Reflection on John 5.31-47 (Lent)

Jesus said: If you do not believe what he [Moses] wrote, how will you believe what I say?

It is not uncommon to hear people misquote the words of scripture to support their own arguments. Such misquotation is often used to back up some statement that denies or opposes the teachings and doctrines of the Church. The divinely inspired words of God are selectively quoted in a way that takes them out of context and weaponizes them. Gobbets (carefully selected extracts from longer texts) are paraded in a way that is meant to make others feel inferior. They are often rattled off with a confidence that challenges the hearer to try and contradict the way in which they have been deployed. To try and introduce reason and historical accuracy into such a debate is like treading through a densely packed minefield.

The misquotation and misplacing of God’s teaching is not something that is new in our generation. If we read the account of Moses leading the Jews out of Egypt into the promised land we will often hear the weasel words of those who put their own sense of right and wrong ahead of God’s. Sometimes we may feel that it is the leaders of our Church who are playing around with God’s law, whilst on other occasions we may see it as the mischief of some local person who considers themselves to be worthy of respect and deference. In today’s reading we find such people being put firmly in their place by Jesus as he says: If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. Jesus spells it out for us. Whilst we are seeking to use the words of scripture to our own advantage we are likely to be missing the truth that is revealed … the truth that Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed Son of God.

People like to play with words. The English language is often remarked upon because it can be used, or misused, in this way. However, the words of scripture are not meant to be twisted and distorted to tell the story we would prefer to hear. The words of scripture may be challenging, but they are the words of God, and they should be honoured and obeyed as such.

Let us pray that, as we engage with scripture, we might leave room for God to speak to us through the words we read. Let us pray that we might not only hear the still, small voice of God, but also act upon his law … even when that does not place us above others.