EASTER READINGS – ACTS AND JOHN – [3]

INTRO Almost all the Gospel readings throughout Eastertide, both on weekdays and Sundays come from the Fourth Gospel, attributed to ‘John’. We will explore why the Church asks us to reflect upon this Gospel during this Season, and then what are the great themes of this Gospel.

[1] Who is ‘John’? For a long time it was assumed that the author was John the Apostle, brother of James and son of Zebedee – one of the original fishermen called by Jesus. However there seems to be three John’s! The mysterious ‘beloved disciple’ who is clearly the origin of the theology contained in this Gospel, the bearer of the eye witness accounts (eg John 19: 25-26 & 34-35). The ‘John the Presbyter’ the author of the Letters of John and finally ‘John the Prophet’ the author of the Book of Revelation. Clearly all three ‘John’s’ come from the same theological tradition, the same stream of understanding who is Jesus is. Perhaps the origin of the testimony to Jesus in the Fourth Gospel is an original disciples who was ‘beloved’ of Jesus but not numbered among the Apostolic Twelve.  So the ‘Johannine writings’ come from a Jewish Christian community or communities that had by the end of the First Century a very developed understanding of who Jesus is: ‘the Word made Flesh’ with concentration on the ‘pre-existence’ of the Divine Word that entered into the human story in the Flesh of and person of Jesus of Nazareth. Of course what is really important is that the Church by 4th century recognised the Johannine Writings as authentically inspired by the Holy Spirit as to be part of the ‘rule’ or ‘Canon’ for the Church – on other words to be included in our Bible. 

[2] Why is this important for us to remember and understand? There is a tendency to be simplistic about the Scriptures – eg Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, David wrote all the psalms, a single Isaiah uttered all the prophecies in the Book of Isaiah.  Such over-simplifying ignore that all Scripture is the work not only of the inspiring Holy Spirit but also the work of an evolving and developing community of Faith reaching new understandings and insights. And of course there are many differing insights and trends in the Bible – eg those who centre everything on Temple worship and sacrifice , those who focus on the meticulous observance of the Law and those (like the Prophets) who are critical of Kingship, Temple and legalism in name of Justice and care of the Poor. These trends are all reflected both in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the NT. So the early Church in those first two centuries was very ‘fluid’ often without the clarity of structure or thought that we want to see (and too often ‘impose’) in our reading of the Sacred Texts. The Church today must remain open to many diverse expressions of theology and practice so as not to ‘stifle the Spirit’ – we must not say – ‘this is the only true way! ‘ for Scripture itself is far more ‘plural’ and diverse.

[3] ‘John’ Gospel is different! Matthew, Mark and Luke all use similar data and accounts, source material, even as they have important different emphases  and insights into Jesus. John’s Gospel comes later and in a sense takes up where the so-called ‘Synoptic Gospels’ leave of. It does not need to ‘tell the story’ like the others – ‘give an account’ as 

Luke says. Rather it offers a developed understanding of Jesus and expresses this by selecting certain key moments in the story of Jesus’ ministry to express this understanding. Therefore it selects certain ‘miracles’ and healings and explores their meaning in depth and leaves aside many of the other events of Jesus ministry recorded in the other three Gospels. While there are key events of Jesus ministry and teaching situated in Galilee (eg The Miracles of the Feeding of the 5000 and subsequent teaching on te Eucharist – John ch 6) (and in Samaria –the dialogue about the Spirit with the Woman at the Well – John ch 4)) , there is also much more concentration of Jesus in Jerusalem, and the drama of increasing conflict with the Jewish religious authorities that takes place there. The growing conflict is focussed around four pilgrimages to Jerusalem – three ‘Passover’ celebrations and the Feast of Tabernacles – the final Passover leading to his arrest, trial, passion, crucifixion and resurrection.

[4] The Structure of the Gospel Four Sections: a- the Great Prologue John 1: 1-18 a fundamental statement of faith in the pre-existence of the Divine Word that is made flesh in Jesus, as well as a clear statement that John the Baptist is a witness to the Light, not the Light, the Messiah himself.

b- The Book of the Signs (John 1: 19 – 12: 50) – the Signs of Glory – the Gathering of Disciples (a number of them disciples of John the Baptist before following Jesus); the First sign, the Marriage Feast of Cana, when his disciples ‘see’ His Glory! Then his first Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the cleansing of the Temple – heralding something new, prophetic and revolutionary (connection with the Essenes of Qumran?). Dialogue with the ‘disciple by night’ Nicodemus, and the Samaritan disciples.

The Disputes – Healing on the Sabbath (in Jerusalem); the Bread of Life (some disciples leave while Peter believes); Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles, the Woman taken in adultery (legalism) Healing of man born blind (religious leaders blindness), The Good Shepherd, the Raising of Lazarus and plot to kill Jesus is sealed; the Hour has come!

c- The Book of Glory (John 13: 1-20: 31) The last Supper and final discourses; the Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection and the Gospel concludes – that you may believe!

d- The Epilogue (John 21: 1-25) The Risen Lord among his disciples in Galilee; Peter and the ‘Beloved Disciple’

Tomorrow I will explore the ‘Book of Signs’ and on Saturday the Book of Glory and the Epilogue. Remember – the fundamental message of Johannine witings is : GOD IS LOVE!

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