Jesus is the kind of guy you want on your debate team. He’s very quick on his feet. We don’t know if he mastered Aristotle’s rhetoric, but he certainly understood how to use it. Of course he was Jewish, and lived in culture that valued education, study, argument, and thinking.
In the lesson today from John’s Gospel we see that while Jesus was persuasive to many he was not persuasive to all.
And of course what he has to say is outrageous.
First, when asked if he is the Messiah, he essentially says yes. And then he goes on to say that he is not just the Messiah, but that he and God are one and the same.
It is an in your face kind of claim. I am God. It sounds presumptous because it is.
Of course if the Gospels are trustworthy he backed up that extraordinary claim by miraculous signs. We get a hint of that in the opening verses of today’s reading.
John 10:19 Again the Jews were divided because of these words. 20 Many of them were saying, "He has a demon and is out of his mind. Why listen to him?" 21 Others were saying, "These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?"
“Listen, this guy healed the guy who was blind for years, there is no way he is possessed.”
Two things strike me about today’s reading. First, if Jesus is God, he shows the limitations that God places on God’s self when it comes to persuading people that he is who he says he is.
Jesus uses reasoning, cleverness, word play, and even miracles to try to convince people of who he is and what he has to say. Yet, while he debates and says clearly what he believes, he doesn’t use his divine power to force people to believe.
Two, it shows the amazing respect that God has for his creatures. People are never coerced or forced into belief.
Years ago someone told me, “ I’ve read the New Testament and I’m not persuaded that Jesus was God or that any of the miraculous events in it really took place.”
“Good for you” I replied. “I know lots of Christians who have never read the New Testment. It’s awesome that you made the effort. Can I ask you one question?”
“Sure” he said.
I asked, “ Are you not persuaded because you are sure it’s not true, or are you not persuaded because if it is true, you know you would have to change your life.”
“Ouch!” he said, “I have to confess that it is because I don’t really want to change.”
“Can I ask one more question?” I said.
“Maybe” he said tentively.
“OK, here it is. Would you be willing to let me pray for Jesus to persuade you, even if you don’t believe he exists, and are hoping he doesn’t?”
“That would be Ok”
About two years later that man let me know that he had done a 180 degree turn around and become a Christian.
I don’t fully understand how free will, and God’s power to convert us work. But I do know that if God respects his creatures enough to give them free will, he expects those who follow him to do the same.
God make me a witness to Jesus. Help me to be persuasive, but never demeaning or demanding. Amen.