Today’s Gospel reading continues with a disputation among the crowd in Jerusalem about the identity of Jesus. St. John spends significant time on this in his gospel and not by accident. As I have offered in prior reflections, the identity of Jesus is of the utmost importance. The conversation between the chief priests, Pharisees, and the guards is very interesting. On this point, it seems to me that the argument of the Pharisees is extremely weak. Their arguments against Jesus betray either an intellectual weakness or cowardice. They are essentially denying the validity of Jesus’ preaching and actions by appealing to their own summary judgment. Put another way, I think the implication is “we don’t like what this guy is saying, so he must be wrong.” If none of them have believed in Jesus, then Jesus must not be the Messiah. This leaves out the possibility that they could be mistaken, especially given that they have not even really given Jesus a fair hearing. They are attacking a ‘straw-man’, which means they reject a caricature or other conjured version of an argument or story versus the actual thing. Nicodemus even calls them out on this very point.
The reply to Nicodemus commits another fallacy, which is dismissing an argument or claim based solely on its origin. When they speak in a mocking tone about Nicodemus being from Galilee, they imply falsehood based on the origin of the claim. I also wonder why they claim “no prophet arises from Galilee.” It seems that they mean either that the Messiah would not come from Galilee (per v. 41) or that no prophet per se would come from that region. If it is the latter, then it seems overly presumptuous to think God could not bring a prophet from wherever He chose. The Tanakh does not evidently preclude this, and there are no good reasons to think their oral tradition precluded it, either. That Jonah and Hosea are from the Galilean area is also a point against them here. If the Pharisees meant that the Messiah would not come from Galilee, then this would at least not immediately collapse on itself, but it would also hearken back to the comment from Nicodemus where those supposed to be most knowledgeable about the Law were circumventing it, refusing to be just and giving fair weight to the evidence. More than likely, what St. John shows us most of all in this passage is the vitriol and derision heaped by the Pharisees upon Jesus and anyone sympathetic to Him without any passing semblance of fairness. We see this often in evangelization efforts and engaging with our culture. How often do people want to simply dismiss the claims of Christianity without giving it so much as a hearing, and they do so with derision.