From the Gospel of John:
When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – John 2:23-25 (NRSV) – January 20, 2014.)
The Definition of Chalcedon affirms, in part:
Following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance (homoousios) with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin . . . .
That last bit is derived from Holy Scripture, specifically from a verse in the Letter to the Hebrews: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15 NRSV)
The Jesus described by the writer of Hebrews and affirmed in the Chalcedonian definition is a man I can follow. There are times when the Jesus described by the writer of the Fourth Gospel creeps me out! This is one of them. The thought that someone could “know all people” and “know what is in everyone” is just spooky.
Now, let me be clear, I am not speaking of the eternal Second Person of the Trinity; I’ve no doubt that God knows all people and knows what is in everyone. But the human person born in early First Century Palestine, who ate and drank and walked around, who expressed joy and disappointment, who got mad, who went to parties, who hiked the roads from town to town, that guy who was “like me in all respects” . . . . I don’t think that Jesus in his human life had access to the divine mind or could have known “what was in everyone.” If he did, he wasn’t like me and what he lived through, what he taught, and his death, resurrection, and ascension have no bearing on my life or meaning for me. He’s too spooky for me!
Years ago I was given a “holy card” which I have since lost. (In the Roman Catholic tradition, holy cards, also called “prayer cards” are small, devotional pictures, often mass-produced for the use of the faithful.) This card had what I’m sure is a very unrealistic portrait of Jesus done in what is technically called “lenticular printing;” that’s the process that makes the printed image seem to change or move as it is viewed from different angles. On that holy card, Jesus’ eyes seemed to move and follow you. It was creepy! When I read about Jesus reading the minds of everyone around him and knowing “what was in everyone,” I think of that spooky holy card.
John does this a lot; this gospel sometimes makes Jesus so divine that the human being gets lost. The wisdom of the biblical canon is that John’s too-divine Jesus is tempered by Mark’s portrait which is too human! (Could the longer ending of Mark’s Gospel, Mark 16:9-20 which includes the Great Commission and a description of Christ’s Ascension, have been added as a corrective to that too-human portrayal? That’s a topic for another exploration.)
I’m not suggesting that John’s Gospel be discounted or overlooked or thrown away. I’m just acknowledging that its mind-reading Jesus who “knew what was in everyone” is someone I wrestle with (like Israel in the desert with the angel of God). He’s spooky and spooky bothers me.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.