John 8:43
Spiritual Sight John 8:43

I was driving my kids to school the other day and my daughter started explaining her new book to me. She loves reading and the series she’s in right now is one of her favorites. It chronicles the adventures of Percy Jackson following the narrative lines of famous Greek myths. However, the more details my daughter gave me, the more lost I felt. I haven’t read any of the previous books and I only have a cursory working knowledge of Greek mythology. I was lost!

I get the sense that’s how many people felt when Jesus was teaching. He faced much resistance and was often engaged in debate. Listen to the way he responded to some of the Jewish leaders, “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.” (John 8:43) They are lost, but it’s not that they don’t understand the content of what he’s saying, it’s that they cannot believe it. It’s as though their spiritual ears are closed – they’re spiritually deaf. They are hard-hearted. They could not “bear his word.”

This exchange is a challenge for us to ask ourselves if we can bear his word. It’s a challenge for us to gauge how attentive and open we are to the voice of God in our own lives and if we are willing to understand and listen. It’s easy to cast stones wondering why people were unwilling to listen to Jesus when he taught in the temple, but it’s good for us to recognize that we often do the same thing.

Let’s step back from the story for a moment and name how alike we are to the Jewish leaders. They were in a theological system of belief and praxis. It was a system that gave the people in charge a certain amount of power and prestige. It was a system that people knew that made them feel safe because they knew what to expect. It was a system that included their religion, politics, and social structures – and Jesus was blowing all of it up. So much so that the heart of the Jewish religion, the Temple, would not be a part of the new system moving forward. It made sense that they couldn’t “bear to hear his word.”

Jesus was completely disorienting and wholly unexpected. Maybe that’s what following Jesus is like – unexpected. Maybe it feels like laying down our way of understanding. I wonder what Jesus would say to us as we go to church week in and week out. As we read scripture and sing songs, do we expect to be confronted with things Jesus wants us to surrender, or do we expect our already-held convictions to be reinforced? I don’t think the church was ever designed to be an echo chamber, I think it’s supposed to be a refining fire.

Are you attentive to Jesus in a way that would allow you to hear him if he spoke something unexpected? Would he say to you, “You cannot bear to hear my word” like he did to the leaders? Maybe right now we just pause and ask him to open our ears and hearts more and more to him.

Pastor Ryan Paulson

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