted Abraham righteous by his obedient faith? Had not God covenanted with Abraham that all his offspring would be particularly blessed by God? Had they all—every one of father Abraham’s descendants—not been inside him when that righteousness had been bestowed?
How could their rabbi, indeed God’s Messiah, say they would be free from sin when Almighty God had already set them free? Of course, they sinned, but there were the sacrifices in God’s holy dwelling, upon God’s holy hill. No other people were permitted this propitiation. Only God’s people.
How much more free would—could—Messiah make them?
Jesus had been smiling at the older woman, but as he began his answer, his face become serious. “Amen, amen, I say to you,” and Jesus’ disciples, who understood well Jesus’ opening words, drew in closer to receive this fresh revelation.
“That anyone,” and he paused, looking meaningfully at them standing there in the great courtyard of the temple. “who does sin is a slave to sin.”
His teaching was landing hard upon them. The very fact they stood here, worshiping God, making sacrifices to God, in good standing with the temple hegemony, did not put them in the same class as habitual and hardened sinners, such as the tax collectors, and the prostitutes.
But Jesus’ voice was not harsh, nor accusatory, nor judgmental in any way. Each person had the distinct feeling Jesus was already giving them the revelation of truth he had just promised they would know deep within their bones. That would be so a part of them they would be free.
Jesus shook his head sorrowfully, sweeping his arms out as if to draw their eyes towards the gorgeous, gleaming, golden temple, the many faithful worshipers milling up and down its brilliant white marble steps, the people rising up from mikveh sunk in private chambers all throughout the lower temple area, glistening with water droplets from their purification.
All this holiness, all this piety, all this religious devotion.
“But the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains,” and here Jesus brought his hand up to place on his chest, over his heart, “forever.”
A slow dawning of understanding was beginning to rise in their faces. Some slowly nodded, saddened. For it was true, the inheritance of the house would not go to the enslaved person. IF a master desired to make one of his slaves an heir, first that one would need to be manumitted, and receive the status of a person.
Such a view of their own relationship to Almighty God was devastating. The older woman could feel the tears tighten in her throat and moisten the corners of her eyes. She pressed her lips to keep them from trembling.
Jesus once again held his hand out to her, and spoke with a deep intensity. The soft breeze was becoming a wind redolent with the spices of incense, surely from the temple prayers. She could feel her head scarf lift, and she reached to catch it before it flew of.
“Therefore, if the son makes you free,” and he again lifted his other hand to his chest, “you will certainly be free.” He was now smiling at her with all the winsomeness of a summer’s day.
Without a thought to propriety, she took his hand with both of hers, her tears now transformed to joy. He gave her hands a strong clasp, then turned to the Pharisees and those who had been summoned to arrest him, who had remained rivetted behind him.
“I know you are descendants of Abraham: notwithstanding, you all seek after me to kill, because my Word (Logos) does not have a place in you.”
Jesus watched grimly as their faces once again darkened into fury.
“What I have beheld and perceived in the sight of the Father I speak: and what you all therefore hear in the sight of the father, you all do.”
Jesus did not use the voice of command. Instead, it seemed a suggestion. If Jesus was ambassador of heaven, if he was delivering the very word of God, then of course it would behoove them to do it.
Some of the Pharisees drew themselves up to full height. There was no question they would absolutely, unequivocally, obey every command of God with every fiber of their strength and being. But was this from God?
Or was this coming from a grubby itinerant soapbox preacher, a construction worker from Galilee who fancied himself a theologian and even more, the actual son of God, the Messiah? They took no pains to mask their withering contempt and scornful disgust. Some spat on the ground, perilously close to Jesus’ feet.
But those of the Jewish faith, whose hearts had been ignited with faith, watched in wonder and in a hunger to know.
[Almond tree | Needpix.com]
The lampstand in the Holy Place, within the original tabernacle, and later the temples, was carved in such a way as to resemble an almond tree in bud, in flower, and in almonds, symbolizing all three stages of life. It was meant to be remindful of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, and also the burning bush.