Perhaps the most important statement from Jesus in this week’s lectionary passage in John’s gospel comes at the very end. Jesus says, “The Father and I are one.” This has huge implications for how we think about Jesus and God. Jesus uses the plural verb to describe a singular understanding. It is fascinating stuff, and there have been piles of writings about this statement. But what catches my eye this week is the setting for that statement.Jesus is in Jerusalem during the Festival of Dedication. You are probably familiar with its more common name, Hanukkah. About 165 years before the birth of Jesus, or almost 200 years before the time of this story in John’s gospel, the Jewish people finally manage to retake control of Jerusalem from the Greco-Syrian empire that has been oppressing them and using the Temple to sacrifice to pagan gods. One of the most important acts they take is the re-dedication of the Temple to God, the event which Hanukkah celebrates. So here is Jesus, in Jerusalem during this festival, walking in an area that recalls the builder of the Temple (King Solomon), and the people come to him with a question. ‘Are you the Messiah? Give us a straight answer this time.’ Are they serious, do they really just want some clarity? Are they trying to trap Jesus into saying something so they can drum up charges against him? Based on the verses just before(John 10:19-21), it sounds like it is a mix. The question is important, but the gospel writer also has a great deal in mind by showing us the setting. We don’t always get setting detail in the gospels, but when we do it is usually important. In the midst of a festival celebrating the restoration of the right worship of God, in a place that recalls one of God’s greatest gifts (the building of the Temple) and one of the greatest leaders of God’s people, God is walking. He has been healing, teaching, and casting out demons. And they come and ask for more proof, in this place, at this moment. The irony is rich.
But don’t we fall into the same trap? God does not do what we want, or explain God’s actions the way we want them explained. God doesn’t fit into the box or category we assume God should fit in. Then we ask the same question. Where are you God? Why aren’t you doing what I want, when I want? In some ways Jesus’ answer is just as maddening to us as it must have been to them. ‘Haven’t you been watching? Haven’t you been listening?’ Still not satisfied, we push and push, and eventually hit that fateful line. “The Father and I are one.” At this point the questioners get really angry, but we have the advantage of hindsight. We can read those words and recognize that Jesus doesn’t come to just re-dedicate the Temple in Jerusalem, or lead a powerful nation-state, but Jesus came to save the entire world (John 3:17). That’s where God is. That’s what God is doing when my petty concerns are weighing me down.