The Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.
– John 5:19
It is not in Jesus’ nature to speak or act in a way that is contrary to the heart and will of God. It is only in his nature to speak and act in perfect accord with the heart and will of God. Jesus will say and do nothing except that which originates in the heart of God. This is the central claim of the Gospel of John, and really of the New Testament as a whole (and John is the best example of it): that Jesus is the perfect representation and image of God. He is the perfect and full revelation of God. As Allen read for us, it is Jesus who has made God known to us in the most perfect way. Compared to seeing and knowing Jesus, any other way of knowing God is incomplete. If we want to know who God is, how God thinks, what God does, look no further than Jesus. Now in chapter 5, we’re getting this assurance that when Jesus speaks and acts, we don’t have to wonder whether or not it’s the right thing, the Godly thing for him to say or do, because Jesus will only say and do what God is already saying and doing. There is no distinction, no inconsistency. Whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.
We would have a harder time saying that about ourselves, wouldn’t we? Our will doesn’t always line up with God’s will, does it? Our desires, our dreams, our priorities, our words and actions. Sometimes they’re coming from somewhere quite foreign to the heart of God. We judge, we bicker, we grumble. With our eyes we gaze upon things that fill us with desires that are not worthy of our affection. With our mouths we speak words that tear down instead of building up. At any given moment there are forces pulling us in every which direction. We’re taught to desire, to gamble our joy and fulfillment on things that offer to make us feel joyful and fulfilled. It doesn’t even have to be something evil or unsavory. Most of the time it’s something that’s harmless enough in itself, but it convinces us that we need it and that we need it again. We may find ourselves worshipping a career, worshipping nostalgia, worshipping the intoxicating feeling of being right while someone else is wrong. Once these things grab ahold of us and pull on us, suddenly there’s an entire gulf between God’s will and ours.
Let’s give ourselves some credit, though. I’m not making us out to be monsters, totally incapable of any good whatsoever. We’re simply victims of gravity. One thing or another is going to catch us in its pull and when it does, it doesn’t let go easily. We do not wake up every day and examine the variety of choices and temptations and virtues before us like a buffet and make a plainly objective decision. We say what we say and we do what we do because something has got us caught in its gravity. Something has been conditioning us. Something has been tempting and alluring us. Something is training us to speak and act in specific ways, and I don’t doubt for a second that dozens, if not hundreds of times every single day, the thing that catches you in its gravity is the heart and will of God. Every time you are kind, every time you forgive, every small act of selfless service, the heart of God pulling you in deeper and deeper, becoming your own heart.
“Whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.” Jesus says this in response to some hostile authorities mad at him for healing a man who couldn’t walk on the Sabbath. Jesus initially responds that if the Father is at work, then he will be hard at work too. The authorities are outraged that Jesus would dare draw such a parallel between God and himself, assuming he’s gone so far as to make himself equal to God! While Jesus hasn’t explicitly said that, it’s absolutely true. The Gospel of John doesn’t mind saying it for him. The Word was with God and the Word was God. To some, it’s a terrifying thought that God’s heart could revealed in one who heals and bends down to wash someone else’s feet, rather than in imposing rules and affirming those who already enjoy authority. They’re caught in the gravity of power and self-importance. So Jesus then says, “Whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise,” as if to say, “If you want to know what God is really like, what it looks like to get involved in what God’s doing instead of the other way around, watch me.”
There’s not much moral teaching in the Gospel of John, that is, teaching about how live a life that is wise and righteous. That’s because in John, Jesus is less concerned with teaching us how to live and more concerned with teaching us how to see him for everything he is. In the Gospel of John, Jesus himself is the moral choice standing before us. Will we believe him when he tells us he’s the bread of life, the good shepherd, when he tells us that he is life itself? Will we place our trust in him the same way he has placed his trust in the Father? Will we give in completely to his gravity and submit our will to his, letting his heart become our heart? That’s the choice we’re given in the Gospel of John.
“I can do nothing on my own,” Jesus reiterates a few more verses down. Church, may every word, every action, every movement, every thought be God’s own word, action, movement, and thought in us.