In school I heard about high context versus low context communication. High context would be considered by the average American to be beating around the bush. Low context would be getting straight to the point. It is hard to say which way is right for all times or cultures. With the high context way, there is room for emotional nuance in the expressing and more effort to listen brought out of the listener. Low context saves time but someone’s feelings can be hurt.
To analyze where Jesus falls on this once can see him use each style depending on context. In general, the impression Jesus leaves is that the more intimately engaged one gets with him the more direct he speaks. This is not always good news since to engage ones self headstrong against Jesus with the utmost of skepticism of even cynicism can also buy the emotional and spiritual shock that ironically may save you. It is as if one could bate Jesus to shock them with truth. Saul of Tarsus on his road to Damascus might agree.
The week in Jerusalem as told by John in his gospel was a rumble with religious leaders who considered themselves as too elite for his challenges just like may today who are elite in any realm looking down at Jesus. It started indirectly and then they drew him in tighter and tighter into their circle only to be dumbfounded by how he handled the woman caught in adultery. Uh-oh. Then he pursues them into the treasury at the temple. As for the context of communication he uses the high context enough to make them hungry. Now he has bated them and served them unpleasant truth and topping it off with “Because I speak the truth, you do not believe me”. He attacks their cognitive dissonance. How dare he! For most of the hearers there was no conversion but only an aversion which they now express ad hominem. So too will the elite of today of many kinds of power do the same to Jesus and anyone who speaks rightly of him.
The Jews answered and said to him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and are possessed?” Jesus answered, “I am not possessed; I honor my Father, but you dishonor me. I do not seek my own glory; there is one who seeks it and he is the one who judges. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.” [So] the Jews said to him, “Now we are sure that you are possessed. Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? Or the prophets, who died? Who do you make yourself out to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is worth nothing; but it is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ You do not know him, but I know him. And if I should say that I do not know him, I would be like you a liar. But I do know him and I keep his word. Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad. So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.” So they picked up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid and went out of the temple area (John 8:48-59).
Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and are possessed?– Hate made them ingorant on the first and desperate on the second. They are speaking with a rabbi from Galilee which has a distinct accent to the point that it exposed Simon Peter to exposure on the night of Jesus’ trial. And ironically they are forgetting about what miracles mean. Elsewhere in the gospels when he is accused of casting out demons by the power of demons, he points out that a house divided cannot stand.
I am not possessed; I honor my Father, but you dishonor me- Instead of defining himself unto himself, Jesus points back to the relationship with the Father rather than attack with attack. The gospel is relational first.
whoever keeps my word will never see death- But the consequence of truth here is still obedience and such is the invitation that is also a commandment. “God has overlooked the times of ignorance, but now he demands that all people everywhere repent” (Acts 17:31).
Now we are sure that you are possessed– The demonic possession they referred to above was a suspicion born of their bias. In their interactions with Jesus all data is examined by confirmation bias in screening out what counters their bias and filling in what works. Now they have a solid excuse to stand on; so they think. Such is the anatomy of the hardening of ones heart in saying no to truth and love.
Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died?-
There is another important point to consider is again their racial or religious privilege. The religious elite had been confronted before prophetically— by John the Baptist.
And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:9-12).
In the depths of their hearts, did they know what was going on? Maybe. How much of their flesh was aware to this work of clearing “the threshing floor” is hard to say but one can see it is evil to insult love.
For religious leaders it is interesting how they leave God out of the picture to hinder true cleansing. It is partly an appearance of putting God at the other side of the universe like a deist. They speak of death as an equalizer and with finality in itself. Jesus speaks from the point of view of the resurrection which speaks like true hope.
Who do you make yourself out to be?- Now they are bringing the subject to something less desperate than the possession slur but to critique the motivations of Jesus. The assumption is not only death as final but that everyone, especially that sinner Jesus, must have a selfish agenda.
it is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’– Jesus speaks in irony. Their god is clear— themselves.
I would be like you — a liar– This is called a shot off the port bow. In later months to come there would be more turmoil but even more bluntness by Jesus. The purpose of this comment is to clarify what their language means as a point of how detached they are to the truth. One could presume that Jesus is calling them out for lying to themselves.
Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM- Often I write how God does not want to coerce us into believing. God is a respecter of free will. Further, as one can see here, God is actually giving the hard of heart more than they can handle. It is said that an alcohol overdose happens when someone blacks out. In this case there is an overdose, but not of truth, but of their concentration of fighting the truth that draws them to holiness. It is has if they black out in their hard hearted rage. Such is how the greatest class can be of low context gospel of Jesus Christ when combined with any declaration that he is irrelevant and finite. Something has to break. In that room, the minority who believed in him broke in the only direction of Jesus giving room to truly respect him as he deserves and in a manner that is intellectually consistent. The majority could be only the latter.
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).