An Advent reflection for Saturday, December 23rd by Melanie Myatt
Lectionary reading for 12/23/2023: Psalm 89:1-4,19-26; Judges 13:2-24; John 7:40-52
Selected passage for reflection: John 7:40-52
John 7:40-52 New Revised Standard Update Edition
40 When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, “This is really the prophet.” 41 Others said, “This is the Messiah.”
But some asked, “Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? 42 Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?”
43 So there was a division in the crowd because of him. 44 Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.
45 Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not arrest him?”
46 The police answered, “Never has anyone spoken like this!”
47 Then the Pharisees replied, “Surely you have not been deceived, too, have you? 48 Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 But this crowd, which does not know the law, they are accursed.”
50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before and who was one of them, asked, 51 “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?”
52 They replied, “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.”
Over and over and over again in the Old Testament, God says, “I have a plan.” Adam and Eve sin and have to be kicked out of the Garden. But God has a plan.
Moses has led the people to the Promised Land, and his time is up. But another Prophet is promised. God’s words will be in his mouth. This is a part of God’s plan.
God’s people aren’t acting like God’s people. Their sin continues to be problematic. The only solution is exile. But God will return the people to the land, and he will raise up one in the line of King David to be the everlasting King, to reign and live among the people forever. God reveals more of God’s plan.
But the plan isn’t clear to the people. When Jesus arrives, people have a variety of responses depending on what they think about God’s plan.
The crowds see a glimpse of God’s plan being fulfilled in Jesus. They know Moses promised a Prophet-with-a-capital-P. Jesus kind of seems to have some of the qualities of the Prophet. Is Jesus the one who fulfills God’s plan?
The prophets promised a Messiah. Jesus can do a lot of the things God can do. Maybe he is the Messiah. But there is one little problem: He’s from Galilee, not from Bethlehem and the royal line of David. No one seems to know the birth story of Jesus being born in Bethlehem, and John doesn’t mention it here. If he isn’t the Messiah, there is something dangerous about him and maybe he should be arrested. If Jesus isn’t part of God’s plan, something must be done about him.
The Temple Guards don’t know God’s plan. But there is still something about him that makes them pretty sure they don’t want to arrest Jesus.
The Pharisees and priests are the only ones who are secure in their knowledge. They know that they know God’s plan. And they know that they know that Jesus cannot be part of God’s plan. Their knowledge and understanding of the Law makes them superior to everyone else, particularly when it comes to Jesus. They believe beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus is not the Messiah, and he definitely is not a part of God’s plan.
Well, there’s Nicodemus. Something about his meeting with Jesus is sticking with Nicodemus (John 3), and he just can’t say without a doubt that Jesus isn’t the Messiah and that he isn’t a part of God’s plan.
But the Pharisees and priests are absolutely certain that God’s plan could never include a prophet from Galilee. Never.
Well, except for Jonah. And Hosea. There are two who come from the area of Galilee. And one of these happens to be someone who seemed dead for 3 days but then “rose up” out of the sea. And the other one has a prophecy about the people being raised up on the third day (Hosea 6.2). And the Pharisees and priests literally say, “no prophet rises up from Galilee.” Apparently, sometimes God’s plan does include prophets from Galilee.
When we create our own expectations of Jesus, and our own expectations of God’s plan, we can be like the crowds. We think God is doing something, maybe? But maybe also there is something dangerous happening, and we shouldn’t get too close. The unknown can be dangerous and maybe something should be done about it.
Or maybe we are like the Temple Guards, and we think something might possibly be happening, but we would rather walk away from it than do something about it.
But maybe the worst is to be like the Pharisees and priests. When we know that we know that we are right, and anyone who disagrees with us, isn’t just wrong, they are deceived.
God asks us to watch and see what God is doing. God might be doing something new. It might feel like something dangerous. But are we open to what God is doing? Are we watching to see what new things God is doing in us and in the world? Or do we know that we know, and we stay safe in that knowledge, but we miss out on something marvelous that God is doing?
Hold out your hands and imagine holding your ideas about God’s plan and God’s work in the world. Now turn your hands over to release your own expectations. Listen for what God wants you to know today.
God, you give us so many opportunities, so many resources, so many teachers. They all have an idea of your plan and what that means about the way we should live. Today’s passage shows us how easy it can be to get things wrong. What is your plan? When we know who Jesus is, we know who you are. Give us clarity and a teachable spirit. Let us see you through Jesus today.
About the Author
Melanie works as a chaplain at a retirement community in Glenview, Illinois. She is also a spiritual director, writer, mom of four, and professional napper. If you like her writing, you can also find her on Substack.