BiND: Day 75
Today we cross a strange line in our reading. We finish Luke’s gospel, but instead of going directly to its sequel (Acts), we hop over into John, whose writing and focus and context are very different.
In the end of Luke we see Jesus again as very human, showing emotions such as sadness, anxiety, and compassion. We also hear him say, in the face of violence, “no more!” And then, after the resurrection, we read the stories that in many ways characterize the church today, especially the Emmaus Road story. The disciples don’t know what’s just happened, and they don’t recognize Jesus when he comes to walk beside them, but at the table they get just a little glimpse before he’s gone—and that glimpse is enough for them to rush back and testify to what they have seen and heard. Isn’t that just how we are? We don’t always recognize Jesus even when he’s walking alongside us, but at the communion table we get a glimpse of Christ and of the kingdom of God, and that little taste is enough to empower us to share the story.
And then we turn the page and find ourselves reading John. Again, “John” is a name that was attached later to an anonymous writing, and tradition holds to be the name of the “beloved disciple” who is mentioned a couple of times (though never named, and always written about in the third person). Just as Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote from and to their own contexts, so does John. We talked about sources: the vast majority of scholars agree that Mark was written first, then used as a source by both Matthew and Luke, along with a source scholars call “Q”—material found in both Matthew and Luke but not Mark (implying that there must have been a document or a body of work from which they could both draw, since they are often word-for-word the same). Then both Matthew and Luke had their own sources as well, generally called “M” and “L” (how original). John, however, is different. He does not appear to have had any of these sources, and his writing about Jesus overlaps very little with the synoptic gospels. (synoptic comes from two Greek words that mean “seeing together.”) So John reads very differently from the first three, and he portrays Jesus differently as well. John is concerned with refuting Gnosticism (the idea that special secret knowledge is the key to salvation), though in the process he often sounds like a Gnostic himself. He writes mainly theology, not history. He presents a Jesus who works few miracles and tells few parables, but spends a lot of time in extended theological discourse. John is also the most “greek” of the gospel writers—his language use is easy to understand yet sophisticated, his writing style is similar to that of the greek philosophers, and he is pretty clearly writing in the late 1st century to a community of probably mostly gentile Christians. He also presents a very high “Christology”—understanding of Jesus—which is primarily about Jesus’ divinity, whereas we saw, for instance, in Mark, a lot of humanity. This is one of the reasons having all four gospels, all four portraits of Jesus, is important: we get a balance, a variety of perspectives and vantage points, a variety of understandings, all of which capture part of the story but, because God can’t be captured in words, not all of it. There are other gospels, mostly written much later, that didn’t make the canonical cut—if you’re interested in reading some, I have a collection in my office, so just ask!
John opens with a beautiful rhetorical move that is beloved by many: “in the beginning was the Word”—the logos, the divine word/logic. God’s logic has come into the world. God’s Word (with a Capital W), has been made flesh. In the beginning of Genesis, we see God creating with a word, and now the Word is living among us, re-creating. It’s one of the most beautiful expressions of who Jesus is that we have in our tradition.
You may have noticed that one of the first things Jesus does is have a Temple Tantrum—right at the beginning of his ministry. In John, Jesus is out and about for three years, whereas in the synoptic gospels he’s out for just one year. So we have a clue about how John views Jesus, right in the opening pages. In the other three gospels, the Temple tantrum is the last straw that leads to Jesus’ arrest. In John, though, it’s just the beginning—an announcement of who he is and what he’s come to do. (Important note: Throughout John the phrase “the Jews” comes up over and over. This has often been used to create and foster anti-semitism, and it’s important to remember that Jesus and his followers were all Jews. “the Jewish religious leaders” is a better translation in the context of the greek and the socio-political-religious situation of the day.)
What else did you notice as you finished Luke and started on John today?
photos are: a 2000+ year old olive tree in the garden of Gethsemane; some friends standing in the “Upper Room” in Jerusalem, wondering if Jesus and the disciples really celebrated Passover in a neo-gothic room built of cement on the second floor of a large building; a page of John from the Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest known manuscript of the Bible–this page is the only one remaining at St. Katherine’s monastery at Mt. Sinai (for which the codex is named) because the others have been taken by the British Museum and promised back but never returned; and a scale model of the Temple, part of a scale model of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus, just outside the Jerusalem city limits.