“Like Father, like Son”

Pentecost 6
John 5:16-30

Less than a year ago my father died.  I was able to be there for his final days, but not for his funeral. I sent a message to be read out by oldest son. In it, one of the things I said was this:

“My father was seemingly full of contradictions; very talkative and yet also shying away from social functions. He loved working with machinery but wouldn’t have anything to do with telephones or computers. He worked hard, even when the time came that there wasn’t much that needed doing. And he had a life-long obsession with moving dirt from one place to another that none of us, including my mother, could ever really understand. Entire hills on the farm disappeared and slowly reappeared elsewhere. And none of us could every really explain why.

But I also remember my father’s strong faith in Christ. I remember that when he gave his word, he meant it. I remember who he cared deeply about justice and doing the right thing. I remember him being generous in helping others. And I also remember that for much of my life, I worked very hard (as many of us do) to not be like my father. But now I cannot think of a better complement than when someone to says, ‘You remind me of your Dad’”

We are all more like our parents than we might like to admit. Our parents, or those who raised us in place of our biological parents, are the people who shaped us. They are our first and most important and influential teachers. They are our first and primary role models. So when we read the opening words of Jesus’ response to the religious leaders who objected to his healing of the lame man on a Sabbath, Jesus seems to begin by reminding his listeners of just such a truism about parents and children. In this case, about fathers and sons.

If we read the opening words of today’s text as ‘a’ father and ‘a’ son’ rather than ‘the’ Father and ‘the’ Son it would sound like a typical wise saying, much like the common ‘like father, like son,’ or ‘like mother, like daughter’ that we still hear today. They reflect a very ancient truth that we are all much more like our parents than we might like to admit.

In fact, some commentators have thought that just such a saying lay behind this statement of Jesus, and that he was drawing his listeners in by adapting a well-known truth. ‘A son can do nothing on his own, but only does what he sees his father doing, for a son does whatever his father does. A father loves his son and shows him everything that he does.’

But Jesus takes this saying much further. He talks about ‘the’  Father and ‘the’ Son. Jesus makes it clear the Father he is speaking about is God, and he himself is the Son. Suddenly a truism about life and relationships becomes a lesson about the nature of God.

This speech of Jesus, of which we have heard only the first half this Sunday, is the first of several long speeches of Jesus that John includes in his Gospel. The other gospels have parables. John includes none. What John instead shares with his readers is a number of Jesus’ substantial teaching talks. And this is the first of these. In it, Jesus brings up a topic that continues throughout John’s Gospel – the relationship between the Father and the Son.

And it fits naturally in this context because Jesus has just been criticised for healing a man on the Sabbath. And his defense is simply this: ‘My Father is still working, and I also am working.” The Jews taught the God rested from creating on the seventh day. But they also held that God did not rest from being God, or giving life. They taught that on the Sabbath, God’s people rest, but God continues being God, working for his people.  So this is a big statement on Jesus’ part. Jesus is saying that he is not simply allowed to heal on the Sabbath, but that he must by nature do this because he is not just a miracle worker or prophet. He is God.

Jesus begins his talk with an image we can relate to. It is the image of a son watching and learning from his father. Notice in verse 19 that the Son ‘sees’ what the Father does, and in verse 20 we read that the Father ‘shows’ the Son all that he does. Jesus begins by showing us a close relationship between a father and son that was also, typically for that day, a relationship between teacher and apprentice.

But what work does the Father do that he shows the Son? Jesus progresses the analogy when he says, ‘Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes.’  Suddenly we are talking about much more than making tables and chairs! The authorities were concerned that Jesus healed a lame man. Jesus lets them know that he can, and would, do greater things that this. Only God can give life. When Jesus says that he too can give life, can and will raise the dead, and can do this for whomever he wishes, there is only one way the Jewish leaders can interpret this statement. Jesus is claiming to be on the same level with the Father. He is claiming to be God.

Jesus goes on to underscore this point. Whatever the Father is, that is also what the Son is. Whatever honours the Father, also honours the Son, and vice versa.

  • The Father gives life, the Son gives life (verse 21)
  • The Father who is judge of all, give the role of judge to the Son (verse 22)
  • Just as the Father is honoured, so the Son is to be honoured (verse 23)
  • Just as the Father has life in and of himself (something only ascribed to God) so the Son has life in himself (verse 26)

So Jesus’ relationship with the Father is not simply that of a human son following in the footsteps of his father or looking to his father as a role model. Jesus identifies himself with the Father in every way that was important for the Jewish conception of God.

It is because of who Jesus is, that he can talk about a future coming in judgement, of raising the dead at the end of the age, and giving eternal life. The Son and the Father are one God not just during Jesus’ earthly ministry, but into all eternity. Jeus does all these things with and through the Father. They are one in honour, one in life, one in judging and granting eternal life. They act together, as one. As Jesus will explain in a later speech about his relationship with the Father that, ‘I and the Father are one.’

The religious authorities of the day were upset about a formerly lame man carrying his mat on the Sabbath. When they confronted Jesus, demanding an explanation, he calmly explained to them who he was.

It was an explanation they could neither grasp nor accept.

John started his Gospel with the claim that Jesus was God who created the heavens and the earth. Jesus made his own claim to be God through a unique set of miracles that only God could do. And now, Jesus states clearly who he is. He is allowed to heal on the Sabbath because he is lord of the Sabbath. He is judge and giver of life.

John tells this story and records these words of Jesus not to keep us in suspense over what the religious authorities will make of this claim. We already know what they will decide. Their rejection of Jesus as God among us is a foregone conclusion. John relates this story and this speech of Jesus, rather, for us, the readers. It is for those of us who were not there, who would only have the accounts of what happened.

We should not get caught up in how the Pharisees, Sadducees and priests respond to Jesus’ claims. The question put before us is how we will respond. How will we see Jesus? What does it mean for us that the Creator and giver of life, the judge of all, lived and walked among us?


Pastor Mark Worthing.
Port Macquarie.