Today’s Gospel reading continues the extended discourse of Jesus following the healing at Bethesda. Yesterday’s passage disclosed to us important eternal truths about the relationship between the Father and the Son. These teachings continue in today’s reading, where we learn about the works that the Father gave for the Son to perform, and the testimony made explicit in the miraculous works and accompanying proclamation of the Kingdom.
One gets the feeling that when the Incarnate Lord walked among us, it was too much for most people to bear. Being in the presence of God is frightening. Isaiah 6 and most of the book of Exodus, among numerous other passages, should put any doubts about this aside. Yet the fear of God should beget awe, reverence, humility, falling down in worship. Or just simply falling down on our faces if nothing else. When Jesus performed powerful signs and wonders, it was plain that people were experiencing the presence of God. The Almighty had come among us in the flesh. The realization of this in Jesus' opponents, those set against God in their hearts, brought about a fearful reaction. But it was one that was often received with resentment. God was too close and they wanted Him to go away. God was invading their turf.
Jesus knows all of this and still compassionately explains to his opponents that the living God coming into the world was spoken about, and was the very purpose of, the revelation the Lord gave to Moses. The Law was not an end in and of itself. The Covenant was formed with the Israelites for a universally salvific and eschatological purpose. Now the Light of Israel was shining bright, illuminating the truth of God and the deeds of man, and was also drawing in the lost and wayward.
Jesus asks in the rhetorical sense why they believe Moses’ words but not what those words teach. What good is it to profess the keeping of the Covenant when one ignores the very purpose and meaning of it? After all, the flashpoint for the John 5 discourse was the healing of a man on the Sabbath and the man being told (and obeying) to carry his mat. God made the Sabbath for man. It was a sign of the Covenant. It was a day of rest to remind the Israelites of their complete dependence upon God. It was an element of grace so that a hint of being free of all sin and worldly burdens could be experienced. A taste of heaven, where there is no longer illness or malice. A taste of what true freedom to love and worship the living God means.
The healing on the Sabbath, the walking with the mat, and the admonition to sin no longer all point toward the rest God will one day give to those who love Him. Freedom of movement for selfish purposes, where we walk in joy and harmony with God and creation. The profound implications of the Sabbath itself should have made evident its teleology. The signs wrought by Christ on the Sabbath, and the words He spoke, made the connection point obvious. Moses had clearly spoken about the Lord Jesus, explicitly (e.g. Deut. 18) and implicitly. It was accepted that Moses spoke words from God. Jesus was doing greater things than had ever been done, performing in person (in full public view) what had heretofore only been read about in the Scriptures. The question was whether Jesus' interlocutors were truly listening to Moses or simply paying lip service. Indeed, God had now gotten too close for comfort. The light was shining brightly and the darkness was trying to respond in kind.