If you have stopped believing, it is possible that you have stopped imagining what is possible.
When Jesus started his ministry he had a barrier to entry that he crossed by engaging his listeners in a way that made them think about and question the possibilities. He came in a time when the leadership had stifled questions. They had done this by threatening all who opposed them with death. Very few people were willing to think out loud. John 6:13 says that “No man spoke openly of him (Jesus) for fear of the Jews.”
Jesus was bold in declaring his message despite the well-known threat of death (John 6:25). The people who listened to him questioned his education and learning. They were sure he was a fake because he came from Galilee. But a few questioned this assertion and remembered that he was born in Bethlehem. (John 7:41-42)
Jesus circled his listeners with puzzles that distracted them from their certain resistance and got them thinking about what he might intend. He said, “Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me: and where I am, thither ye cannot come.” (John 7:34) They imagined that their problem would disappear if he killed himself. (John 8:22)
The officers said, “Never man spake like this man” and imagined the Prophet who was to come. (John 7:46) They questioned him, “Who art thou?” and he answered, “Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning.” (John 8:25)
Poetic words with layers of meaning and especially hidden meanings would have been used by people who were afraid of the authorities. Jesus was not afraid. Yet, the people, hearing this kind of language, began to wonder what it could possibly mean. Within the attitude of wonder is the ability to believe. Their resistance came down. Their certainty became uncertain. And “As he spoke these words, many believed on him.” (John 8: 30)
He saw their faith beginning and he told them that they need to believe and act. “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32) In an oppressive society, freedom is a dream. Jesus promised freedom and the people began to hope a little that what he said was true.
The conversation turned to legitimacy. The Jews were at odds with their half-breed neighbor Samaritans and Roman rulers. Jesus said to them, “If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham.” (John 8:40) There were those in the establishment that clung to their legitimacy. But there were those in the audience that started to think about the difference between how Abraham acted and how the Jews acted. Later, Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: he saw it, and was glad.” (John 8:56) Can you imagine Abraham rejoicing? Can you imagine what he saw that made him glad?
To imagine the joy is to begin to wonder how a society of people oppressed by their Jewish leaders and Roman rulers could be free. Jesus came to free them, not from their rulers but from their sins. His potential to remove chains that bind leads to unsurpassed joy because it is permanent.
Expectation leads to despair. Unlike imagination, expectation demands that what is imagined become real. Jesus can make it real but we cannot control him. We must submit our will to his. Jesus offers us hope and he expects us to continue with him without knowing how or when our hope will become real. Stay open. Believe. It’s real!
Image credit: Abraham and the Angels by Aert de Gelder in the public domain