John 10:31-42 (NRSVCE)
The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus replied, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.” Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’—and the scripture cannot be annulled--can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Then they tried to arrest him again, but he escaped from their hands.
He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing earlier, and he remained there. Many came to him, and they were saying, “John performed no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” And many believed in him there.
Yesterday we saw the Jews ready to stone Jesus for calling himself “I am,” for claiming to be God. Jesus managed to slip away, but now we see that they have caught up with him. Once again, they pick up stones to throw at Jesus for his blasphemy. Jesus tells them that they are ignoring the clear truth in front of their eyes. They do not believe Jesus, because their hearts and minds are closed to him. But they can see the works that Jesus is doing, and they should at the very least believe in the works. Jesus performed miracle after miracle, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, driving out demons, turning water into wine, and so much more. Yet his accusers refused to consider that Jesus might be who he says he is. Jesus gives them another chance here, by simply saying “Look, if you don’t believe me, at least believe what I do.”
This theme of believing with and without signs is prominent in John’s Gospel. Jesus makes it clear that signs can lead one to belief. He says so here. He also says so in John 4, when he rebukes the royal official by saying “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” (John 4:48) Or in John 20:29 when he says to Thomas, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Jesus wants us to believe in him without the need for signs, but he is also clear that signs can bring us to belief. When he encounters those who are unable to believe, he gives them signs. He heals the royal official’s son. He shows Thomas his wounds, even letting Thomas place his hand in them. These signs brought people to belief. And yet, despite all the signs he did for the Jews, they still did not believe. Why?
The answer, I think, comes down to the state of their hearts. Thomas wanted to believe, he just couldn’t bring himself to. The royal official was desperately searching for something, anything, that would help his son. Both of these men wanted Jesus to be who he says he is, they just couldn’t bring themselves to believe it yet. That is why the signs they were given led them to belief. The Jews, on the other hand, are a different story. They cared only about their laws, their practices, their authorities. They didn’t want any part of what Jesus was doing, they didn’t for a second want Jesus to be telling the truth. They wanted to keep their old ways, their power, and their laws. If Jesus was telling the truth, all of that would be upended. If Jesus really were God, or doing the works of God, it would mean that the world as they knew it would never be the same.
Call it what you will: stubbornness, pride, even fear. It’s a feeling I think we can all sympathize with. We all want to live our lives the way we want to live them. But the fact of the matter is that we are called to love God above all things, and to love our neighbor. This means not living for ourselves, but living for God and for others. The royal official lived for his son. Thomas lived for Jesus. That’s why they were able to believe once they were given a sign. The Jews lived only for themselves, and because of that they were blind to the truth.