Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished. Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. Anyone who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him. Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.“Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.
“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.
“If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that his testimony to me is true. You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth. Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But I have a testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent.
“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. I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?”
It is said that there are no parables in John’s gospel. There aren’t many, I grant, and often they are hidden – embedded in the text rather than recorded as a story which is then interpreted. Jn 5: 19-20a is a case in point, so clearly a parable told from the experiences of a boy in the carpenter’s shop. This copy of a woodcut from an old lectern bible shows the boy sawing a plank in half. The carpenter is in the background, apparently continuing his own task, yet clearly keeping an eye on the boy, while outside his mother pauses, water jug in hand – will he realise that one more stroke of the saw and the saw horse will be damaged? And then the conversation that evening: “Tell me, son, could you have done it better?” The Father does not judge!
The evangelist has recorded this speech showing how Jesus builds on this foundation parable a thorough answer. First, there is the answer about how judgement begins and happens – traditionally starting in this life and continuing either in the resurrection to life or to condemnation. Then there is the trinitarian interplay, woven together like the three people in the woodcut: Jesus being given authority to judge but in doing so, not doing his own will but the will of the one who send him.
Look again at the woodcut. “I can do nothing on my own” v.30 a. The task the boy is doing is to saw a plank of wood lengthways: no easy feat. Only one person can complete this task: the person holding the saw and not reliant on his own judgement but on experience and being able to see the line it needs. You can be told how to do, like searching a text book, but the only way to really know how to do it, is to do it. If you don’t believe what you are told is the correct method, then there are problems.
This brings us to the second part of Jesus’ answer (verses 31-47). There is a warning about superficially hearing or reading something that seems either complex or self-defeating. Certainly, what John has written can be read as a circular argument, but read it again and it is speaking truth to power. Jesus the judge is nor reliant on his own judgement, it is distinctly from God; if those who sent messengers to John the Baptist accept what John said as truth, then the very work of Jesus speaks for itself: the comparison is that of the lamp to the light shed (Jn 1:7-8). Jesus next makes the point that if you ask John and you search the scriptures yet cannot find God in them, you must ask if it is because you do not love God. Finally, after all this searching, how can you find the Son of God when you don’t believe the very scripture that you search.
Creator God, so often we find ourselves being asked awkward questions, may we draw on simple experiences to give us an idea of how to answer. May the answers we are challenged to give be the ones that are based on your truth and in your word. Amen
The Rev’d Ruth Browning is a retired minister and member of Thornbury URC in Gloucestershire.