John 12:36b -43
After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them. 37Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him. 38This was to fulfill the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah:
‘Lord, who has believed our message,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’
39And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said,
40 ‘He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.’
41Isaiah said this because* he saw his glory and spoke about him. 42Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; 43for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.
“He departed and hid from them. Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him.” How disheartening that must have been for Jesus! In a few days he will go to the cross – it is the last week of his earthly life. He wants the people to believe; he has performed the “signs” – he has told them what is at stake – and still they don’t believe. And so, he withdraws for a bit. If I had to guess, I would say that he must have withdrawn into prayer, a meeting with the Father.
The author says that this happened so that the scriptures might be fulfilled – as Isaiah wrote – “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart”. But, of course, God did not intentionally make the people turn away from Jesus; he sent Jesus so that they might see and hear! Yet, some had eyes that were blind, and hearts that were hard, and refused the gift before them. Nevertheless, there were some who believed, even some of the authorities. Remember Nicodemus? He was a member of the Sanhedrin, and we have yet to meet Joseph of Arimathea – important persons who believed. But even those who believed did not say so openly, for they feared being thrown out of the synagogue.
“Being thrown out of the synagogue” is a theme we have seen before in John’s Gospel. Remember the man who had been blind? His parents would not testify in his behalf out of fear of being thrown out of the synagogue; and he was eventually thrown out when he did testify that Jesus must be from God. Here the author says that those who feared being thrown out of the synagogue loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.
The repetition of this theme makes me wonder – was this a problem encountered with the community to whom the gospel was written? We know that after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE, the Jewish faith refocused itself over a period of years, into a synagogue, and Torah, focused faith. As this gospel is written during this time of upheaval and restructuring, might the people to whom he writes be a part of a synagogue, and fearful of being expelled from it? Might new believers be fearful of being separated from the synagogue? Is the author here, perhaps, addressing a concern that was very real to his original audience, although we would hardly give it a thought. Who, these days, would worry about being thrown out of their church? The question remains, however, do we guard what we say in order to make a better impression, because we love human glory?