Creating a Culture of Accountability

Jesus asks “For which of these (works) are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy’”.  It wasn’t the Messianic implications that whips them into a murderous rage.   They were enraged by Jesus’ claim to be “one with the Father.”

John 10:22-38

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30The Father and I are one.” 31The Jews took up stones again to stone him. 32Jesus replied, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” 33The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.” 34Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’ —and the scripture cannot be annulled— 36can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? 37If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. 38But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

It was the Festival of Dedication, a celebration of the dedication of the Temple and a commemoration of Israel’s deliverance.  Now days the Jews call it Hanukah. John tells us that Jesus was walking in the place where the King would declare his judgments and exercise justice for those who were brought before him. This is the place where justice was meted out – no place could have been more appropriate for this conversation with the leaders of the faith community.  Justice is something for which Jesus’ life and teachings were all about.  The leaders had Messiah on their minds and given the timing Jesus’ walk on the Solomon’s portico was loaded with Messianic implications.  Of course, this was not the man they had in mind for the job. The presenting question put to him by the religious leaders, huddled from the wind at the south east end of the outer court of the Temple that cold winter day was understandable though a bit less than sincere.  What they wanted to know was whether the power Jesus was displaying in the work of his ministry was of God or of some other power in the universe.

“If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly” (10:24).  Jesus points to the works he has been doing as testimony to his messiah-ship. “My works are your answer but you don’t want to see what is right in front of your eyes.”  According to New Testament scholar John Ashton, there was no inherent blasphemy in Jesus claiming to be the Messiah. In Jesus day there were innumerable pretenders to Messiahship. Of the other messianic pretenders were accused of blasphemy.  Why were they already picking up stones to stone him? Jesus asks “For which of these (works) are you going to stone me?” 33The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy”  It wasn’t the Messianic implications that whips them into a murderous rage.   They were enraged by Jesus’ claim to be “one with the Father.”

In the Gospel of John the title Son of God constitutes a claim to divinity. This is the claim that was blasphemous to the Jewish leaders. That they didn’t stone him on the spot is a miracle that the text doesn’t explain.  He responds to them by quoting from Psalm 82.  The fragment in John is of the 6th verse alone.  It’s helpful to read the whole passage.

1God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: 2“How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah 3Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. 4Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” 5They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. 6I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you; 7nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.” 8Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you!

On Solomon’s porch, the place where justice is meted out, Jesus calls to the minds of the religious elite this passage from the Psalms which establishes the fact that they too must own divinity and thus responsibility. That to which he lays claim is something to which they too should embrace. “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you” the Psalmist penned.  The chord struck home:  they had not given justice to the weak and the orphan.  They had not maintained the rights of the most vulnerable and destitute among them.  Rather than rescuing the weak and the needy they were responsible for delivering them into the hands of the wicked.  I’m not sure whether it comes as good news at all that we, all of us, are children, sons and daughters of God,  that is members of the divine family.  With that comes a huge responsibility.

Did no one ever tell you?  Do you know it?  You are a child of God, just as much as was Jesus and those of his opposition, and as part of the divine family you are given an important role in this world, to care for those who can’t care for themselves. Maybe like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day it’s something you’d prefer to deny.  In avoiding our responsibility do we abdicate our heritage. Jesus pushes them and us to create a culture of accountability. Sure it’s a challenge to each of us is to own rather than disown our birthright.  Are you a child of God?  And the answer is yes, by virtue of your very being.  The challenge is to grow into the fullness of that identity – which in simple terms means becoming more Christ-like.

A little good news here. We aren’t left to work this out alone.  We have the whole of Judeo-Christian tradition and the Law as a school master.  We have the Gospels that give us a portrait of Jesus, what being Christ-like looks like.  We have the gift of Christ’s own spirit that blows through us, blowing away the garbage of our minimalist ideas of self hood and stirring that spark of life that lies within us.  We have a community of others on the same pilgrimage to wholeness to encourage us.

James Dobbins wrote that: When we speak of the divinization of our soul, and that’s what we are talking about – our being divine, we speak of a doctrine that has been held by the Church since the very beginning. Prominent spiritual fathers have written about it but too few Christians are familiar with it.  A Franciscan priest said that in seminary they spent three years studying this in a course series on mystical theology. However, they were advised not to devote much time to teaching it to their congregations because it is not something which can be covered in a fifteen minutes, requires a series of classes in an adult education setting, and many adults are not interested in a series. The assumption is that people are more interested in the quick sound bite kind of education than in something that takes meaningful reflection. That is obviously a generalization, but a sign of the times.  Jean Corbon, in his book The Liturgy Lived connects our divinity to the experience of worship.  He wrote: “If we consent in prayer to be flooded by the river of life, our entire being will be transformed; we will become trees of life and be increasingly able to produce the fruit of the Spirit: we will love with the very Love that is our God. It is necessary at every moment to insist on this radical consent, this decision of the heart by which our will submits unconditionally to the energy of the Holy Spirit; otherwise we shall remain subject to the illusion created by mere knowledge of God and talk about him and shall in fact remain apart from him in brokenness and death. To this transformative power of the river of life that permeates the entire being (person and nature), the undivided tradition of the Churches gives an astonishing name that sums up the mystery of the lived liturgy: theosis or divinization. Through the baptism and of the Holy Spirit we become as we find in 2nd Peter “sharers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4).

A couple of years ago Phyllis Tickle wrote of this 82nd  Psalm saying that she had never understood the Psalms.  She wrote: I saw God seated in the center and highest seat, lording over the lesser gods who ranged from unattractive to beautiful beyond measure, but all of whom did Him obeisance, even as I knew they should. Years later, as I matured, the opening scenes of Job made perfect sense to me, for I was already in love with that mighty council of God and the powers and the gods.  But then I grew up, which for a Christian child means that I wandered—or was led, perhaps—away from the inexplicable toward the Gospels.  In our passage of John 10:34-36  the people are about to stone Jesus. The stones are, in fact, in their hands, when he asks them for which of his actions they desire to kill him. Not for his deeds, they tell him, but because he dares to claim himself as God. And his answer?  “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “you are gods”’? If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’– and the scripture cannot be annulled—can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? Ahh… there it hinges, does it not? All of christology and, deliciously enough, all of anthropology, as well. Who are we? Who was he as one of us?

Was Jesus self defense convincing or just clever?  Did he just want to embarrass them or is there really something to what is in Psalm 82.  This Psalm not only showed that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah, it also had a very pointed message to those who had rejected Him and were attempting to put Him to death and to us.  Jesus answered them, “Has it not been written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? (John 10:34).

The relevance of Psalm 82 to the people of our Lord’s day is all too obvious.  It would be easier if what is at stake is how the people of Jesus’ day must ascertain the person and character of the Righteous Judge.  And yes, even today, we must make the same decision. But beyond that this psalm reminds us of our true heritage,  that we too are children of God and we are called to exercise our God-given power consistent with God’s character and commands in caring for what God created.

I’ve got this nagging suspicion that we prefer to see ourselves like the stuff that tides deposits on the sea shore – irresponsibly floating where currents take us.  And then we let God be God, to intervene or not in the huge matters of righteousness and justice and peace.  We abdicate our true character.  As the Psalmist says and as Jesus quotes; “you are gods” and with divinity comes accountability.


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