Thursday

2 July 2020

John 5:30-47

You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (vs. 39–40)

Psalm: Psalm 27

Background 

This sounds like another riddle. Who or what do we worship? And what does that worship indicate?

This takes me back to thoughts of a sermon heard long ago in which the preacher, sorry, long forgotten, spoke of people who idolise their cars. I used to have a neighbour like that. Every Sunday morning he would wash it, wax it, polish it till it shone, as they used to say, like a new pin. Another would assiduously work on her garden until no weed would dare poke its head above the compost. Everything had its place, everything, to mix metaphors, was shipshape and Bristol fashion. He worshipped his car and she her garden. Leaving a riot of weeds and a rusty bike, I would amble off to church to worship God. Very self-righteous!

But I wonder. The philosopher Paul Tillich spoke of ultimate concern, that which we place over and above everything else. For me and my neighbours the ultimate concern, the object or action or person that matters most, would appear to be obvious. But sometimes we deceive ourselves.

I think this is what Jesus, as reported by John, is saying. He is a keen observer. He has seen people  paying great attention to scripture, dissecting it word by word, phrase by phrase, perhaps learning it by heart. They are doing this conscientiously, religiously, if you like. And then he drops the bombshell, "... because you think that in them [these scriptures] you have eternal life." This was, to all intents and purposes their ultimate concern. It mattered more than anything else.

But there was a problem. "Yet you refuse to come to me to have life." That perhaps needs a bit of unpacking for us, probably not for his original listeners. Remember Jesus calling the disciples? "Come, follow me." Following Jesus is more than simple assent, more than just calling him "Lord, Lord". It is a call to be like him for in human life, God, in Jesus, demonstrated how life could and should be lived. They hadn’t got life. They put something else first. It was not their ultimate concern.

That can still be true of us today, and the ultimate concern that can get in the way can be how we worship, our particular church, or even the Bible as we understand it!

 

To Ponder:

  • What is your ultimate concern and why do you see it as that?
  • What ought to be the ultimate concern of the Church today and why?

Bible notes author

The Revd Andrew Pratt

Andrew is a Methodist supernumerary presbyter, Honorary Research Fellow at Luther King House, Manchester, and author. He has written over 1,500 hymns.

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