The religious elite in the days of Jesus were like a jury. The final deliberations are in process. But the complication is that most of them had their minds made up as we will see before they even encountered the “defendant”.
At the end of a holy week in Jerusalem this rabble-rouser from Nazareth made some declarations about himself and the blessings available to Israel. These are blessings not being funneled through the hands of the religious elite. Such elite have a presumption that the people should be blessed through their oversight by God with little thought to how God may not bound to their system. Even further, they assume to judge him more and than question him. The only catch is that they have to catch him first.
Some of them even wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. So the guards went to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not bring him?” The guards answered, “Never before has anyone spoken like this one.” So the Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law, is accursed.” Nicodemus, one of their members who had come to him earlier, said to them, “Does our law condemn a person before it first hears him and finds out what he is doing?” They answered and said to him, “You are not from Galilee also, are you? Look and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.” (John 7:44-52).
Never before has anyone spoken like this one- Elite versus non-elite- therein is the question. The guards are unlearned men but they more than make up for that with a healthy sense of humility and deep wonder. They see Jesus as distinct in how he speaks like no one else. They quote no scripture to prove their impression but just an intuition out of those above qualities that the elite lack. Rationality can be a weakness when over-emphasized. This is why often I will say to my clients who are in addiction recovery that they can rationalize staying in addiction or their next relapse. Again we see how a paradigm shift on how someone interprets what is true has to happen including the questioning of ones cultural assumptions.
Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? – Spiritual authority has its uses. As one who submits to the teachings of church authorities, I live a lifestyle respecting their place that God has put them in that is over me. The irony is that Jesus believed this about the elites too but qualified the parameters on how that works out. Further irony is that he spoke about this when he was only days away from being crucified in part through their collaboration.
Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice (Matthew 23:1-3).
Jesus knew that what was established was six covenants in God’s salvation history through Israel, culminate in him and to then be equally available to the world. He knew that the Pharisees were set apart for a purpose. Their very name in Hebrew, Perisheem, speaks to that consecration of service. Regarding the first person of that seat that was clearly successive, Moses, Protestant scholar JND Kelly states that he “taught infallibly”. But they are sinners, and their choice of conversion to deny Jesus was against the intent of the Law. The Law was meant too prepare Israel in a divine pedagogy for something better and to work itself out of a job in part.
But this crowd, which does not know the law, is accursed – With this the elite forget what grace and sin are and how they work. With sin one misses the mark due to the absence of grace in their nature and when a converted person sins they choose personal sin. The elite see “the crowd” as cursed for their lack of knowledge. For such elite, they will stand before the throne of God someday and question how well their knowledge even of spiritual matters worked for them.
Nicodemus, one of their members …Does our law condemn a person before…? – Well made point. Though Nicodemus has the religious status, he is based in what is true and good and maybe more due to his own evening interview with Jesus. Nicodemus draws the line of what the Law says objectively rather than a subjective construct some make. Truth is not based first in a personal journey of culture or experience. This is why thirty years later Paul wrote about “the Church, the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Truth that is heavenly based does not move.
You are not from Galilee also, are you?- This is their way of challenging the voice of dissent on an ad hominem point. Congratulations to Nicodemus and those that are in his situation among those hostile to the gospel. They minimized Jesus on an odd basis too. Such then are in good company.
Look and see that no prophet arises from Galilee- That was not even accurate. Capernaum is named in the latter part for the prophet Nahum. Those who are hostile speak a good game of knowing it all when they only see that the only data that matters is what they are comfortable with.
In summary, the rationality of denying Jesus is always a temptation. This is why faith and reason must partner together.