When I was younger, I carried a card of proof-texts in my Bible. It was white with a blue border, laminated for durability, and contained the requisite citations for the five steps of salvation, among other critical matters. I inherited from my precious community of faith a clear sense that faith could be logically demonstrated with lists, graphs, charts, and appeals to biblical evidence. The last sixteen verses of John 5 appear to fit this framework quite nicely. In the context of controversy and debate, Jesus recounts the testimony that ought to establish his identity as the one sent by the Father. He calls John the Baptist as his first witness, then points to the work that he has been doing as further proof. In the immediate context of this chapter, this work is the healing of the paralyzed man by the pool of Bethsaida. Finally, Jesus claims that the scriptures themselves testify about him, and though he stops short of providing the specific proof texts here, he seems confident in the ability of his audience to fill them in.
In the midst of this language of testimony and the imagery of legal proceedings, I confess that I often locate myself among the perplexed members of the jury. In fact, the longer I study Scripture, the more empathy I feel with those who encountered Jesus and could not make sense of what he said or who he was. In some ways, I feel this most acutely when reading the gospel of John. Jesus describes himself in metaphors and speaks in double entendres, breaks convention and commandment, and creates controversy. Twice when Jesus heals someone, they don’t know who he is until he appears to them a second time. Just one chapter over, Jesus has so thoroughly mystified his crowd of admirers that many of them simply leave.
One of the deep paradoxes of faith is that the identity of Jesus is both explicable and ultimately beyond all explanation. No wonder Jesus resorts to metaphors to explain who he is. No wonder Jesus confounded so many who met him, and yet compelled so many to follow him. And no wonder that we too can be confounded and confused in our faith at the same moment that we find ourselves convicted by the truth that sets us free.
Jesus challenges his opponents with the following words:
“You search the scriptures, because you think in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf.” (John 5:39)
May we never be guilty of confusing that which bears witness to Christ with Christ himself. And as we minister and teach and testify in our own ways, may Christ never cease to surprise us into deeper walks of faith.
Amanda Pittman Durham, NC Th.D. Candidate in Christian Education and New Testament Cole Mill Road Church of Christ