17 March
Jn 7:40-53

When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, ‘This is really the prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Messiah.’ But some asked, ‘Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?’ So there was a division in the crowd because of him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.
Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, ‘Why did you not arrest him?’ The police answered, ‘Never has anyone spoken like this!’ Then the Pharisees replied, ‘Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law—they are accursed.’ Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, ‘Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?’ They replied, ‘Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.’ 

John Chrysostom remarked wryly: “[The chief priests and Pharisees] made use of the most foolish argument against [the temple police]: ‘Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him?’”  Of course they hadn't.  “Such malicious minds believe nothing,” Chrysostom adds, “they look only to one thing, blood.” (And they neglected to mention Nicodemus, he added; Nicodemus was a Pharisee who had a timid sort of belief in Jesus.)  He played on the paradox of it: the ones who were sent to take hold of Jesus were themselves taken hold of by him.

St Augustine too had a good eye for paradox: the very people who were teaching the Law were blind to the one who embodied the greatest law; while the people who knew nothing of the Law were won over instantly by him.  This, Augustine said, was a good illustration of what Jesus had said, “I came into the world so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” (Jn 9:39). 

You could read today’s passage as a lesson on snobbery.  Jesus had a country accent.  When he was taken bound to Caiphas’s house the bystanders said to Peter, “You are one of them for sure!  Why, your accent gives you away” (Mt 26:73); Peter spoke like Jesus, with a Galilean accent.  The religious authorities had no doubts: no Galilean could be a prophet.  The Scriptures said so; “look it up!”  How could a prophet come from a backwater place like Nazareth, a place never mentioned even once in their Scriptures? 

Dukes and dustmen, someone said, are usually not snobs, because both are free of social pretension.  It is the people in the middle who become snobs: tuppence ha’penny looking down on tuppence.  Snobs are forever trying to climb over other people, and what propels them forward is that there are always more people to be climbed over.   It betrays a deep uncertainty about their own identity.  If I'm a snob, I am constantly measuring myself against other people; and the worst moment is when a local person seems to get ahead of me.  I could endure being less than the very greatest, but to be less than the local carpenter….

There were some people in the crowd who had the uncomplicated gift of admiration; they knew how to admire rather than compete.  "This is really the prophet," they said.  "This is the Messiah."  But the chief priest and the Pharisees felt their positions threatened by him.  They would like to identify him with Galilee – which was his past – in order to stop him.  They were attempting to deny him a future. 

A useful question to ask oneself: do I allow the people around me to have a future? 


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This page gives a very brief commentary by Donagh O’Shea on the gospel reading for each day of the month. 


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