“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.” (John 5:39-40, NRSV)
“You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren’t willing to receive from me the life you say you want.” (John 5:39-40, The Message)
Here’s the scene. Jesus is back in Jerusalem, and (not surprisingly) hanging down at the Bethesda pool, where all the sick people — blind, crippled, and paralyzed hung together. There’s one unnamed Joe who’s been laying there unable to move for 38 years! Jesus engages him with a question: “Do you want to be well?” And Joe says, “Well, sure! But I don’t have anybody to put me in the pool, and I can’t get up and do it myself” to which Jesus responds, “Well, then get up and start walking!” and he does, he does!
And that’;s where the trouble starts. It’s the Sabbath, you see! And Jesus is working on the Sabbath, and Joe now is too, because carrying your bedroll according to the scripture, according to the law is not allowed on the sabbath. So the religious leaders, the folks who know the scriptures inside and out confront the Joe (who surely they’ve seen laying there all these decades): “Who told you to start walking and carry your bedroll?” Joe shrugs his shoulders; doesn’t know. Jesus has slipped away. Later Joe, for likely the first time in his life, is able to go to the Temple (imagine his joy!), Jesus sees him and says, “You look wonderful. You’re healed!” and Joe now knows its Jesus, and fills in the powers-that-be, who are now out to get Jesus for disobeying the scripture and the law of Moses within. I love how the Message has his response: “My Father is working straight through, even on the Sabbath. So am I.”
And it’s these things — his breaking of the Sabbath, and his calling God his own Father — that cause the Religious leaders of Jesus’ own Jewish faith to form a plan to kill him. Kill him for these wonderful things. Why, O Why?
This is the context in which Jesus says to them what you read above. The reality of this healing miracle turns into a struggle over biblical authority. And Jesus, who John says is “The Word (capital W) become flesh, living among us”, weighs in. His words are powerful, and put the word in context to the Word. The scriptures are authoritative in that they bear witness to Christ Jesus, the Word. But the scripture — or in this context the Law — does not replace the Living Word, the Word come to life in Jesus.
His words speak for themselves, and are so important for us these days in all kinds of conversations regarding biblical interpretation, theology, and the ministry of the church, and this is especially true for those, like us, who come from church traditions known for having a high view of biblical authority. We are prone to say to each other in our own minds and arguments, “Where is it written?” or “What does the Bible say?” and these are really important questions! But if these become THE questions that stand alone without questions like “Who is Jesus?”, and “what does Jesus say and do?” and “How does our New Life in Christ speak to this?”, we are constantly on the edge of making the Bible an idol — an idol being “an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship.”
The Bible can become an idol too, if it ceases to be seen as leading us to Jesus, the Word. The words of David Nyvall: “To believe in the Bible is not the same as to believe in God. It is possible to believe in the Bible instead of believing in God. The worst way to lose the Bible is to make it into an idol. the Bible is God’s book, but it must in a special sense be the Christ book.”
We, too, like they did back on that blessed day in Jerusalem, we can miss the forest for the trees. They were unable to celebrate what God was doing right in their midst because the sabbath regulations were first, front, and center. Jesus is calling them not to just throw out the law or the commandments, but to know Him first and most, to learn and follow Him, and then have the ability to read and understand scripture with new eyes to see, and new hearts to love — which would have meant on that day that Joe’s healing was to be celebrated sabbath or not! And this Jesus embraced rather than seen as a threat!
May we locate our scriptural authority in direct connection to the way it leads us into life with Jesus, as was true of our spiritual ancestors who were called “Lasare”, or “Readers” because of their love of the Bible as my grandfather Eric wrote: “The ‘readers’ did not come to the Bible because they had been been convinced by theological and dogmatic dimensions of inerrancy or infallibility. The came, and continued to come, because they had found life and inspiration for themselves. They knew that speaking about food could not satisfy hunger and that speaking about thirst could not quench thirst. They trusted the Bible to be its own defense as well as their own, not by speaking about it, but by proclaiming its message in testimony and sermon, song and living.” (Images in Covenant Beginnings)
Love from here!