Jesus moved about within Galilee; he did not wish to travel in Judea, because the Jews were trying to kill him. But the Jewish feast of Tabernacles was near. But when his brothers had gone up to the feast, he himself also went up, not openly but as it were in secret.
Some of the inhabitants of Jerusalem said, “Is he not the one they are trying to kill? And look, he is speaking openly and they say nothing to him. Could the authorities have realized that he is the Christ? But we know where he is from. When the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.” So Jesus cried out in the temple area as he was teaching and said, “You know me and also know where I am from. Yet I did not come on my own, but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.” So they tried to arrest him, but no one laid a hand upon him, because his hour had not yet come.
The crowds whisper as Jesus passes, “We know where he is from,” they say, “When the Christ comes no one will know where he is from.” They knew the sort of Messiah they were looking for and Jesus simply did not fit the bill. The crowds knew that Jesus had not studied with the right rabbis. They knew little—almost nothing—about his childhood. They were waiting for a Messiah with the right pedigree and an education. They were waiting for a Messiah that fit their expectations.
Jesus, as he often did, redirected their certainty not toward bewilderment and chaos. He did not seem to have time for or interest in shaming people into believing in his divine identity. Jesus, rather, invited them to probe deeper, to reevaluate, the expectations they had of God.
“You know all about me,” Jesus says, “but what I am doing is not all about me.” Jesus pulls the focus off his identity and redirects the crowds toward, “he who sent me,” that is, God. Jesus was more interested in disturbing their imaginations relative to God than with correcting their opinion of his identity. In claiming to have received his very being and mission from God, Jesus invited the crowd to wrestle with and engage the preconceptions they had placed on God.
We know a good number of those in the crowd wanted to know God at this deeper level. They were hanging around in the temple after the festival listening to Jesus for this very reason. A good number of those in the crowd went home that afternoon mulling Jesus’ words over. As they spoke to their friends that evening, maybe they entertained the idea that their expectations of God were in a state of flux after listening to Jesus.
The poet William Wordsworth referred to God as “the presence that disturbs.” I think this image fits with the message of today’s Gospel. Are we eager to receive life and energy from God in ways that disrupt our certainties about God? I often find myself clinging to the certainties I have created in order to make my life easier. It is convenient to cling to the status quo I create because mediocre discipleship seems far less demanding than the more radical lifestyles I witness in other Christians. The words of today’s gospel challenge me to wrestle with such laziness as I turn to God throughout Lent.