18 March 2018 — Fifth Sunday in Lent
General Observations: The Gospel According to John (the Johannine Gospel) differs from the Synoptics (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) in style and content in several ways. John’s Gospel omits a large amount of material found in the Synoptic Gospels, like the temptation of Jesus, Jesus’ transfiguration, and the institution of the Lord’s supper. The sermon on the mount and the Lord’s prayer are not found in the Fourth Gospel. In John we do not see proverbs and parables but symbolic discourses. Jesus’ miracles are designed to provide symbolic insight into Jesus’ identity and his relationship to the Father. In the Johannine Gospel, Jesus is clearly the Wisdom of God, the source of eternal life, and still continually living within the community of faith.
According to the Johannine Gospel, Jesus’ public ministry appears to extend over a period of at least three years. During that time, he went, several times, from Galilee to Jerusalem. The synoptics, on the other hand, have Jesus making only one journey to Jerusalem — the final one — with most of his ministry taking place within one year.
The Johannine Gospel uses a “post-resurrection” point of view. The author looks back on the Jesus events and emphasizes the inability of the apostles to understand the things that were happening at the time they occurred. See for instance: John 2:17-22, where there are obvious references to the Resurrection, “He was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body, and after he rose from the dead his disciples remembered.” John 12:16-17, “At the time his disciples did not understand this but later, after Jesus had been glorified, they remembered….” And John 20:9, “Until this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” Perhaps we do not always clearly understand?
The gospel’s prologue (John 1:1-18) is most likely an elaboration of an early hymn. Interestingly, the rest of John’s Gospel does not speak of Jesus as the pre-existent, creative Word. Many biblical scholars suggest, therefore, that the prologue was added after the gospel had been completed.
Authorship and Locality: The old tradition, from the second century, was that the author was the apostle John, son of Zebedee. Most contemporary scholars are not of this opinion. Scholars such as Raymond E. Brown believe that the original author of an oral tradition, that evolved into the Johannine Gospel, was a companion of Jesus, the “Beloved Disciple,” who formed a community, most probably in Ephesus. Scholars call this “the Johannine community.” An oral tradition of eye-witness recollections of the Beloved Disciple evolved and began being written down around 90 CE. The final redaction occurred ten to twenty years later, giving us a gospel composition date of between 90 and 110 CE. We don’t know who the “Beloved Disciple” was. There is quite a variety of scholarly opinions: a truly unknown disciple, the Apostle John, James the brother of Jesus, or even Mary the Magdalene.
The Johannine community was greatly concerned with hot issues in the church–synagogue debate and defined itself primarily in contrast to Judaism. The final version of the gospel was composed after the crisis created by the expulsion of Christians from the synagogue. The Judean criticism is strong; and, over the centuries, some have incorrectly used the Johannine Gospel as an excuse for anti-Semitism. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it is unfortunate that English translators have so often used the words “Jew” and “Jews,” when “Judean” and “Judeans” would have been more correct and less problematic.
Four sections: Contemporary biblical scholars, break the Johannine Gospel into four parts: the Prologue (John 1:1-18); the Book of Signs (John 1:19 to 12:50); the Book of Glory (John 13:1 to 20:31) and the Epilogue (John 21).
The seven “signs” point to a new creation brought by Jesus and are clear indicators of his divinity: Changing water into wine at Cana (John 2:1-11) “the first of the signs;” Healing the royal official’s son in Capernaum (John 4:46-54); Healing the paralytic at Bethesda (John 5:1-15); Feeding the 5000 (John 6:5-14); Jesus walking on water (John 6:16-24); Healing the man blind from birth (John 9:1-7); and the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-45).
Signs and Personal Reflections: Once again, as I re-read the Johannine Gospel, I see texts that speak loud and clear to our contemporary life situation. (Next week, as we enter Holy Week 2018, I will have some reflections about the “Book of Glory.”)
Authoritarian Self-Defense: The inability and unwillingness of “respected” leaders to see the obvious. In their obsession with secrecy and defending their good name, “seeking the glory that comes from men” (John 12.43; 7.18) they refuse to rock the boat. Jesus says they put the honor that comes from people before the honor that comes from God. It is a question of ethics: an ethic of only self-love.
Authoritarian Followers: Why did the Judean leaders, including conscientious Pharisees, conspire to crucify Jesus? Why did so many ordinary people collude in their decision? Was the High Priest Caiaphas any different from contemporary national leaders in his simple judgment that “If we let him [Jesus as the just and prophetic person] go on speaking in this way, everybody will believe in him…. it is better to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” (John 11:48-50) Today, political leaders – and some church leaders — know well the power of demonizing specific people and certain groups, as a way of achieving a semblance of social or institutional unity: high school students demonstrating against guns, radical feminists, Mexicans, and gays.
Conversion: Throughout the Johannine Gospel Jesus persists in his call for conversion: “On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.’’ (John 7:37-38) Jesus’ call is significant. The pre-requisite for faith is thirst. Thirst for more. Thirst for justice, truth, and com-passion. Thirst for the divine.
Systemic Sin: In the Johannine Gospel, I see systemic sin as the deeper sin: the origin of other sins. All people need to interact socially, they need to base genuine community on love, mutual respect and openness to difference. Not on ideology and accepted customs (John 5:10); nor on a common enemy (John 7:32); nor the exclusion of dissenters (John 7:47-48; John 9:35). Genuine believers need to face every-one’s propensity to sin. And not deny it nor cover it up, nor simply ignore it, as has happened with the clerical sexual abuse of children and with the lying, dishonesty, and gross sexual immorality at the highest levels of our political leadership.