Posts Tagged ‘John’

One of the shocking details of John’s report of Jesus’ first sign, at a wedding in a Galilean village, is the notice that his disciples ‘believed in him’ as a result of his action. One wonders what they were doing prior to the moment:

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

One does not accrue the plausible accusation of being a glutton and a drunkard unless one hangs in places known for serious eating and heavy drinking. Jesus’ accusers must have had plausible grounds for such an accusation, reported in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. (more…)


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The gospels approach Jesus’ identity in narrative and oblique fashion rather than in systematic assertions that a reader can bullet-point, store, and pull out of the drawer on demand. It took the emerging Church centuries to define the Christian understanding of God in terms that would command philosophical assent. The biblical materials fueled that endeavor but display a marked nonchalance about it.

When Jesus was confronted by his eventual arrestors in Gethesemane, the Fourth Gospel narrates an encounter that probes at Jesus’ complex identity. Jesus asks those who confront him, ‘Whom do you seek?’ (more…)

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Though the Johannine Jesus’ response to news of Lazarus’ illness suggests a startling conflict of emotions, the equanimity of his conversation with Martha and Mary hews to a more placid line. I find the whole picture anything but posed and ungenuine. If Jesus is the person the Fourth Gospel has been suggesting, one might almost anticipate such experience and behavior in the context of the sickness and death of ‘the one whom (Jesus) loves’.

Deep friendship is the backdrop of this story. Those who have known this gift understand something of its potency, something of the forcefulness one confronts when its riches have been invaded by the contrary force of death. (more…)

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The Johannine presentation is not shy about making exalted claims on Jesus’ behalf. The categories are large: he is light, he is life, he is the way, he is truth. One anticipates apotheosis rather than degradation of the gospel’s central figure. Indeed, apotheosis might be considered a guest too late for this party, since Jesus is presented from the outset in categories so fulsome and pristine that in the history of interpretation they’ve (mostly unhelpfully) been explained against a Platonic rather than a Hebraic background.

Yet one finds neither pristinization, re-pristinization, apotheosis, or an untroubled crescendo of recognition of Jesus’ glory and celestial origins. (more…)

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A handful of well-received twentieth-century writers were particularly adept at probing the deep structure of reality and the meaningful juxtaposition of suffering and redemption that resides there. J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis come to mind. These men spun tales nourished by the notion that deep suffering lodges itself in the anteroom to liberation and even to glory. (more…)

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There was a time in the circles of my youth when too much talk of love in connection with ‘the things of God’ was taken as the surest sign that one had ‘gone liberal’. This is a deep shame.

To be sure, people who speak critically in this way have seldom set out to pursue bloody-minded hatred. They are usually quite loving people, particularly with others whose profile is proximate to their own. Their intention is to be faithful stewards of a truth that comes from God. Having observed others merrily casting away sacred things for the sake of happy Groupfeel, they have become incensed and mistakenly fallen back upon a suspicion of love itself. (more…)

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Jesus’ grief-stricken followers cannot imagine life without him. So absorbed are they in their loss that they fail even the courtesy of asking him how he is negotiating these turbulent waters. Yet Jesus is convinced that the Advocate (traditionally, Paraklete) will more than compensate for the kind of ‘absence’ that he foresees:

But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.

It is difficult to accept that this will be. Will this Advocate illuminate their lives with prescient teaching? Will he heal ugly, oozing disease? Will he restore demented minds to their prior clarity? Can an Advocate restore the sight of blind people, make lame ones dance? (more…)

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Jesus’ agricultural metaphors are both vivid and harsh. A vineyard keeper doesn’t wince at every stroke of his knife. He does not sentimentalize his vines, else he’d make little wine.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.

The formal difference in the Greek words translated as removes (airei) and prunes (kathairei) is a mere preposition, a modestly elided form of kata. Yet the experience of the respective branches could hardly be more remote. One is thrown into the fire, the other made more productive. Destruction and production are the two fates. (more…)

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Peace is elusive.

I used to imagine that most people lived peaceful, satisfied lives and that a minority of turbulent outliers were the exception that proved the rule.

Now I know hardly anyone who lives peacefully, who moves and speaks from a tranquil soul. Least of all do I. (more…)

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Lineage and chronology place the formidable ministry of John the Baptist in dangerous proximity to competition with Jesus. More than a few of the two men’s disciples looked askance, by all appearances, at the alternative thrown onto the stage by the other man. John, for all the fire of his temperament, seems to have maintained clarity about his secondary stature. He seems to have understood both his own impressive ministry and its waning in the face of Jesus’ accumulation of followers as things given by heaven:

They came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.’ John answered, ‘No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven.’

. (more…)

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