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Nights on the Mountain

Updated: May 1, 2023

"But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them." John 8:1-2


Incessant criticism, constant attacks, and the deceptive and destructive voice of the "accuser of the brethren" were a constant shadow of Jesus' earthly ministry. How did the King of kings deal with these destructive pressures? He took them to his "Abba."


An AI generated image of Jesus done in the style of Van Gogh

Recently re-engaging with the Gospel of John, I couldn't help but notice a recurring theme, a leitmotif throughout John's account. Jesus, moved with compassion, meets the physical and spiritual needs of those around him. This, in turn, is met in each case with the criticism of the religious establishment. This pattern repeats several times and features prominently in the account of the "disciple whom Jesus loved."


In chapter 5, Jesus encounters a man who had been an invalid for 38 years and heals him of his physical infirmity. The man not only experiences miraculous physical healing, but it's also suggested that this encounter brings him to repentance and renewed faith. Rather than praise God for this miraculous physical healing and spiritual renewal, the Pharisees were highly critical because the man carried his mat on the sabbath day and they sought to persecute Jesus for encouraging this violation of their tradition.


Again, Jesus encountered a man who had been born blind (chpt. 9). In addition to the obvious physical impairment, there was a stigma associated with this condition as it was believed to be the result of some sin, a hidden shame that, though unknown to the community, was clearly evidenced by the man's condition. Jesus restored the man's sight, but even beyond this, he rebuked the assumption of guilt, overcoming the stigma and shame, restoring this man's personal and social dignity and worth. Once again, not only physical healing, but spiritual and mental healing and renewal. Where there was shame and loss, Jesus brought joy and reconciliation. He brought a "firstfruits" fulfillment of this prophecy of Isaiah:


"Instead of their shame, my people will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance; and so will inherit a double portion in their land, and everlasting joy will be theirs." (Isaiah 61:7)


The response of the ruling religious class was to attack the man as they sought a way to criticize this obvious miracle. The man's response stands forever as a powerful rebuke to the religious spirit operating through the Pharisees and as a forever testimony to what Jesus did: "One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see." (John 9:25) In addition to the healing and restoration received from the only begotten of the Father, this man received the "double portion" of honor by having his powerful and influential testimony still speaking to us today.


In his efforts to honor the Father, he himself was dishonored. In bringing life and healing to others, he himself was attacked, criticized, and accused. In fiercely loving, he was most fiercely hated. In relieving suffering, he was made to suffer.

In what must have been a particularly painful and personal manifestation of this continuing pattern, came after Jesus miraculously fed over 5 thousand people, multiplying 2 small fish and 5 small barley loaves until all ate their fill. Indeed, there were even 12 baskets of leftovers collected afterwards. In the following days, the Pharisees intentionally twisted something he said to discredit him, and many of his followers abandoned him. Shortly after this, the Pharisees actually sought to arrest him based on these false claims.


In his efforts to honor the Father, he himself was dishonored. In bringing life and healing to others, he himself was attacked, criticized, and accused. In fiercely loving, he was most fiercely hated. In relieving suffering, he was made to suffer.


It is in that context that we read this verse: "But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them." (John 8:1-2). John's writing style is interesting. The things unsaid and hinted at are often the juiciest bits of the story, and this passage is no exception. In between the first and second sentences of this verse lies the secret of Jesus' strength and a key to walking as Jesus walked, as the disciple instructs us to do (1 John 2:6). Indeed, Jesus himself tells the Pharisees at one point that he only does "what he sees his Father doing" (John 5:19). This is what Jesus did on the Mount of Olives that night. He spent time with God.


In between the cacophony of accusing voices from yesterday and the myriad fears and concerns of tomorrow, Jesus found strength in his Abba's presence...

Criticized by the crowds, abandoned by many of his followers, persecuted by the religious leadership, Jesus sought the healing and strengthening presence of his "Abba." It would be easy to think of this as "retreating" to the Father's presence. I have actually used this phrase before to describe this experience of stepping back from the attacks of the world and seeking the solace of God's loving presence. As I have prayerfully reflected through this passage, I don't think that retreat is actually an appropriate word here for the following reasons:

  1. He was not moving away from the problems. To "retreat" would be a very different thing than what Jesus did here. To retreat from the emotional pressures of our lives is to step away from the problems of life. It is to ignore or to hide from the pains, fears, and pressures of the world. To retreat can look like many different forms of escapism or vice that are our self-reliant attempts to medicate or numb the experiences that are causing pain. Jesus did not do this. He wasn't escaping the pressures; rather he was dealing with them.

  2. Courage to move towards. In coming to the Father, Jesus was facing the pains and pressures. Rather than running or "retreating" from pain, fears, perhaps even doubts, the One who came from the Father and would return to Him took his earthly frailty to his Abba, facing the pain. He came to the One and only where he knew he was secure, where he knew that there were answers, where he knew there was grace to heal him, power to strengthen him, and love to fill him.

  3. Healing, strengthening, preparing. Rather than retreat, Jesus was healing from what had come, and was being strengthened and prepared for what was coming. Jesus' life had a rhythm of grace with times of pouring out, but also of times of being poured into. These private moments we know little of, but it is recorded that they happened and happened often. We also know that they were much more than "moments" as it is clear from all the Gospel accounts that Jesus spent significant amounts of time alone with the Father. The grace and healing that we see flow out of him had to flow into him from the Father, creating a reservoir of power and grace that could flow out. Jesus went to the Father that night, but was found at the temple courts at dawn, allowing the grace and truth that he had been filled with the night before to flow out of him into others. Monasticism and praxis were both part of the rhythms of grace. So it was with him, should it not be for us also?


In between the cacophony of accusing voices from yesterday and the myriad fears and concerns of tomorrow, Jesus found strength in his Abba's loving presence, which was a secure base from which to operate and a certainty from which he was able to become and to be the Captain of our salvation who was made perfect through sufferings (Hebrews 2:10). In between what came and what was to come, he found rest, strength, and a reservoir of grace that flowed from him into the world around.



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