Recently, at Bible Study we read John chapter 5. When reading this Chapter most people instinctively focus on Jesus healing of a man on the Sabbath. It’s a miracle so it naturally draws our attention and we know that “working” of the Sabbath is one of the things that inflame the Pharisees and turn them against Jesus. Thus, we can immediately put this story in context. However, close inspection of chapter shows that it’s the second half is where the real blockbusters are.
In our study of John one of lenses we are using to look at the text is the idea of the Gospel of John as a trial or court case. Throughout the book John is “making the case” that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. In Chapter 5, John presents Jesus’ witnesses. Here is the relevant passage.
30 “I can do nothing on my own authority; as I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. 31 If I bear witness to myself, my testimony is not true; 32 there is another who bears witness to me, and I know that the testimony which he bears to me is true. 33 You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 34 Not that the testimony which I receive is from man; but I say this that you may be saved. 35 He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.
36 But the testimony which I have is greater than that of John; for the works which the Father has granted me to accomplish, these very works which I am doing, bear me witness that the Father has sent me.
37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness to me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen; 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe him whom he has sent.
39 You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 41 I do not receive glory from men. 42 But I know that you have not the love of God within you. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive.
(John 5: 30-43)
The Jewish faith required two witnesses to make a case, so Jesus provides witnesses in abundance. As Catholics, what we must know and understand is that since the Church “represents” Jesus in our times these witnesses also testify to the Church.
First, Jesus calls John the Baptist as his witness. John was a contemporary of Jesus, recognized among his peers as a prophet. Are there contemporaries among us who we can look and say, “obviously this man is of God”? Do we really need to look any further than people like Pope Francis, Mother Theresa and the martyrs dying in the middle east to see holy people witnessing for the Church?
The next “witness” called by Jesus that testifies to him are the, “works which the Father has granted [Jesus] to accomplish.” Now of course, there are many worthy charities that do a lot of good work in the world but the Catholic Church is by far the biggest. The Church educates, feeds, shelters and cares for more people than any other organization. Size alone does not constitute sufficient proof but it does suggest a supernatural fuel that other organizations do not have.
Jesus’ next witness is a curious one. Essentially, he says Faith itself is witness to him. Basically, the Lord says if you had faith you would believe in Me.
The final witness is the Scriptures. Jesus is very clear. He says that the scriptures bear witnesses to him but the people refuse to accept their plain meaning. What then do the scriptures say about the Church? There meaning is also plain:
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
But for us to “tell it to the Church” that Church must be visible and easy to find. Further, failure to listen to others does not bring repercussions but failure to listen to the Church brings penalties. Thus, from the outset Jesus established the Church would have authority. This authority comes from the fact that the Church is in a special relationship with Jesus:
And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
Thus, we can see the Church is not just a group of people. It is not just a hierarchy or certain building or certain teachings. It is much more that that … the Church is the physical extension of Jesus into this world until he returns. The Church’s authority comes therefore not from some legal declaration, from the consent of the governed or even from scripture itself. Rather, the Church’s authority is inherent in it because of its intimate relationship with the Lord.
Finally, Jesus tells us what will happen when the scriptures are rejected. Recall, he says, “I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive.” The Church comes to us in the name of Jesus and it is often rejected by those who refuse to see the weight of evidence just as the listeners in John 5 did. Those men follow others who came in their own name like “Barabbas”. Their modern counterparts follow men like Luther, Calvin, Warren, Osteen, etc.