Lean In

Lean In

There’s an interesting back and forth in the Gospel of John. One minute we’re told that the words and miracles of Jesus cause those who see and hear to believe. The next minute, John is telling us that no matter what Jesus does, people just won’t believe. Or maybe they believe, but they feel that Jesus is just too controversial, too radioactive to admit how much they really do believe in him. As the storyteller wrestles with this in John 12, he journeys back to Isaiah 6, in which the prophet is warned that his God-given message will ironically close off even more eyes and ears than it opens up. He takes us back to Isaiah 53, in which God’s salvation is embodied in a person so bizarre, so unexpected, that his saving act of sacrifice is just too controversial, too radioactive to bother with. Isaiah is proven right that encountering the living God in him somehow makes people more blind, not less. For every literally blind person who has mud put on their eyes by Jesus (John 9) and given sight, there are a myriad of nice religious folks that are unwilling to let Jesus disrupt their religious comforts, thus losing whatever spiritual sight they did have.

Next thing you know, Jesus is shouting in the middle of a crowd: “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in the one who sent me.” (John 12:44) Let’s not think we can cast aside everything controversial and radioactive about Jesus and still enjoy a pat on the back from God. The funny thing is, Jesus wants nothing more than to be a source of joy and unity in our world. It drives him crazy that his preaching and miracles cause such blindness. No, I’m not here to condemn! I’m here to fill you with light and cast out the dark. I want you to know God, to have your eyes and ears and hearts completely opened up to him, to experience eternal life right here and now.

That being said, Jesus goes on, there is a judge for those who hear Jesus and yet listen less, not more. But Jesus is not that judge. Rather, that judge is every word spoken by Jesus that is heard but not received. “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge,” Jesus says, “and the word I have spoken will serve as judge on the last day.” (12:48) To reject the words of Jesus is its own judgment. There need not be anything extra. Jesus doesn’t have to invent some fresh idea of how to punish us for disobedience. Resisting Jesus is its own hell. A life that deprives itself of his wisdom, his truth, his good news is miserable enough all on its own.

But this is good news, too. If plugging up the ears when Jesus speaks is its own judgment, then to open our ears up, to lean in and listen closely, is its own reward, its own salvation. Jesus is here, in his own words, “not to judge the world, but to save the world.” (12:47) To open up our eyes and ears, to lean in and soak up every single word we can get out of him, is to experience eternal life. Hearing what he has to say is its own prize. So we stand still and let Jesus approach us and put mud on our eyes, that we may see him more clearly. We let Jesus open us up to hearing him afresh. And when he does, we are prepared to experience a life in him that is so adventurous and joyful, we feel no choice but to lean in further and further.

Jesus Himself


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