October 2021

“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples” John 8.31 (RSV)

Jesus is in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. It was an exciting and impressive time for all the pilgrims in the city, with the eight-day rituals reminding them of the journey made through the desert to the Promised Land.

But Jerusalem is the ‘storm centre’ of the ministry of Jesus. This 8th chapter of John is not easy and, interestingly, doesn’t occur in the Communion lectionary at all in Common Worship (apart from v 1-11 which tells the story of the woman taken in adultery). 

The controversy through the chapter gets fiercer and the language becomes more and more hostile. The Pharisees and Jesus are locked in battle. The Pharisees become irrational because the ‘light’ of which Christ speaks is revealing everything that is inconsistent about them.  Jesus argues passionately too and is revealing the truth about himself, that he is the ‘I AM’, the very name of God, who gives life, light, purpose and hope. Already in the Gospel Jesus has revealed himself as ‘I AM’ on more than one occasion – in this chapter he uses the phrase five times.

In the midst of all this, there emerges a small group of Jews whose belief in him would appear to be merely nominal, maybe intellectual and short-lived.  They lacked any personal commitment.  Perhaps they were prepared to agree with much of what Jesus said, but not accept the implication for themselves.  We might call them ‘nominal disciples’.

True discipleship, as Jesus makes clear, means abiding in his word, welcoming it, being at home with it and living with it in such a way that it, quite simply, becomes a part of the life of the believer.

We start with the words.  Then, the words go deeper and we find that they have a profound meaning for our own lives, deep down within us. They ‘begin to live’. We stick with it, we continue in the word, and it grows and develops and becomes one with us as we listen. The words drop away and it is then that it becomes ‘contemplative’. Our mind wanders.  Our concentration is incredibly short.  But the time has not been wasted.  The words stay with us and we take them out into our lives as true disciples of our Lord and Saviour.