In what would seem to be the norm for Our Lord’s ministry, today’s Gospel once again opens with Jesus and the Pharisees engaged in a verbal sparring match. That being said, Jesus’ words today seem a bit harsh:
I am going away and you will look for me, but you will die in your sin. Where I am going you cannot come. (John 8:21)
Why did He use such strong language, and why is it that the Pharisees are so condemned?
For centuries by that point, the Jews had been waiting for the coming of the Messiah. During that time the leaders of the people had poured over the sacred texts, trying to figure out exactly when, where, and how the Messiah would arrive. More importantly, they sought to understand how He would deliver the Jews from under the thumb of the Romans so that they might ascend to their rightful place as God’s Chosen People. In all of this calculating and conjecture, what the leaders ended up doing was arriving at preconceived notions of how the Messiah ought to behave.
These preconceptions are a large part of the reason that many people just could not understand Jesus. The vast majority of people thought that God ought to act in accordance with their plans and aspirations, rather than subordinating their wills to His. This is the Pharisees’ problem in today’s reading. Their beliefs in what the Messiah should be are so solidly cemented in their minds that they are not even willing to entertain the idea that Jesus is the Messiah, let alone the Son of God. Because of their hardness of heart and entrenchment in their world, they completely refuse to see Jesus as the Dayspring of Salvation to pardon their sins and as such are locked in their own sinful ways.
How do we treat God’s plans for us? Are we so locked in our preconceptions of what God should do that we are unresponsive to His impulses when they arise? As Easter approaches let us spend some time in prayer and participation in the sacraments to properly orient our wills to His.