Collective Conscience

Daily Readings: Numbers 34, Proverbs 25, John 7

For some reason, when I read John 7 today, I thought of all the comments you see at the end of news articles and controversial discussions online. It is especially apropos when considering political and public figures. Read it for yourself and you will see what I mean. Similar to the public forum of the internet, there are a great many people “having their say” about this guy, Jesus from Galilee, aren’t there? It’s worth considering which opinion category we might fall into. What comments might you make at the end of a news article about Jesus from Galilee?

Without being flippant, I’ve got to hand it to the Lord Jesus. None of us enjoy criticism – but when it comes at us from all angles in life, it is especially disconcerting. And that is what this chapter outlines for us. Jesus’ enemies were always after him by this time in his ministry, but this chapter describes several more classes of folks who were turning against him – including his own family! I read each of the individual thoughts/comments like the online ones noted above.

Here are the groups with their respective opinions laid out for you:

  • Challenging Brothers in an “I dare you!” mindset (in his face):
    • If you do these things, show yourself to the world! vv.3-4
  • The Jews (a subset of whom are the Chief Priests & Pharisees) – read “his enemies” (behind his back):
    • Where is he?! v.11
    • How has this man become learned, having never been educated?! v.15
    • They were seeking to seize him v.30
    • They sent officers to seize him v.32
    • Just where does he think he can go to get away from us? To the Gentiles?! v.35
    • Why did you not bring him?! v.45
    • You have not also been led astray, have you?! v.47
    • No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in him, has he? v.48
    • This multitude which does not know the Law is accursed! v.49
    • You are not also from Galilee are you? Search and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee! v. 52

The Double-Minded Multitude with “much grumbling”(behind his back and “not openly for fear of the Jews” v.13):

  • Side A:
    • He is a good man!
    • Believed in him and were saying, “When the Christ shall come, he will not perform more signs than those which this man has, will he?!” v.31
    • This certainly is the Prophet! v.40
    • This is the Christ! v.41
  • Side B:
    • No, on the contrary he leads the multitudes astray! v.12
    • Surely the Christ is not going to come from Galilee, is he? v. 41
    • Some of them wanted to seize him, but no one laid hands on him v. 44
    • (to his face):
      • You have a demon! Who seeks to kill you?! v.20
    • Some of The People of Jerusalem (behind his back):
      • He speaks publicly and they are saying nothing to him! He can’t be the Christ because we know where he’s from! vv.26-27
  • The Officers:
    • Never did a man speak the way this man speaks! v.46
  • Nicodemus:
    • Our Law does not judge a man, unless it first hears from him, and knows what he is doing, does it? v.51

Hmmm. Very interesting when you lay it out like this, isn’t it? Lots of voices all clamoring for attention – most of them hostile. And he patiently answered each argument – even the unspoken thoughts at times. Soooo amazing to me that he could sift through all the naysaying and barbs to patiently try to break through stiff prejudices against him. It took a lot of stamina. I believe it surely took a lot out of him, too.

I found the summary in a couple of the verses here in John 7 quite poignant. Verse 43 says, “There arose a division in the multitude because of him.” Jesus came to divide, to sift, to test our mettle. And this chapter is an excellent example of the ways we can go when we are confronted with his reality. Let’s explore some of these ways opinionated human thinking can divide us.

We can be like his Brothers and choose simply not to believe in him. People in this category think they know him pretty well. He’s just their brother, for goodness sake! We can challenge him (in a sibling rivalry kind of way) but without any real expectation of changing our point of view. We can pretty much wish he, and all he represents, would just stop what he’s doing.

We can be like the Multitudes. Grumbling with our cronies about this crazy guy with his crazy claims. We can complain about the equally crazy people that we see adopting his creed. We can laugh about him over coffee, and poke holes in his story as though we are experts on the topic. We can even get violent against him, and consequently, against the people who follow him.

We can be like the People of Jerusalem who get disturbed by this unsettling disruption to their peace. In our minds, this is an official problem so we can desire the local authorities to do something about it. We can justify our position as we convince ourselves that it is impossible that he is who he says he is. Our motto becomes – Not in My Backyard, when it comes to Jesus.

Hopefully we choose to be like the Minority of The Multitude – a quieter, questioning bunch. We can be humble enough to look at the fruit of this man’s life and words, and consider them, before making conclusions. We can see his undeniable miracles. We can be convinced he was special. We can even declare he is the long-awaited Messiah! Like them, we can continue to follow this Rabbi Jesus.

Sadly, the most well represented category in the Gospels is The Enemies. These are the ones that see Jesus as a threat to their power, prestige and pocketbooks. Like them, we can be sarcastic and scornful of him in self-righteous pride. We can be worried (consciously or not) about the potential and inexplicable power this uneducated carpenter’s son wields in swaying popular opinion. We can pursue him and his followers until we shut them up. We can take it even to the point of violence and murder, if we have to. We can become that vested in our unyielding determination and hatred.

The Officers were a special category. They seem more objective and willing to listen to Jesus. Perhaps they had never been exposed to him before – so when they do hear his teaching they are not dulled by preconceived ideas. If we are like these men, we hear something so provocative that we are willing to put our future on the line. They return to their bosses having refused to obey them. They had never heard such authority before! Jesus had a power about him that they would not try to overthrow – no matter who commanded it.

And finally we come to Nicodemus. Don’t you find it fascinating that he is the only person named in the whole lot of them? He is not hidden in the anonymity of commenting from the middle of a crowd. There is a reason for that. He has stepped aside from every variation of the collective conscience – as an individual, with a name. He has already begun the process of conversion in his heart. When we are like him, our consciences will not allow us to remain quiet either. Even when powerful comrades are discussing Jesus spitefully. In steely, courageous wisdom he points out that they just condemned the “ignorant multitudes” for not knowing the Law, yet they are planning to disregard it in their own actions. He confronts them – fully knowing he is choosing a new allegiance that may cost him his position, lifestyle, and possibly even his life. Like him, we can put our former lives aside – now embracing all the problems that will come with following Jesus of Nazareth. We can realize that the more we consider his message, the more we can become certain that Jesus is exactly who he says he is.

I believe we all probably fall in and out of some, if not all, of these categories at different times in our lives. It is imperative however, that we let go of any preconceived ideas we have about this man. We must continue to associate ourselves with Jesus – and to grow. To be known as individuals, by name, like Nicodemus. I found it lovely to discover that Nicodemus means “Conqueror” in Greek. His story in the Gospels is an amazing metamorphosis of a member of The Enemy Sanhedrin who changes to become a no-holds-barred disciple of Jesus. Just read the account of his assistance in the collection and anointing of the rebel Jesus’ body in John 19, if you don’t believe me. He is a man who conquered the mind of the flesh (or was willing to allow it to be conquered) by believing this new Rabbi who claimed to be the Son of God.

I love the way this chapter ends. It tells us pointedly:

And everyone went to his own home.

– John 7:53

Isn’t that just ripe with meaning? Jesus’ Brothers headed off to Jerusalem without him, Pharisees went to mansions, , Multitudes went to cottages, Officers went to barracks. Nicodemus went home and undoubtedly had a long talk with his wife.😊 It reflects how each of us, when it really comes down to it – go off in our separate ways. We go humbly and ready to believe, or prideful and clutching preconceived ideas. We associate with cronies or we associate with the Lord of Life. Our choice.

Like Nicodemus, let us seek to be cut to the heart by the division Jesus brings to our lives. Let us take courses of action that leave no turning back – for his sake. Let’s see his good in the pages of scripture, believe his miracles, and honor him as the Christ – the Anointed Savior. Fact is, that he is who he is -whether we believe him or not. It’s much more rewarding to shuck off all the manifestations of conventional wisdom and collective conscience to throw our lot in with the Son of God!

Oh, to be known by name by him!