John 8:12 – 20
“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Then the Pharisees said to him, “You are testifying on your own behalf; your testimony is not valid.” Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid because I know where I have come from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is valid; for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. In your law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is valid. I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf.” Then they said to him, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” He spoke these words while he was teaching in the treasury of the temple, but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.”
These words of Jesus from today’s lectionary reading really got me thinking about self-knowledge, judgment, and validation.
When I came out publicly as gay, I was also announcing my intentions to marry my roommate and best friend, Danice, and I knew this double-whammy would be difficult for some folks in my life to accept. I had been a lifelong people-pleaser, so it scared me to know that I was going public with something that would earn the disappoval of many people whose opinions mattered to me. Despite all the years of reading and study I’d done, I knew I didn’t have airtight theology, or answers to every question that people would ask me – I knew (and still know) that I could be wrong in my affirming views. What I had to lean on was primarily my best discernment, and my story, and I could anticipate people saying, “your testimony is not valid,” much like the Pharisees do with Jesus here.
Jesus said his testimony was valid because he knew where he came from and where he was going. I cannot pretend to be like Jesus in either where he came from (being the one through whom all things were created) or where he was going (to lay down his life for all of us), but I still find power in his words. It was knowing where I came from (being a beloved child of God, created in love) and knowing where I was going (toward deeper self-giving love and unity with my wife) that gave me strength to come out and “testify” about my journey with my faith and sexuality despite the judgment it brought. I felt God’s love for me even in some of the hardest conversations, almost like the “Father” was testifying alongside me.
Coming out, which many thought was a sign of giving into my sinfulness, was paradoxically what weaned me off some of my desperate need for validation from other humans, which had become an area of temptation and sin for me, and a barrier in my relationship with God.
I’m also struck that Jesus says, “You judge by human standards; I judge no one.” Jesus, the only one who has the knowledge and power to judge by divine standards, refuses to judge at all. As we come out (whether as LGBTQ+ or as allies), we are tempted to judge those who judge us, to label them as being stuck or “less evolved” in their views. May we know Jesus, and know ourselves, so that we might follow his example in refusing to judge.
- Have you ever felt like your testimony, or your story (as a queer person or an ally) wasn’t enough, was invalid, or insufficient to convince someone to respect or believe you? What stories from the Bible does this kind of experience give you insight into?
- Elsewhere Jesus says “you’ll know a tree by its fruit.” What does this say about the “admissibility” of our stories/experiences as trustworthy sources of knowledge?
- What do you think Jesus’ words about validation and judgment have to do with his first statement about being the “light of life”?
Jesus, thank you for giving us the light of life. Thank you for showing us how to stand firm in our belovedness, even when people challenge the validity of our testimony. Give us the strength to love those we are tempted to judge. Show us more of yourself, we pray.
This Lenten reflection accompanies the Tell Your Pastor #imaffirming initiative. To learn more click here.