“It’s About Time”
Jonesborough Presbyterian Church
To understand the context of John 7, let’s remember that in John 6, Jesus feeds five thousand people with five loaves and two fish. That evening his disciples see him walk on water. The following day, well-fed crowds pursue Jesus and his still-mystified disciples. Lamenting the people’s selfishness, Jesus says, You just want more bread.
Then Jesus speaks of himself as the bread that came down from heaven. The crowd scoffs at Jesus saying, We know this guy. We know his parents. Who does he think is? Claiming to be human manna?
As Jesus continues, his metaphors stretch many in the crowd to the breaking point, especially when he says that to eat his flesh and to drink his blood is to be made truly alive. Jesus’ graphic language is offensive to us because it sounds cannibalistic and just plain revolting. For first-century Jews, these images contradict the Law which prohibits touching dead bodies, much less consuming them. After hearing these things literally, many of Jesus’ followers abandon him.
And you, Jesus says to his disciples. Do you want to leave, too?
Speaking for the twelve, Peter says, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He did not wish to go about in Judea because the Jews were looking for an opportunity to kill him .2Now the Jewish festival of Booths was near. 3So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; 4for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 (For not even his brothers believed in him.)
6Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. 7The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil. 8Go to the festival yourselves. I am not going to this festival, for my time has not yet fully come.
9After saying this, he remained in Galilee. 10But after his brothers had gone to the festival, then he also went, not publicly but as it were in secret.
11The Jews were looking for him at the festival and saying, “Where is he?” 12And there was considerable complaining about him among the crowds. While some were saying, “He is a good man,” others were saying, “No, he is deceiving the crowd.” 13Yet no one would speak openly about him for fear of the Jews.
14About the middle of the festival Jesus went up into the temple and began to teach. 15The Jews were astonished at it, saying, “How does this man have such learning, when he has never been taught?”
16Then Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine but his who sent me. 17Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own. 18Those who speak on their own seek their own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and there is nothing false in him.” (John 7:1-18 – NRSV)
The “after this” of chapter 7 encompasses some six months. According to John, what Jesus does in chapter 6 happens in springtime, around Passover. The Festival of Booths was traditionally associated with harvest time. So, what Jesus has planted up to and through chapter 6 begins coming to fruition in chapter 7. And the harvest proves difficult to swallow, even for Jesus’ family.
Jesus’ brothers, faithful Jews but not Jesus-followers, tell their elder sibling to go on to Jerusalem for the festival. You’ll get noticed there way more than here in Galilee, they say. And that’s what you want, isn’t it? Attention?
The scene reminds us of the confrontation between Joseph and his brothers after Joseph’s dream. Where Joseph seems to desire recognition and elevated status, though, Jesus says, No. It’s not my time. Not yet.
While loved like an only son by his father, Joseph is hated by his brothers. And while loved as the only son by his father, Jesus claims to be hated by “the world.” For John, the world’s hate is not simply the indignation of individuals with wounded pride. It’s the fury of those in power who recognize a real and present threat to their hold on supremacy and privilege.
According to John’s timeline, you see, chapter 7 marks Jesus’ third trip to Jerusalem, and on previous visits he intentionally irritates temple authorities. Jesus’ first trip to the City of David occurs at Passover, and when he enters the temple, he fashions a crude whip and drives out the moneychangers. (John 2:13-22) The second time Jesus enters Jerusalem he heals on the Sabbath (John 5:1-18), and that seems to evoke an angrier response than cleansing the temple. For some reason, Jesus changes his mind—or has it changed for him—and he prepares for a third appearance in Jerusalem. As he does, he’s aware that people will be watching for him. They’ll be ready to oppose and persecute him. This seems to put Jesus on edge. For all of Jesus’ confidence, he continually frets over the arrival of his time. In John, the word is kairos, which denotes a quality of time, the presence of holiness and wholeness. Jesus knows that when his kairos comes, it will happen in God’s fullness. In the meantime, he must continue his transformational ministry. It’s a dangerous ministry because it generates fear and resentment in those holding power.
One crucial question for the body of Christ in the 21st century, perhaps the crucial question, is whether or not we truly incur the “hatred” of what John calls “the world.” Do we threaten or do we actually safeguard the arrangements that keep some people affluent and dominant and others impoverished and anxiously compliant? If we accommodate such things, then according to Jesus, it’s always our time. This is chronos—linear time, measurable time, limited time. Chronos belongs to those who, with proud and gluttonous force, seize and hold advantage in the world. Chronos is the time of Jesus’ brothers—that is to say, of those who call themselves his family! So, it’s always the time of chronos religion. “The world” tolerates it. Encourages it. Loves it even. But that same “world” tends to hate those who live by the gracious, creation-embracing, boundary-defying means of agape love preached and practiced by Jesus of Nazareth.
In his commentary on John, Fred Craddock distinguishes between chronos people, who claim kinship with Jesus, and kairos people who live as true disciples of Jesus. Chronos people live as ones chained to a time-bound status quo of competition, greed, and violence. Unfettered by the limits of their own lives, kairos disciples trust the non-violent means of Jesus to transform God’s Creation.
“Making a difference,” says Craddock, “is painful, and only the distorted enjoy pain. But the church which knows its own time will speak and do the truth and bear the consequences. But woe to the church of whom it can be said, ‘It is always your time. What you say and do does not really make a difference, because you do not witness to the truth. The world does not hate you because it has no reason to do so. You are not really a factor in the destiny of the world.’
“Jesus says to the church, ‘Some claim to be my relatives; some claim to be my friends; some brag that I once preached in their town; but you are my disciples.’”1
Craddock adds an important caveat to his prophetic words: “Hopefully, it is not necessary to remind ourselves that there is a difference between being hated for Christ’s sake and being hated for one’s obnoxious religiosity.”2 Unfortunately, that caveat has proven all-too necessary for the Church as it has identified itself so intimately with governments, militaries, stock markets, and other worldly institutions.
Judas embodies the kinfolk-followers of Jesus. He remains part of the twelve, but he’s committed to a chronos messiah—one who would weaponize religion as a political tool and lead Christian soldiers off to war with sword, spear, and the righteous anger of nationalism. But Jesus has kairos goals—restorative, compassionate, inclusive goals. When Judas realizes that Jesus is not the messiah he wants, he sells him out.
John 7 has a deceptively simple message of hope for us. “My teaching is not mine,” says Jesus, “but his who sent me. Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own.”
Discipleship isn’t about winning theological arguments, or souls, or anything else. It’s about time. It’s about living in kairos time, Household of God time. Discipleship is about modeling our lives on Jesus’ life, and come what may, working for justice and peace, working for the well-being of the people around us and the earth beneath our feet. In following Jesus, we may evoke the wrath of those who fear holiness and wholeness, but God’s love is not limited to those who love Jesus.
That’s the twist in all of this: Kairos is the place out of which we live, while chronos is where we live. So, chronos matters. Our bodies matter. The earth matters. “The world” matters! As disciples, we proclaim the one who “so loved the world that he gave his only Son” as a sign of and an invitation into the eternal life of God’s here-and-now kairos. When living as true disciples, we experience kairos as joy in our suffering, and we reveal it as redemption breaking into the hate-scarred chronos around us and within us.
Our calling overwhelms us, but success isn’t up to us. We don’t have to be perfect, just honest. When we fail to live as Jesus-followers, we confess that we’re seeking our own glory. Then we turn and renew our humble prayer: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Fill us with your Living Word, O God. And strengthen us to follow Jesus in this world which is so broken, and yet so eternally beloved. Amen.
1Fred Craddock, John: Knox Preaching Guides. Westminster John Knox Press, Atlanta, GA. 1982. p. 58.
2Ibid., p. 59.