Thought for the Day by Katherine Salmon (St Chad’s)
Reading: John 8:48-59
There’s a very well-known story about a man trapped in the water (variations include him on a roof during a flood, lost on a large lake without his oars, or lost at sea). The man, being a good Christian, prays and believes that God will rescue him. A boat happens upon him and offers to help. The man refuses, saying, “No thanks, God will save me.” A rescue helicopter shows up on the scene and drops him a lifeline. Again, the man refuses the help, citing his faith in God to save him as he waves the would-be helpers away. Another boat tries to convince him to take their aid, but the man stubbornly won’t budge as he waits for God to rescue him. Inevitably, the man dies. When he gets to heaven, the man rather indignantly asks God, “Why didn’t you rescue me?” God answers, “Are you kidding me? I sent you a helicopter and two boats!”
After reading Jesus’ discussion with those opposing him in John 8, I immediately thought of the story of the stranded man because he, like the Jews arguing with Jesus, can’t see or understand what’s right in front of him.
John 8.48-59 is a continuation of a larger conversation taking place at the temple in Jerusalem during (and following) the weeklong Feast of the Tabernacles. Each night of the festival, an elaborate Temple light celebration took place in the courts of the temple to symbolize God’s glory coming down in the past and to express the prayers and hopes of it coming down to earth again with the Messiah. In John 8.12, Jesus calls himself that glory and Messiah, proclaiming, “I am the light of the world” thus beginning another of John’s ‘conflict narratives’; our text, where Jesus claims himself eternal, ends this particular debate.
Each of these conflict narratives in the gospel of John give us another perspective on what those who see Jesus are missing when they don’t see Jesus as Messiah. Like the man trapped but unable to see God as his rescuer through a boat passing by, the Pharisees cannot understand the man in front of him as the Messiah because he is not the Messiah they are willing to recognize. Instead, they see him as a madman with a demon at best, and at worst, a Samaritan heretic.
How do we fail to see what is right in front of us?
Where do we misunderstand a stranger? Maybe because they come from a different background from us, or have a different language? How can we reach out to make another welcome?