Jesus begins this chapter by traveling in secret and ends it by causing division among the Jewish leadership. What is the right thing to do? Should you follow the rules, or break them in order to do the right thing? It probably seems like an easy answer, but it certainly is not easy to practice. Jesus seems to give us an answer to this problem while teaching, once again, in Jerusalem.
After choosing to arrive in Jerusalem in secret, Jesus begins to speak to a crowd during סֻכּוֹת (Sukkot). This festival is two-fold. It commemorates the forty-year period that the people of Israel wandered the wilderness after the Exodus, while also celebrating the end of the harvest season. I am sure that this timing is worth study, but maybe it is why Jesus specifically brings up Moses in v19.
“Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.”
— Leviticus 23:40, NASB
The response to Jesus’ teaching is “How has this man become learned, having never been educated?” (John 7:15, NASB). Jesus responds by telling the crowd that he has not come up with what he is teaching. Rather the teaching he is giving comes from God. He goes on to point out the hypocrisy of the Jews. They had been angry with him the last time he was in Jerusalem for healing on the Sabbath, and had decided to kill him even more (5:18). He pointed out that they will still perform circumcision on the Sabbath but they are angry with him for completely healing someone. “If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath so that the Law of Moses will not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath? Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:23-24, NASB).
“The need had always been for blamelessness. However, in the absence of blamelessness God had made provision for reconciliation and forgiveness through sacrifice accompanied by humble trust and submission, together with the hope that one day he would make the people truly blameless.”
— Karl Deenick, Righteous by Promise
I find myself wanting to stop here. The chapter goes on to speak of how Jesus is provision for people and shows how the ideas about Jesus begin causing division among the people (including within the Pharisees). But this last moment reminds me of this month’s book, Righteous by Promise. The argument that Jesus is making in this section is, is it more important for you to consider someone righteous or for God? Deenick’s argument in the book is that circumcision was always meant to be a symbol of righteousness that signals the coming Messiah and the separation of the People form the rest of the world. I think that Jesus is showing that the Jews know righteousness is important and can overrule the Law at times. Yet Jesus says that they have taken the symbol to mean the fulfillment of their duties, not the actual practice of righteousness.
Are you practicing righteousness or merely fulfilling your duties? There are certainly plenty of times I feel that I need to ignore everything else and merely “get my job done.” However, when I am this way, I can tend to ignore people and things that actually need my help. Are there things in your life you miss? Maybe God is asking you to pay attention to them today.