Giving Offence

One of the subjects I’ve been doing for college this semester is an exegesis on the Gospel of John. This weeks passage included John 8:31-58, and I am once again surprised at exactly how offensive Jesus is – particularly in two of the discussions contained in this section. In the first (John 8:31-47), Jesus turns over the religious preconceptions of the time, proclaiming that everyone in his audience is a slave, and in need of being freed. Considering that his audience has just finished celebrating one of the festivals commemorating their freedom from Egyptian slavery and the 40 years in the desert, it doesn’t seem like Jesus is off to a good start with here. His audience replies ‘we are descendants of Abraham’ – something very important for Jews even today – and that, because of this, they ‘have never been slaves to anyone’. After some discussion, Jesus’ audience repeats their statement that ‘Abraham is our father’. Jesus’ response to this is highly offensive, stating that ‘if you were sons of Abraham, you would we doing what Abraham did’, he explains that since they were trying to kill him – someone who was telling them the truth of God – they were not doing what Abraham did, rather they are following in the footsteps of their true father – the one who’s character they emulate – Satan.

The second discussion (John 8:48-59) follows on from this one, with the Jews giving the retort ‘are we right in saying you have a demon?’ -a grave insult. Jesus responds to this by saying that he does not, and by all his actions he is giving honour to God. He proclaims that he seeks only God’s glory, and that anyone who keeps his word will never die (a common theme in John). This sparks more controversy, with his audience asking whether Jesus considers himself greater than Abraham or the Prophets, all of whom died. this leads into some discussion about the Abraham and the Prophets, which prompts his audience to ridicule him, saying the Jesus ‘is not yet fifty, how can you have seen Abraham?’ Jesus’ response, which was enough to cause his audience to want to put him to death, was simply ‘very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.’ The reason that this statement caused Jesus’ audience to want him dead was simple – he used the same words that God had used to describe himself in Exodus 3, and by doing this, he declared himself equal with God.

Both of these things flew in the face of everything that the religious leaders of the day taught, and offended his audience to the core. Imagine you were in Jesus’ audience. Imagine he called you a child of the greatest evil imaginable, when you were sure you were following God – and in fact, everything you’d been taught up till this point told you that you were. And then imagine if he then claimed equality with God – who you were taught was completely sovereign and all powerful – something which is incredibly blasphemous and heretical to your ears. Jesus was incredibly offensive.

I should point out something here: Jesus is not being maliciously offensive. All he is doing is speaking the truth – the truth as God has told him to speak (as Jesus affirmed).

And we turn to today, where we live in a world where many Christians are afraid to talk about their faith, or about what they know to be true, for fear of offending people. I’m not saying that we need to go out and maliciously offend the people around us, and I’m definitely not saying that offending people is the best option for every situation (some of them actually require some tact and kindness), but I am saying that we need to start speaking God’s truth, and realise that, as a great Christian comedian once said, ‘if you’re offended by the truth, good! That means it’s working!’.

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