The King of Stories -- The King of the Sabbaths (Part 2 of 2)

Introductory note from Jason Pratt: see here for the previous entry; and see here for the first entry of the series. (It explains what I'm doing, and how, and contains the Johannine prologue.)

This 'chapter' runs rather long, so I've broken it into two entries. In essence, this is the first dramatic climax of the whole story: it explains how and why some (though not yet all) teachers first seriously began to think that Jesus not only needed close watching but outright stopping--up to and including killing Him, somehow, if that's what it took. (It also synchs together a particular piece of shared Synoptic material with the first important speech in GosJohn, via a GosMatt link that scholars have long noticed has peculiarly Johannine characteristics.)

There have been earlier places where keeping previous story elements in mind helped bring extra meaning and clarity to the current incidents; but this is the most important such situation up to now. Watch for Plotnotes.

The King of the Sabbaths (conclusion)

Now on the next Sabbath...

[Plotnote: the Scholar says this was a different Sabbath day than the grain-gleaning incident, which he puts in the middle of a month; the Disciple implies this happens in a synagogue either near those farmlands or else where some of the gleaning critics attended Sabbath worship services; the Disciple says these things happened within the same season as another notable saying of Jesus, which has strong thematic links to an incident in Jerusalem, reported by the Evangelist. Altogether, I take these incidents to be occurring near and on the first autumn Tabernacles Feast in Jesus' ministry, near and/or in Jerusalem.]

It happened on this Sabbath day, that Jesus entered the synagogue and was teaching.
And look! A man whose right hand is withered!

Now the scribes and Pharisees are watching Him closely, to see if He would be healing on the Sabbath, in order to find an accusation against Him.

And they ask Him (prodding with a rhetorical question), "Is it allowed on the sabbaths to cure?"

Yet He had perceived their reasonings.

Now He says to the man with the withered hand, "Get up, and stand in the midst!" And rising, he stood.

Now Jesus says them: "I will be asking you a question: is it allowed on the sabbaths to do good, or to do evil?--to save a soul, or to destroy!?"

But they were silent.

Now He says to them: "Which man of you, if he had one sheep, and it ever fell into a pit upon the Sabbath, would not grab hold and lift it out!?

"How much more value, then, is a man than a sheep!!?"

And looking around on them furiously, grieved at their hardness of heart, He says: "So then--it is lawful to do the best things on the Sabbath!"

Now to the man He says, "Stretch out your hand!"

And he does it... and his hand is restored, whole as the other.

Now the Jews began persecuting Jesus (says the Evangelist), because He was doing these things on the Sabbath (including healing, linking to a previous story related by the Evangelist).

[Plotnote: from bits of evidence in the texts, I take it that the different authors are pulling apart, for their own narrative methods, an originally coherent incident here at this synagogue near-or-in Jerusalem on this sabbath near-or-during the Feast of Tabernacles. In this case, the particular rabbis (called "the Jews" as usual by the Evangelist) who had decided to use the handicapped man to pick a theological fight with Jesus, go ahead and press the duel despite having been slapped down (verbally) in a pre-emptive fashion for their uncharity in using the crippled man like this. But of course, this wouldn't have come out of plot-nowhere; it goes back ultimately to Jesus having healed that man on the cot in Jerusalem on a sabbath back in late spring/early summer, during the (probable) Pentacost celebration. This is why the Evangelist topically links those two events.]

Yet Jesus answers them: "My Father is working until now; and I Myself am working!"

[Plotnote: and now we get to a crucial link between the Synoptic and Johannine accounts, in regard to this overall incident.]

It was in this season (the Disciple agrees) that Jesus answered (them) by saying: "I praise You, beloved Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for You have hidden these things from wise and intelligent men, but You reveal them to children!--yes, beloved Father, since this became a delight in what You see!

"All things were given up to Me by My Father (He told them); yet no one recognizes the Son, except the Father--nor can anyone know the Father, except the Son; and anyone to whom the Son decides to unveil Him.

"Come here to Me then, all who are burdened and toiling into your exhaustion!--and I will be giving you rest. Share the yoke I am lifting, and learn from Me; for I am gentle and have no ambition. And (as it is written of God, in Jeremiah the prophet) 'you shall find rest for your souls'; for My load is light, and My yoke is kindly."

For this cause then (the Evangelist continues), the Jews (meaning the Jewish leaders) were going even further, and wanting to kill Him!--because not only was He disregarding the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, (even) making Himself equal to God!

[Plotnote: an issue even more obvious in the GosMatt account of the incident than in the Johannine introduction to the subsequent speech! Indeed, the reader should have noticed that the Synoptics were steadily building up to this moment with tacit (yet culturally obvious) divinity claims of being the Jewish YHWH. In a way, the Messsianic claims per se have been rather secondary!

All things considered, the rabbis would not likely have wanted Jesus to keep expositing in open congregation on this matter; so either the synagogue would have been cleared out as an emergency precaution or if possible Jesus would have been invited somewhere, anywhere, more private. A close check of Johannine material will demonstrate suggestions that its major theological speeches are usually (though not always) given to specialists, not general audiences. This, incidentally, would have naturally made GosJohn especially attractive to 'secret Gospel' Gnostic groups trying to market 'elite' information to clients.]

Therefore Jesus answered, saying to them:

"I promise, I promise, I tell you the truth: the Son cannot do, of Himself, what He doesn't see the Father do. For whatever things He does, the Son does likewise, too.

"For the Father is fond of the Son, and shows Him everything He Himself is doing.

"And greater works than these will He be showing Him, that you all may be marveling!

"For just as the Father is raising the dead and giving them life, thus the Son is also giving life to whom He will.

"For neither is the Father judging anyone; but gives all judgment over to the Son; so all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father.

"Whoever dishonors the Son, also dishonors the Father Who sent Him.

"I promise, I promise, I tell you the truth: whoever hears My word and trusts in Him Who sent Me, has God's own life, and is not coming into judgment but has proceeded out of death to life!

"I promise, I promise, I tell you the truth: an hour is coming, and also now is, when those who are dead shall be hearing the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear shall be living! For even as the Father has life in Himself, in just this way He gives to the Son to have life in Himself.

"And He gives Him authority to be judging, 'as a Son of Man'.

[Plotnote: one of the most direct references to the 'one like a son of man' vision of Daniel, in the OT; arguably the most direct reference in GosJohn.]

"Do not be amazed at this!--for an hour is coming in which all who are entombed shall hear His voice, and shall come forth: the doers of good into a resurrection of life, and evildoers into a resurrection of judging. (literally 'of a crisis')

"I cannot do anything of My own origination. I am judging according to what I hear, and My judgment is fair, for I am not seeking My own will, but the will of Him Who sends Me!

"If I should (ever) be testifying concerning Myself, My witness would not be valid.

[Plotnote: or, for that matter, admissible in court as legal evidence! Jesus is taking a moment, after speaking of 'fair judging', to remind them how difficult it would be if they chose to try bringing Him up on charges before the Sanhedrin. They would be judging Him for a capital offense, and so their testimony would have to feature multiple witnesses other than His own testimony, for He could not legally be required to incriminate Himself; and those witnesses would have to match their testimonies precisely without suspicion of collusion--or else Jesus would go free on a mistrial, and the witnesses could be sentenced to death themselves for bearing false witness in a capital case!

This is partly why Jesus is being so dense in His speaking here: aside from trying to give them difficult theological truths, He is also protecting Himself in advance by making it virtually impossible for any two or three witnesses to agree, down to the precise wording, about what He was saying!

Jesus is still taking some risks here, of course; but, as one of the Synoptic incidents recently clarified, He is concerned about reaching the scribes and Pharisees as well. They can chew the 'stronger meat', to borrow a phrase from St. Paul; and should have been in the best position to receive it--as Jesus points out later.]

"There is Another Who testifies of Me, and I know the testimony which He is bearing of Me is true!"

[Plotnote: Jesus is probably hinting about the Holy Spirit here, which He will be gradually unpacking as a doctrine in other declarations--not going very far with them in this direction yet. The rabbis would first naturally be thinking of John the Baptist, however, so that's who Jesus mentions next. (It should also be added that speeches of this sort were typically summaries and don't necessarily report discussion from the other side except as reflected in replies. That's very normal, though the Evangelist will in fact be giving examples of cut'n'thrust dialogue later.]

"You have sent (deputations) to John (the Baptist), and he has testified to the truth. But the witness I am receiving is not from man; and I am saying these things so that you may be saved.

"He [John] was a lamp, shining and burning, and you were willing to rejoice in his light--for a while.

"But I have a testimony greater than John's; for the works which the Father has given to Me to complete, the very works I am doing, bear witness of Me: that I have been sent by the Father.

"And the Father Who sends Me, He has testified about Me. (But) you have neither heard His voice at any time, nor any vision of Him have you seen. Nor do you have His Word remaining in you; for you are not believing Who He sent!

"Search the Scriptures, (then)! You suppose that in them you are having God's own life--yet these are bearing witness about Me!--and therefore you refuse to come to Me, so that you may have life.

"Men are not whom I receive My glory from; but I know you, that you do not have in yourselves the love of God. I have come in My Father's name; but you are not receiving Me. If another should come in his own name, him you will accept! How can you believe, when you are receiving honor from one another, not seeking the honor from God alone?

"Do not think I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses! For if you (even) believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me.

"But if you are not believing his writings, how will you believe My words?"


Now the Pharisees unwisely went straight out (the Disciple and Scholar and Follower say), and held a consultation with the Herodians, to find a way to ruin Him.

Yet Jesus, knowing this, goes quietly away from there; to the other side of the Lake of Galilee (also called Tiberius, explains the Evangelist for his audience.)

[Plotnote: the Herodians: a political group based (like every other such group) in Jerusalem, dedicated to finding a way to keep what little Jewish political power remained, under the Roman occupation, by backing the Roman-sponsored Idumean family of Herod the Great and his living heirs; and increasing this authority again back to Herod's level if possible. As a Messianic claimant from the lineage of Judah through David, Jesus would overthrow the (Arabian) Idumeans completely if He ever accepted such a worldly kingship--consequently, He could be posited as a threat to the Herodian faction. This probably seemed a safer line of attack than trying to accuse Him openly of claiming divine status, which though it would be a capital offense, their own lives might be forfeit if they couldn't successfully navigate the extremely strict Jewish laws set up to protect defendants in capital cases.]

(This list is for parts 1 and 2)
Matthew 4:23-24
Matthew 8:18-22
Matthew 11:2-30
Matthew 12:1-15a
Matthew 13:54-58
Mark 2:23-28
Mark 3:1-7a
Mark 6:1-6a
Luke 5:15-16
Luke 6:1-11
Luke 7:18-35
Luke 9:57-62
Luke 10:13-15
John 5:16-47
John 6:1

[Next time: Knights.]


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