Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Fear of man in the Gospels

I’ve had the opportunity lately to make some comparisons between the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel According to John. I’ve been teaching a class on the Synoptics for our Spanish-language ministry, as well as reading Asbury Seminary’s Seedbed Daily Text devotional, which during Lent has been following Christ’s journey from the transfiguration to Jerusalem as found in Luke’s narrative. Also, for the past year and three months a small group I am part of has been working through John.  The readings from Luke lately caused me to notice a contrast in the way Luke and John talk about people being afraid in relation to beliefs about Jesus.

John often mentions people being afraid to express their belief in Jesus as the Christ because of the threat of what the Jewish leaders might do to them and their ability to attend synagogue services.

John 9
20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

John 12
42 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human praise more than praise from God.

John 19
38 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away.

Luke, on the other hand, several times mentions the religious authorities’ fear of the people when it came to matters concerning Jesus and His forerunner, John the Baptist.

In Luke 20, the chief priests and teachers of the law confront Jesus while He is teaching in the temple courts, and demand to know by what authority He is operating. He turns the question back on them, asking whether John’s baptism had its origins in heaven or human ideas. They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.” (See also Matthew 21:23-27)

In Luke 20:9-19 (and Matthew 21:33-46), we find the parable of the tenants. Luke 20:19 says, “The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.” Matthew 21:46 echoes this.

In chapter 22, when talking about Judas’ agreeing to betray Jesus, Luke starts out by saying: and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people.

Matthew 26:3-5 gives a little more explanation of the chief priests’ and elders’ fears:

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.”

Across the Gospels, we see Peter’s fear of the authorities and resulting denial of Christ, as well as the disciples fleeing, and later meeting behind closed doors for fear they would also be arrested and killed.

But the thing that really struck me as curious was John’s focus on the fear of people outside Jesus’ apostolic circle with regard to the authorities, while the authorities themselves were fearful of the people according to Luke and Matthew.