20 March 2010

John 7:40-52

"But some asked, 'Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?'" (v.41-42)


The Gospel writer makes it clear that Jesus' words and actions gave rise to much complaining and muttering among 'the Jews', that is, among the chief priests and Pharisees, the people in whom religious order and authority was invested. Others, however, glimpsed in Jesus such exceptional gifts of wisdom and grace that they were willing to call him Messiah - the longed-for saviour of the people. This in turn led to further arguments due to the widespread reluctance to acknowledge that the Messiah could come from Galilee.

Some spoke of the prophecy that he would come from Bethlehem, but for others their reluctance was based upon prejudice. In the first chapter of John's Gospel we hear Nathaniel asking, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46).

In the midst of the crowd, John allows us to glimpse Nicodemus, the Jewish leader who had previously approached Jesus under cover of darkness for a conversation (John 3:1). In the course of this earlier conversation Jesus asserted that seeing and entering the kingdom of God was akin to being born a second time (John 3:3). In the second encounter, Nicodemus spoke out in favour of at least giving Jesus a fair hearing. The crowd, however, took his intervention as an indication that he too was from Galilee and therefore under suspicion.

We might wonder whether Nicodemus was secretly pleased or insulted to find himself bracketed with Jesus as a Galilean, and therefore a possible friend and follower. We might also reflect upon what it might have meant for Nicodemus to be 'born again'. According to Jesus' own words this would have been a confirmation of all the faith teaching in which Nicodemus was steeped, yet it would also have required him to 'break ranks' with his fellow Pharisees and choose to live in the light of fresh truth as glimpsed in Christ.

To Ponder

Do you find yourself reluctant at times to recognise special gifts in unexpected people? How might an understanding of the light of Christ being in every person change your perceptions?

Can you recall an occasion when you were misunderstood or wrongly described? How did you respond?

What examples can you call to mind where a person's parentage, race, gender, age or sexual orientation have been cited as reasons to doubt their worth or ability? How does the truth embodied in Christ challenge you to respond to such incidents of prejudice?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Liz Smith

Liz is currently chair of the Leeds Methodist District. She has conducted research into the Church as a learning community, with particular reference to the experience of women.