Preachers often talk about “Jesus in disguise” as a figure of speech, because he identifies with people in desperate situations: poverty, sickness, prison, and so on. But in John 7, he’s actually in disguise. His brothers tell him to go back to Jerusalem for the Tent Festival and do some magic tricks to boost his
Klout score reputation, “…for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” Because it’s one thing to feed 5000 people in rural Galilee, but it’s quite another to do miracles in Jerusalem itself.
Of course, Jesus had already done a miracle: healing on the sabbath, back in chapter 5. This brought him exactly the wrong kind of attention.
So in chapter 7, he tells his brothers, “No, you go on. I’ll stay here.” After they’ve gone, he puts on a fake mustache and glasses, and goes to Jerusalem in disguise. While he’s mingling among the crowds, he overhears people talking.
“So, do you think this Jesus character will turn up for the festival?”
“I sure hope so. He’s a good guy and I’d love to meet him.”
“Are you kidding? He’s a charlatan.”
Jesus sidles up to the conversation and listens in. Maybe that’s why he decides half way through the festival to put the disguise away and start preaching. When he does so, the religious leaders start murmuring.
“Wow, he preaches pretty good for someone without a degree.”
“I got my degree from God. So why are you trying to kill me?” he asks.
“Are you nuts? Who is trying to kill you?” they reply.
“I heal one guy on the sabbath and you all get your underwear in a twist,” he says. “Why can’t you understand that I’m doing exactly what God wants?”
Then the bystanders start whispering to each other
“Did you hear? The priests want to kill this guy.”
“Then why are they standing around talking with him? Do they think he’s the messiah?”
“Can’t be. He’s just some guy from Capernaum. I think he was born in Nazareth.”
I’ve been trying to read through John with new eyes the last few weeks. John supposedly has a very high view of Jesus, a lofty Christology that emphasizes Jesus as the eternal Word of God. While I believe that’s true, I find it interesting that Jesus often seems like he’s doing all of this without much of a plan. In spite of the fact that he keeps saying “my hour has not yet come,” it feels like he’s improvising. His humanity shows up in unexpected places: his fear that his friends will leave him; his abortive attempt to secretly infiltrate the festival. Over the next few chapters, he plays cat-and-mouse with the Temple authorities. In many ways, he seems to be reacting more than acting. In spite of his lofty rhetoric, I can hear Jesus’ frustration and anxiety coming out in unexpected places. I’ve been taught a scholarly skepticism about how the gospel writers present Jesus’ teaching, but John does not paint a picture of a Jesus who is in control of things, who has divine foreknowledge of every event and placidly fulfills his destiny. There’s some of that, sure, but there’s also a lot of what I feel on a day-to-day basis while I’m planting a church: “Okay, I know what my mission and message is, but what the heck am I doing in this situation? God, do you have my back?” I think it’s a good example of how, even with a clear sense of mission, ministry is hard.
John used to be my least favorite gospel, because the dialogue seemed so stilted, warped by John’s high Christology. The more I read through this time, the more I’m having to reevaluate my perspective.