A clerk at a grocery store in West Palm Beach, Florida tells the following story:
Me: "Hi, how are you? How may I help you?"
Lady: "Yes, I'd like return this pregnancy test."
Me: "Okay, what's wrong with it?"
Lady: "It came out positive."
Me: *confused* "Okay?"
Lady: "I can't be pregnant, so this test MUST be defective. I want to return it."
(For anyone who doesn't know, it is very rare for a pregnancy test to mistake a positive pregnancy. A negative, yes, positive, no.)
Me: "Ma'am, I'm sorry, but you can't return a pregnancy test you've already used.
Lady: What do you mean I can't return it?!? It's wrong! I want to see your manager!"
(So I go to the back to see my manager who is a woman, and explain about the lady. We return to the front.)
Manager: "Hello, what may I help you with?"
Lady: "YES! I want to return this pregnancy test! It came out positive and I just can’t be pregnant! It's wrong and I want my money back!"
Manager: "Ma'am, I'm sorry. We can't refund you on the test because it came out positive."
Lady: "NO! I insist I get my money back!"
Manager, getting frustrated: "Ma'am! I'm sorry but we cannot and will not refund you your money just because it came out positive. Congratulations on your new baby!"
Most of the religious leadership in Jerusalem do not believe in Jesus. In fact, it almost seems as if they are in denial. Once again they ask Jesus a question they have asked him before-- "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly."
This is not the first time Jesus has had the Messiah discussion with his detractors. Indeed, he has done miracles that can only be associated with someone called by God. Just one chapter before in John nine Jesus heals a man born blind which the rabbis had come to believe was a sign associated with the coming Messiah. The Prophet Isaiah states,
I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the Lord, that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to idols.
See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth,
I tell you of them. (42:6-9)
The religious leaders are not genuinely curious as to whether or not Jesus is the Messiah; they don't believe it and they continue in denial in spite of what Jesus has said and done that they have witnessed. There is nothing that Jesus can say or do that will change their minds. They are like the beaten path in Jesus' parable of the sower. Their hardened hearts will allow nothing of Jesus to take root in their lives (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23).
It is quite the challenge for human beings to question their long, cherished beliefs. It is very difficult to unbelieve what we believe, especially when what we believe is interwoven with our identity. And because of that we continue to refuse to believe in what has become clear simply because we cannot tolerate the dissolution of our world in order to construct a new one. So, like the religious leaders speaking to Jesus we continue to raise questions in reference to what threatens us, not because we are genuinely curious, but because we want to have confirmation of what we already believe so we can continue to reject what threatens us. We can only tolerate a Jesus that comes along side of us and affirms us as we are, not a Jesus that turns over the tables of our lives demanding that things be done in a way radically different from what we want. As the adage goes, if your Jesus never disagrees with you, you have made Jesus in your own image.
Just as belief is a choice, so is unbelief. This is not to say that there are no legitimate impediments to faith, but if we persist in our unbelief, not because we have honest questions and concerns, but because we live in denial because the pain of change is too great, at the very least we need to own that choice and not push it off on the difficult teachings of the Lord or the behavior of his followers.
Otherwise, we may hear Jesus say to us, "I have told you, and you do not believe."
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)