November 26, 2013
Dear sisters and brothers,
I have been away for a while. I am taking the good news today from John 7:14-18.
When the feast was already half over, Jesus went up into the temple area and began to teach. The Jews were amazed and said, “How does he know scripture without having studied?” Jesus answered them and said, “My teaching is not my own but is from the one who sent me. Whoever chooses to do his will shall know whether my teaching is from God or whether I speak on my own. Whoever speaks on his own seeks his own glory, but whoever seeks the glory of the one who sent him is truthful, and there is no wrong in him.”
In our culture we place a great deal of value on education and often look upon those with little with disdain or pity. I catch myself doing that sometimes. Not only that but we acknowledge a pecking order in higher education. I immediately give respect to an Ivy League graduate but not someone with a similar degree from a small state college. It’s snobbery of the worst kind but also a reflection of society’s values.
A religious teacher in Jesus’ time would have studied under one or more rabbis, some considered greater than others. One’s pedagogical tree was important. Rabbis customarily quoted accepted authorities in teaching, not standing on their own authority. So, Jesus was quite peculiar in this regard. His authority was always directly from God his Father. His knowledge was given to him by his Father principally in submitting to His will. Jesus warned that anyone who asserted their own authority in teaching the scriptures was likely more interested in self-promotion, self-aggrandizement, than in teaching the word of God. If a teacher truly submitted his own will to God’s, he would realize that Jesus’ words had the authority of God.
Barclay emphasizes that submitting to God’s will means doing it; it’s not an intellectual exercise. He writes, “Only the man who does God’s will can truly understand His teaching. That is not a theological but a universal truth. We learn by doing.” That reminds me of psychoanalyst Erich Fromm who wrote in the Art of Loving that we can’t think our way into a new way of acting, we can only act our way into a new way of thinking. I’ve tried most of my adult life to think my way into a new way of being or living. It doesn’t work. I have discovered the last year or so that in trying to be different, trying to act in ways that Jesus had modeled in the gospels, that my thinking has begun to change. For someone who places such a high value on thinking and analysis, that’s a pretty startling discovery.
I’m also a person who likes to know as much as I can before undertaking something new. It gives me a sense of security, of preparedness, of control. It’s all a delusion, of course. Acting in a new way that leads to thinking in a new way happens by small degrees, though, for the most part. That’s largely because I’m slow to surrender my will to God’s. Oh so slowly. However, it does make it ever so easier as I do and my understanding of His word opens into ever larger expanses. I sometimes lament that it’s taken me so many years of my life to get to this beginning point. I think I have been a victim of my thinking mind. It’s been an acceptable way, even admirable to some, of avoiding a personal relationship with Jesus. I have to agree with Barclay, “If we wait until we have understood everything, we will never start at all. But if we begin by doing God’s will as we know it, God’s truth will become clearer and clearer to us.” I think that’s true for me. What about you?