You cannot bear to hear my word

February 24, 2014

Dear brothers and sisters,

It has been a long hiatus and I’m glad to be back. Routine is important in my life. Without it a day of not reading, reflecting upon, and writing about the gospel becomes a week, then a month, and before long a new routine of lesser important things has taken root. Thank you to those who have commented about the break in my routine; it has encouraged me to return.

I am taking the good news from John 8:42-45.

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and am here; I did not come on my own, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I am saying? Because you cannot bear to hear my word. You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe me.”

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary explains that the Johannine community held a dualistic view arising from the Targumic tradition. The Targum was the rabbinic practice of explaining and interpreting the scriptures in the listener’s native language. The reference in this case is to the belief that evolved that Cain’s father was the devil because he had faced “the choice of mastering the evil inclination within” but chose to sin instead. It was an attempt to understand the reality of evil. In the Johannine community this became a way of thinking of people as from God or from the devil like Cain as evident in their deeds such as loving or not loving their fellow Christians or, in these verses, loving or not loving Jesus. In other writings of the time the opponents of the Johannine community were described as being “led astray by the Man of Lies.” To John the Jews had repudiated their status as children of God, as God’s chosen people. They had chosen instead to adopt the devil as their father, the father of lies and perpetrator of murder. In John’s mind they could not be children of God and at the same time refuse to accept that Jesus was the Son of God. Barclay writes that the key aspect of John’s gospel is that “the test of a man is his reaction to Jesus. To be confronted with Jesus is to be confronted with judgment; he is the touchstone of God by which all men are judged.” Those Jews who failed to accept that Jesus came from God were judged and condemned as far as John was concerned.

Barclay goes on to reflect on Jesus’ reply to his own question about why the Jews don’t understand what he’s saying. “They refuse to hear and they refuse to understand….In the last analysis, a man will only hear what he wishes to hear; and if for long enough he attunes his ears to his own desires and to the wrong voices, in the end he will be unable to tune in at all to the wavelength of God.” I think we all succumb to that at times — hearing only what we want to hear. It’s far less troublesome to listen only to my own voice. I typically question the wisdom of my own voice, even more so when I am uncertain about a decision or a path to take. That’s when I aim for a direct connection with Jesus. I look at his corpus or his image when I am praying, asking him for guidance, asking him to speak to me in response. I read the scriptures, listen to the homilies and prayers at Mass more intently, and read commentaries and other spiritual texts. All the while searching for his desire for me, for his truth.

I believe that I can discern his truth, which I became more convinced of as I read these words of Barclay. “The devil characteristically loves falsehood. Every lie is inspired by the devil and does the devil’s work. Falsehood always hates the truth, and tries to destroy it….Jesus indicted the Jews as children of the devil because their thoughts were bent on the destruction of the good and the maintaining of the false.” In my heart I can recognize a lie, though I may not always reject it if I am bent on my own will instead of God’s. I can rationalize and make excuses for my rejection of God’s truth and will, but I always know in my heart the choice I am making and too often that is to maintain a falsehood. I know when I am choosing His will. I experience a deep-felt peace that persists; I feel joyful in His love; my spirit is untroubled; I am able to stand in the truth no matter the pain of the consequences.

I can listen to Jesus say, “If God were your Father, you would love me,” and know that I do love him, know that God is my Father. I know that He has sent me into the world as well and wants me to do HIs will, to live in truth. He gave me Jesus to show how it can be done.



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