“He said to them, ‘You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he.’ They said to him, ‘Who are you?’” (vv. 23-25)

John 8:21-30 Tuesday 29 July 2014


It is often embarrassing to watch an argument, howevercompelling and entertaining they might be. The temperature isrising in this argument between Jesus and the Jewish authorities.They have already challenged Jesus on his identity and his statusin society, and have been given a typically enigmatic answer.

There is an escalation of the argument here, which sees bothJesus and the Pharisees being particularly powerful in theirdialogue, even to the point of being macabre and offensive to someaudiences.

In the context of this passage, it is perhaps clear to see howJesus came later in John's Gospel to declare that he is "the way,and the truth, and the life" (John14:6). Jesus is drawing a distinction between the kingdom ofthe world and the kingdom of heaven. Jesus states that those whoare sinful will be separated from God - but that the ultimate sinis to fail to believe that he is the Son of God. For the Pharisees,a relationship with God was primarily tribal, and thus a culturalgiven. Separation could only be caused through individual choiceand action - in their debate they discuss the belief at the time(which continued into the 20th century) that those who commitsuicide are separated from God.

Jesus does not engage with them on this issue, however, andinstead continues to provoke as he indicates that is them who areto be separated from the kingdom of heaven.

In the African Bible Commentary Adeymo notes, "the Jewishleaders understood that Jesus was saying that he was quitedifferent from them, and so they asked him directly about hisidentity. What was his authority? Who was he in God'sprogramme?"

This is such a powerful question - who are you? It is powerfulfor the passage, because it is the opportunity for Jesus todisclose his incarnation and his divinity. It is powerful forpeople today, as identity creation, formation and reformation, arekey to living in the global North. There are so many opportunitiesto recreate character and identity in today's society - and eventhe increasingly influential 'right to be forgotten' in cyberspace.In turn, separation is a painful and regular experience of manypeople in and outside churches today: separation psychologically(giving rise to the ever increasing pharmacological response toemotional breakdown), physically (as people live increasinglytransnational lives) and even separation experienced inrelationships.

However, at the end of this passage, as the Pharisees are stillangry about Jesus' intervention, many people put their faith inJesus (verse 30). In the midst of a narrative of separation fromself, the world, community life and faith, there remains the choicefor participation.

To Ponder

  • Who are you? What does your answer say about you? What might bemissing?
  • Today, are you living a narrative of separation or ofparticipation? What might need to change?
  • This passage includes a sub-conversation which suggests thatsuicide causes separation from God. How would you approach thispastorally today?
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