The closing section of chapter 7 includes no words from Jesus. Instead, it’s a very brief debate between religious leaders as they try to figure out what to do with Jesus. As if their decision. When we zoom out a bit we see this is a midpoint of the discussion during the Feast of Tabernacles. Chapters 7 and 8 are one story with an aside thrown in the middle that we’ll discuss next time.
The characters in this section are quite interesting. There are three groups to consider: the guards, the people, and the Pharisees, that is, the religious leaders.
Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?” John 7:45
Every time I’ve read this story, I’ve always considered the guards as somewhat inferior, not the brightest bulb in the factory. If this scene were ever written as a skit in church, those who would be chosen as guards would not be considered the major characters, to say the least. What I find interesting this time through is the Pharisees are offended at the guards’ inability to carry out their orders, but this offense has no punishment.
The way John puts it, they definitely looked down on the guards, but I’m not so sure that the guards are second class citizens. The bold statement is not one of ignorance, they were able to hear the authority from which Jesus spoke.
“No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied. John 7:46
The Pharisees response degraded the guards and the people.
“You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.” John 7:47-49
John’s portrayal of the Pharisees is less than stellar. In this somewhat childish response, the Pharisees call the pilgrims who have journeyed from near and far a mob. The implication is simple: they’re too ignorant to understand scripture, how could they possibly understand? In some ways, there is truth in their statement. The laws they have contrived is complex. They’ve created a system that few understand, but the people should not be discarded as a meaningless mob. It seems that John writes these words to paint an ugly picture of religious leadership at its worst.
There is a curse on them! That’s the best the Pharisees can conjure up. Someone has tricked them into believing a lesson they did not provide. Nicodemus has to chime in to try and shock them back to reality by pointing out that their own law requires a hearing. All they’re doing is responding to hearsay. To properly address their concerns, they need to have a conversation with Jesus.
They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.” John 7:52
Their disdainful response to one of their own only makes matters worse. And by the way, Jonah, the prophet, came from Galilee. It’s likely that others did as well, and certainly, God could call a prophet from anywhere, even Galilee.
Anger is an emotion that leads to irrational behavior. The Pharisees in this scene are angry because they are convinced that this Jesus character is misleading people. Rather than stop and listen, they have drawn their conclusions and withdrawn to their ivory towers to defend their positions.
It’s my desire to remain calm at all times, but I fail too often. This story is a sober reminder that when anger and religious elitism meet, the results are worse than it appears on the surface. God is not honored. People are misled. The lost are not found.
The chaos of the moment led otherwise intelligent people to make poor choices. Lord, help us to remain calm and give us the wisdom to hear your words among the many who would love to distract us.