Palm Sunday – March 25, 2018
Today as we enter Holy Week 2018, I conclude my Lenten reflections about Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, with some final thoughts about the Johannine Gospel and its challenge to contemporary Christians.
Scholars like Pheme Perkins, at Boston College, emphasize, that the author of John presumes that much of the narrative about Jesus and its people and places was already well known to the Johannine audience. They would have been familiar with the various titles for Jesus, with Baptism, Eucharist, and the Spirit. They were already Christians, entering the second century of Christian life and experience. The Fourth Gospel then is a call to re-examine their lives as followers of the Risen Lord. That challenge of course rings true for us as well.
Last week we looked at the “Book of Signs.” Today we move to the “Book of Glory”: John 13:1 to John 20:31.
John 13:1-4 is a turning point in this gospel. Jesus’s “hour” had come “for him to pass from this world to the Father….he had come from God and was returning to God.”
The occasion in John 13 is the Last Supper. Unlike the Synoptics, the Johannine Gospel has no mention of Eucharist, but Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. “I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.” (John 13:15) I think we forget that people’s feet back then were really dirty! Washing feet was not a pleasant task. Reading this scripture, I think we forget as well what Jesus also said: “Whoever welcomes the one I send, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” (John 13:20) The Johannine author did not mention the Eucharistic bread and wine because he wanted to emphasize that Jesus is present in the Community of Faith. Jesus promises that his Spirit (the Advocate) will be with them. (John 14:15-16, 15:26, 16:15) For centuries, in my Roman Catholic tradition, people have argued and fought about Jesus’s “Real Presence.” The Johannine Gospel is very clear: the primary real presence of Jesus is in the community. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches (John 15); and we are to love one another. The branches cannot survive without the vine; but the vine cannot survive without the branches. The profound mystery of life. No one can do it alone…. In Mark, Matthew, and Luke the stress was on Divinity talking on humanity. That is true in John as well, of course. In John, however, we see another emphasis: humanity taking on Divinity. God is truly with us: in the very heart of our being. (Some of the old images of God no longer speak to contemporary people; but God has not abandoned us. We should not abandon God. We simply need to reflect on better ways of conceptualizing and speaking about our experience of the Divine.)
The Johannine account of the crucifixion does not stress Jesus as one who suffers, as we saw for example in Mark 15.25–39. In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus is the one who is exalted, “lifted up” in his moment of glorification. In John 13 to John 16, Jesus prepares his disciples for his imminent departure followed by his “high priestly prayer” in John 17. Here we see a very strong and confident Jesus. “I have glorified you on earth and finished the work you gave me to do. Now, Father, it is time to glorify me…” (John 17:4-5)
The final Johannine chapters contain the accounts of Jesus’s trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. The Jesus who stands before Pilate is strong. On the way to Golgotha Jesus carries his own cross. He does not need the help of a Simon of Cyrene as we saw in Mark, Matthew, and Luke. Also in John, unlike the other three gospels, Jesus crucifixion occurs on the day of preparation of the Passover (John 19:14) rather than on the Passover holiday itself. Here Jesus prepares himself for the departure to the Father and seems to be in complete control of his destiny, even to the extent of commending his mother to the Beloved Disciple (John 19:26–27).
The Book of Glory concludes with the discovery of the empty tomb by the women and other disciples (John 20:1–10), Jesus’s appearance to them (John 20:11–18), and the narrative of “Doubting” Thomas (John 20.24–29). The last two verses contain what many scholars think may have been the gospel’s ending: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)
Appendix: Many scholars consider John 21 to be a later addition to the Johannine Gospel. It not only contains resurrection appearances in Galilee, but it also emphasizes the authority of the Beloved Disciple, who likely died a normal death in contrast to Peter’s martyrdom (see John 21.15–23). Quite possibly, this appendix reflects a controversy among the second or third generation of believers, who may have considered the Beloved Disciple inferior to Peter. Chapter 21 reinforces the Beloved Disciple’s role as the authorized witness of the Jesus tradition for the Johannine community.
I titled today’s reflection “Courageous and Confident.” That is how I perceive Jesus in the Johannine Gospel. With courage and confidence, Jesus spoke out against the hypocrisy of the self-centered arrogant. In conflicts with Judean religious leaders he stressed that religiosity is not faith.
Today we encounter the same kinds of hypocrisy and are confronted with un-Christian religiosity from religious and political leaders. As members of Jesus in the community of faith, may we sustain each other with courage and confidence. That is the message for this Holy Week, as we prepare for Easter 2018.
– Jack email@example.com