Saturday, September 29, 2007

John 16

John 16:1-4: These verses continue the theme of the end of the last chapter, that disciples will encounter resistance and persecution. They begin with a word of encouragement to keep on keeping on, and that is their main point. Being put out of the synagogue reflects the lived experience of some in John’s community.

John 16:5-15: The idea that there will be persecution, beginning with Jesus, would carry with it a note of sorrow. For John’s Jesus community, Jesus has been gone a long time now and some may have wondered about that. As those who actually knew Jesus become two or three generations removed, what will keep us going? There must have been a tone of sorrow with such questions, and here is the response. After Jesus is no longer with them, there will be another (but not completely other) whose presence will continue to witness to the truth of what happened in Jesus – a Holy Spirit, who will be a witness, an advocate, a helper. The Spirit will be the on-going presence of Jesus with the community of disciples. Perhaps because of the experience of some of the followers of Jesus in John’s community, the background for some of the images used for the Spirit is the courtroom. The Spirit will offer convicting arguments to the world itself, that it ignored what God was doing in Jesus. The Spirit will also continue to “guide” the disciples in truth, speaking in ways consistent with the teaching of Jesus. There is a long tradition in the Christian faith that we understand our faith, our Scriptures, Jesus himself only as the Spirit touches our lives. This happens as we practice our faith and as we share with each other in Christian community. The functions of the Holy Spirit are psychologically identifiable: wherever the truth prevails or is seeking to prevail, the Holy Spirit is there. There is a reality at work within us, even though we are often unaware of it, that seeks to bring us to the truth: the truth about our world, the truth about ourselves, the truth about God and life’s purpose (Mystical Christianity, 289).

John 16:16-24: In the spirit of the gospel, Jesus speaks rather backhandedly about his death, about a time when he will be gone. It will be a time when the disciples will weep and mourn, but the promise is that their pain will turn to joy. Their experience will be like birth pangs. While these words fit the immediate context well, they are applicable more broadly to our lives. Sometimes we will struggle with difficult issues in our lives. Part of what we have known as our life may even have to change, to “die.” The hope is that positive change, though painful, is like a birth pang.

John 16:25-33: Jesus notes that he has taught in figures of speech, but will one day speak plainly. It does not seem to happen here, and given the nature of the world and of God, we cannot abandon figures of speech entirely. Jesus love for his disciples, he assures them, is also God’s love for them. He has come from God and is returning to God. Trusting that is the appropriate Christian response, it is what constitutes Christian faith. We trust that in Jesus, God has been up to something that makes all the difference for our lives. In the other gospels, it was most often stated in terms of Jesus bringing the kingdom of God near. In this gospel, Jesus brings the reality of God near. For those who believe/trust, there will be difficult times. They will be scattered, but not forever. Jesus wishes them peace and courage, noting that he will overcome “the world.” “Love defeats the power of death” (New Interpreters Study Bible).

John 17

John 17:1-25: This final prayer of Jesus is very different from the anguished prayer Jesus offers in the other gospels at this same juncture. Its context seems more the Jesus community of John than the disciples gathered together on the night he will be arrested. Nevertheless, the prayer reiterates many of the themes in John’s gospel, and also sets the stage for what will come in the following chapters.

Jesus hour has come, that is, the hour of his death when he will indeed offer on final act glorifying God (revealing the nature of God). “Eternal life” is defined not as life in the future but a life in which one knows the God Jesus has been revealing.

Just as Jesus glorified (revealed) God, so the community called together by Jesus reveals Jesus (v. 10). Jesus prays for their protection, for their joy, and for their sanctification. Jesus’ disciples are sent into the world as Jesus was sent into the world.

Jesus prayer includes not just the disciples present, but all who will believe because of the work the disciples will begin. John is writing for his own Jesus community. The prayer is that there will be a oneness among the community of disciples. The relationship between God and Jesus is to be the relationship between Jesus, God, the Jesus community and within that community. All this gets a little confusing, but the heart of this part of the prayer seems to come at its end: “so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” Not a bad prayer for the church today.
John 15

John 15:1-17: The farewell discourse of Jesus continues, but the topic has changed. This chapter begins with the final “I am” saying of Jesus. As noted, John’s gospel is full of metaphorical discourses on the person of Jesus. “Like the parables of the Synoptic Jesus, this metaphorical style keeps the reader off balance, frustrates too quick and too easy efforts to reduce the imagery to simple points” (People’s New Testament Commentary). Poetic language and religious language seem to share an important characteristic, both seek to open hearers to the world in new ways. Poetic and religious language asks that we pay deep attention and be willing to look at the world differently. Religious language asks that of us because there is a confidence that as we look more deeply and look differently we will encounter a presence in the world that we find to be loving and caring, a presence that seeks the good, and challenges us to do so as well. For Christians, that presence is God and for Christians that presence is known especially in Jesus. It is little wonder, then, that John’s gospel is filled with metaphoric language.

The metaphor used for Jesus here is “the true vine.” “True” in such Johannine sayings means “ultimately real.” Its opposite is not “false” but “unreal.” (People’s New Testament Commentary). Vineyard images have a long history in Jewish religious thought, and are found often in the prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible. The image is an organic one. Jesus is the vine into which his followers are incorporated – we are branches which are a part of the vine. This language of becoming a part of Christ, of abiding in Christ, is mystic and mysterious and we will explore it more in a moment.

To bear fruit is a common image in the Hebrew Bible for being faithful to God. “To bear fruit is to keep Jesus’ commandment to do acts of love” (New Interpreters Study Bible). The same Greek word is used in verses two and three for “prune” and “cleanse.” In some sense those who are a part of Jesus have already been cleansed, but there may be more of that process to continue.

Verses 4-6 introduce us to the language of “abiding.” This rich language can be looked at in a number of ways. While the Johannine Jesus speaks with a certain “mystical” tone, it is not mystical spirituality that is offered, but concrete reality in the world of Christian community that finds its new life “in Christ”…. This statement is the death of all purely individualistic Christianity. The Johannine Jesus understands discipleship to him as necessarily incorporating the believer into Christian community. (People’s New Testament Commentary). Abiding in Jesus, in this reading, has something to do with being a part of Christian community, and I think it is a central part of Christian faith. The New Testament sees faith as personal, but the life of faith is never simply individual – never just “me and Jesus.” The life of faith brings us together with others. “Abide” or “remain” expresses the central theme of chapter 15: the relationship of God and Jesus with one another and with the community is one of presence and mutuality. The vine imagery symbolizes how the life of the Christian community is shaped by love and intertwined with the abiding presence of God and Jesus (New Interpreters Study Bible).

I don’t think we should ignore these communal emphases for what it means to “abide in Christ” especially given the rampant individualism in American culture which tends to distort this crucial side of Christian faith. At the same time, I would take issue with the authors who try and say that there isn’t really a “mystical” dimension to these passages. Both the communal and mystical are there, both are important parts of the Christian faith. John Sanford in his book Mystical Christianity calls this chapter “pure mysticism, concerned with the mystery of the transformation of the soul through union with God,” and “one of the most important passages in the Bible for the idea of deification” (279). What does Sanford mean by “deification”? “In the first centuries of Christianity the idea of the deification of the soul through Christ was widespread” (Sanford, 214). Here was the notion that the work of Christ and the Spirit in our lives was to make us more Christ-like. The early Christian theologian, Irenaeus put it this way, “Jesus Christ became what we are in order that we might become what he himself is” (quoted in Sanford, 216). For Sanford all this has something to do with an inner process whereby “the egocentric faults of the ego must be overcome, and focus must be made on the dynamic inner Center” (219). Returning to the image of the vine and the branches, Sanford writes the following. The imagery can be compared to the relationship of the ego to the Center. The ego has little vital life of its own. The source of its vitality and creativity lies in the Center, and as long as it has a connection to this Center it flourishes and brings forth the fruit of a life that is lived significantly…. At its best, the Christian sacramental and devotional life strengthens this connection of ego and Center (281).

Is there an important sense in which Christian faith invites us to uncover, recover, rediscover something of a divine nature within us, something that leads us to live more lovingly, justly and caringly in the world? Walter Wink, in his book The Human Being puts it this way. Jesus incarnated God in his own person in order to show all of us how to incarnate God. And to incarnate God is what it means to be fully human (47).

The idea that there is some reality inside of us which in our lives we often bury, to our own detriment, can be found in other religious traditions. For Zen Buddhists, there is the affirmation that “we are already buddhas.” At the same time, Zen Buddhists would also say that “we are not yet buddhas… and we must strive to become enlightened” (both quotes from Kim Boykin, Zen for Christians, 114). Zen practice (meditation, following moral precepts) is both a way of striving for enlightenment and of affirming that one is already a Buddha (an enlightened one).

For Christians, practice of our faith (prayer, worship, acts of compassion, acts of justice) is both part of what it takes to abide in Christ and a realization that we are already abiding in Christ and that we are one with him. For me, the richness of this image of Jesus being the vine and we being branches in Christ, and of the notion of abiding in Christ, suggests that the Christian life is a life to be lived in community, it is a life of practices, and it is also inner transformation – all these.

The next verses (7-11) continue to play on the image of the vine and on the notion of abiding. The relationship between Jesus and the disciples mirrors the love and mutuality of the relationship between God and Jesus. Practices (keeping commandments) are an essential part of abiding in Jesus’ love – and this way of life is a way of joy!

Verse 12 reiterates what Jesus said in chapter 13:34-35. He elaborates by stating that the greatest love is to give one’s life for one’s friends. Abiding in Jesus, following Jesus initiates a relationship of friendship, not one of servitude, except that it is love and friendship which involve mutual service to each other.

Verse 16 is a sticky one. How is it that the disciples, who clearly made choices to follow Jesus early on are now told that they did not choose but were chosen? It is a paradox of faith that we often feel just this way, swept up in the love of God in ways that we almost could not have “chosen,” and yet we do choose. Choosing or chosen, the bottom line is faithfulness in love – bearing fruit.

John 15:18-27: Much of this, though mysterious, sounds quite exciting – love, joy, bearing fruit, closeness with Jesus and through Jesus, God – but there will be a down side. Not everyone is excited by what Jesus is doing, and some hate him. This is the context for Jesus words as he is in his last days, but it is also the context for John’s Jesus community, some of whom have been thrown out of the synagogues, some ostracized by the Roman culture. Jesus is inviting people to a different way of life, one that will stand in contrast to the prevailing culture – and the Roman culture was both religious and political. Jesus is inviting the disciples to a counter-culture, and such activity is not always appreciated. Some of the language here no doubt reflects the deep disappointment many felt in being shunned by others.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

John 14

John 14:1-31: Here we begin an extended teaching discourse from Jesus ending with a chapter length prayer (John 17). There is nothing like it in any of the other gospels. It is unlikely that Jesus spoke all these things in just this way and in just this setting, but the writer of John uses themes from the teachings and stories of Jesus to weave together this “farewell discourse.” It is meant to reflect the situation of Jesus’ disciples, perplexed by his imminent death and thought that he would be betrayed. It is also meant to reflect the Johanine Jesus community, a mix of Jews and Gentiles trying to make their way in the world, some of the Jews recently separated out from the synagogue and some of the Gentiles ostracized because they no longer paid homage to the Roman gods. They must have been asking what it meant to follow a Jesus who had been gone a long time now. Especially as you consider this second context, hear these words of Jesus again – “do not let your hearts be troubled.” When we are perplexed about how to follow Jesus in our complex world, we, too need to hear the words, “do not let your hearts be troubled.”

Jesus further encourages the disciples to hold on to the faith they have in him, for it is their faith in God. The God who Jesus has revealed is a God whose household is large, and the disciples have a place there. Remember that this is still a minority religious community, and these words are words of deep assurance – you do indeed have a place in the household of God – Jew and Gentile, you have a place in the household of God, even if their place in some of the religious structures of the time had been taken away. Somehow Jesus departure will secure that place, that relationship to God in God’s household in a new way. Jesus promises not to abandon them in some important sense. Jesus has made a new way to relationship with God, has secured a new way to life in God’s household, but Jesus speaks about it metaphorically, and Thomas misses the metaphor – he is thinking geography. Thomas wonder what road they should take to follow Jesus and Jesus responds with yet another metaphor that explains who he is – “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

This verse causes a lot of consternation in our day and time, a time marked by religious pluralism. Some claim that this verse seals it – Jesus in the only way to God. All other ways lead to trouble, death, maybe even hell. Again, remember the context. The significant question on the minds of the hearers of John’s gospel is whether or not this new religious faith community, separated from the more numerous and traditional faith communities of the time (Roman and Jewish), provided a way to God, had a place in God. The answer of Jesus in this gospel is a resounding “yes.” To follow Jesus is to be on the way, to know the truth, to be in touch with life. These are words of hope for a beleaguered community. Many have taken them and made them exclusive words for a majority religious community, and there seems something inappropriate about that. I appreciate Eugene Peterson’s rendering of this verse where the text says that no one comes to the Father “apart from” Jesus. This would open up the possibility that Jesus is a part of all genuine connections with God, whether or not those connections name the name of Jesus. The text does not claim that adherents of all other religions are doomed if they do not make a personal confession of faith in Jesus before they die. The text affirms that all who come to God come to the God who has revealed himself in Christ. (People’s New Testament Commentary).

John 14:6 expresses the central theological conviction of the Gospel of John: Jesus is the tangible presence of God in the world…. Yet John 14:6 is often interpreted in ways that misuse its central theological claim. What John intends as particularism, many contemporary Christians wrongly interpret as exclusiveness. John 14:6 celebrates how Jesus reveals God for those in this particular faith community and is not a statement about the relative worth of the world’s religions. John is concerned with helping Christians recognize and name their God and the distinctiveness of their identity as a people of faith. (New Interpreters Study Bible).

The most important point in these early verses is not a point against other “faiths” but a point for the notion that having encountered Jesus, the disciples have, in the most important sense, encountered God as “Father” (intended metaphorically, and if metaphorically open to new adaptations that speak more truthfully to us). The point is elaborated in the continuing verses. Jesus' teaching and his work have come out of his relationship to God. Then Jesus forwards an audacious claim. “the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works that these, because I am going to the Father.” What stirring words – what words of hope and energy. Jesus “disappearance” is intended to make room for all of Jesus’ followers to assume his role.

From one audacious claim to another – Jesus seems to promise that anything the disciples ask for “in his name” will be done. This is difficult to grasp and I am not sure I have grasped it all. In some ways this could be treated as a tautology – asking for something in Jesus name means that your life, your being, is reflecting the very character of Jesus. You request would be in tune with the spirit of Jesus. What these words may say is that when you desires things and ask for them out of this spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of Jesus will respond. This is an invitation to pray, but even more an invitation to live life differently.

Living life differently is what the next verses are about. Verse 15 could be read as a command – love Jesus and do what Jesus commands. It could also be read as a statement of fact – those who love Jesus keep Jesus’ commands. The Greek word here connotes “moral precepts.” John Sanford says that this verse could be understood to say that those who love Christ will live consciously, following the Light, and therefore in a moral way (Mystical Christianity, 269). As we live in such a way, we receive a Spirit that helps us continue on the way. This Spirit has been all around them, and will be in them. This Spirit is in some sense Jesus himself – who promises not to leave them orphaned. Recall one context for John’s gospel is his own Jesus community, none of whom probably knew Jesus personally and so must have wondered about his presence in their life together in community and in their lives. Wonderfully warm images of the on-going presence of God are offered to assure the Johanine Jesus community that Christ remains present with them. Christ and the Father will come to those who love and follow, and will make their home with them. There is a place for Jesus’ disciples in the household of God and God and Jesus make their home in and with the disciple.

All these words about the continuing presence of God-Christ-Spirit with the disciples of Jesus are meant to engender peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.” The peace of Jesus is a more enduring peace that the peace of Rome. God’s home is not the imperial palace, but in the community of faith. Don’t let fear overtake you, don’t become your fear, don’t let your troubled hearts get the best of you – but be at peace.

It may be that John’s original farewell discourse ended with verse 31 – “rise, let us be on our way.” But sometime chapters 15-17 were also added as a part of this section.
John 13

John 13:1-20: Jesus' public ministry of teaching and signs is over. The following chapters are comprised of Jesus teaching and interacting with his disciples, followed by his arrest, trial, execution and resurrection. In this chapter we are presented with a recounting of Jesus final meal with his disciples (here on the evening before Passover, in contrast to the other gospels where this is a Passover meal). There will be no sharing of bread and wine as a way to talk about Jesus death and the disciples sharing in his life, however. Instead, Jesus demonstrates what life together in the Jesus community should be like. He offers a “living parable” and a few words to go with it.

In John, Jesus confidently knows what is going to happen to him. In the midst of this impending event, Jesus' love for his disciples will continue to the very end – enduring love. Jesus is not only knowledgeable about what is to come, he knows who he is – the one who has come from God and is going to God, and the one into whose life God has given all things. This is a remarkable claim about the identity of Jesus, but what is most remarkable is the action that follows. Knowing who he was in relationship to God, Jesus ties a towel around himself and begins to wash the disciples’ feet. Jesus is enacting hospitality and taking on the role of host and servant. It is too much for Peter who objects, but Jesus counters. “To have Jesus wash one’s feet is to receive an act of hospitality that alters one’s relationship to Jesus and, through him, to God” (New Interpreters Study Bible). As has often happened in the Gospel, a literalism gets in the way of true understanding. Peter figures if having feet washed helps him participate in new life with Jesus, then certainly washing more is better. Having one’s life touched by Jesus, the living water, is enough.

Jesus finishes washing the disciples’ feet and then returns to explain what has happened. His living parable, his symbolic act, is to be repeated. Jesus has given them an example, and example of leadership and servanthood in their life together, an example that runs deeply counter to the prevailing understandings of the roles of teacher and Lord in Roman culture. “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (verse 17). Our spiritual lives are more than knowing, they are knowing and doing. Jesus then begins to talk about where this servant leadership will lead him next – toward being betrayed.

John 13:21-30: Jesus servant leadership will lead him to be betrayed, by one of his own disciples. Even John admits that this makes Jesus “troubled in spirit.” “And it was night” – another way John uses symbolic language. It may have been dark outside, literally, but another kind of night was falling in which the light of the world would be extinguished, but only for a time. Sometimes, we, too, must walk through dark nights.

John 13:31-35: For John, Jesus’ final glorification will come in his crucifixion and resurrection, but God is glorified when God becomes more visible to the world. John’s contention is that Jesus has done just that. But his time is short, so Jesus wants to make sure they know what it means to live a life that glorifies God – love. The heart of Jesus’ revelation of God is the way in which Jesus makes God’s love visible in and for the world. Jesus loves his disciples “to the utmost.” This love is modeled in the foot washing and enacted fully in his death. His disciples are to love one another the same way. (New Interpreters Study Bible). Love will be the characteristic mark of being a disciple of Jesus. Christians are not merely “nice people,” but agents of God’s love for the world revealed in Christ (People’s New Testament Commentary). If we grapple with no other words in the entire New Testament, trying to live up to this “new commandment” would keep us occupied for the rest of our lives. What do we need to do to cultivate love within? What do we need to do so that our actions and relationships demonstrate that love? “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (verse 17). In Christian faith, love is more than a feeling. It has to do with action and with intention. It has to do with willing the good of another and acting on that impulse. Even with this understanding, there remains something of an anomaly in a “command” to love. John Sanford notes that and says that the Greek here, in addition to commanding love, could also mean “that part of our ability to fulfill the commandment is to become the kind of person who is capable of that love” (Mystical Christianity, 260).

John 13:36-38: As in the other gospels, Peter boldly declares that he will follow Jesus anywhere, even to the death. Instead, Peter will deny Jesus – not just once, but three times. It is interesting that this story is told in each gospel. Peter may have wished it otherwise, but here it is again. Yet Peter is remembered as one of the most important disciples of Jesus in the early church, and is celebrated as the first “pope” in Roman Catholic Christianity. In spite of our own failures, we can rise up and try again.

Monday, September 24, 2007

John 11-12

John 11:1-44: Like many other chapters in John’s gospel, this one contains a story followed by another section. But here the story and the sayings of Jesus are intermingled. What follows is a description of the developing plot against Jesus. The story related in this chapter is dramatic and the miracle performed an extraordinary one – though Jesus also brought others back to life in stories told in the other gospels. Such stories may be the most difficult miracle stories of all for the modern reader. Remember, again, however, that the point of the stories is less on what “actually” happened than on what the story says about Jesus and about God’s work in and through Jesus.

The story of Lazarus is told only in John’s gospel. He is the brother of Mary and Martha, and it is Mary who will anoint Jesus in chapter 12. The story begins with Lazarus falling ill and a message being sent to Jesus. According to the message, Lazarus is a good friend of Jesus. We know nothing of this relationship to this point. As with the story in chapter nine, Jesus claims that the illness will serve the glory of God. This need not mean that God had this planned from the beginning, only that God’s grace finds its way into situations of human need, and this will be demonstrated again. Jesus absolute confidence that Lazarus’ illness will be a situation God will address through him leads him to act almost cavalierly – waiting two days to go to Judea. This is difficult to understand, but for John, this is in keeping with who Jesus is – one through whom God acts in a powerful and unique way.

Returning to Judea is returning to dangerous territory, to the place where there are people who want to kill him. In the other gospels, Jesus seems well aware that going to Jerusalem represents a real danger. In John’s gospel, Jesus is not only aware of the danger, but willingly goes to Jerusalem to surrender his life. In John’s gospel, Jesus is always in charge of his fate. His time of daylight will be coming to an end, but at his own initiative.

As Jesus and the disciples prepare to go to Bethany, there is some confusion over just what has happened to Lazarus, one of the few places in John’s gospel where the disciples seem to have a significant misunderstanding, in contrast to the other gospels where there is a great deal of this. Jesus does not let their misunderstanding linger – Lazarus has died. Thomas’ comment (verse 16) is a bit confusing, but reflects the real danger that awaits them in Jerusalem.

As Jesus approaches Bethany, Martha meets him and this conversation provides the context for another “I Am” statement by Jesus. “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus is about life here and now, not just in the future – a new life oriented toward God. Even though they will die, they will remain alive to new life. In the “I am” saying, Jesus announces that the promise of the resurrection is not lodged in some distant event, but is available now in him. Jesus shares completely in God’s ability to give life. As the resurrection and the life, Jesus defeats the power of death in the future and in the present (New Interpreter’s Study Bible). “Resurrection is a certain state of being” (Sanford, Mystical Christianity, 224). Martha provides a strong confession of faith – “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” “The content of the faith is Christ, the act of God in Christ. It is personal, not doctrinal.” (People’s New Testament Commentary).

The plot continues. Mary comes to see Jesus, and as she does, she weeps, others with her weep, and seeing this Jesus becomes “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” He ends up weeping. In some ways this seems strange, given his previous confidence that God is up to something great in this situation. But this Jesus is “a real human being, with all the range of human emotions, although at the same time he is the Deity who is a God of heart and compassion for the sufferings of his/her children” (Sanford, Mystical Christianity, 225). Sanford goes on to write, the fact is that we do not comprehend the greater mysteries nor find the larger insights without passing through the pathos and suffering of life.

Jesus remains deeply disturbed as he approaches the tomb, a cave. The stone is rolled away, though there is a concern expressed for the smell of death. “It is precisely in this stinking world of death and decay that the power of the resurrection has been let loose” (People’s New Testament Commentary). Jesus prays to God – it is from God that Jesus power comes, though for John, that power resides in Jesus already. At the voice of Jesus, life comes forth, a life to be unbound and let loose. Read metaphorically, and symbolically, this story speaks to our lives. How often we feel bound and entombed, and the message is that Jesus heals and frees. As we listen for his voice, and the disciplines of the Christian spiritual life are meant to be ways to do that – worship, prayer, Scripture reading, acts of compassion, acts of justice, we are able to come out of our tombs into new life.

John 11:45-57: This remarkable event causes many to believe in Jesus, but others are concerned that he is disrupting the status quo. The chief priests and Pharisees (some, not all) are concerned that Jesus activity will bring Roman authority down on them. Of course John writes this well-after the fall of Jerusalem to Rome. Did some of the Jewish people and leaders blame the activity of Christians for the demise of Rome? In another way, this indeed reflects that political calculations figured heavily in the death of Jesus. Silencing him was intended to keep the peace of Rome. In the face of threats, Jesus retreats with his disciples.

John 12:1-11: Jesus retreat away from Jerusalem does not last long. The Passover is coming and Jesus begins his return trip. Here he stops in Bethany. A banquet is held. Martha serves. Lazarus is a guest. And Mary anoints the feet of Jesus with costly perfume. The word used for “wipe” here is the same word that John will use in describing Jesus’ action in wiping the feet of his disciples on holy Thursday. Mary’s action of love is contrasted with Judas’ anticipated action of betrayal. Is John suggesting that there are two alternatives when it comes to Jesus – love or betrayal? That may be a little stark, but it may not be far from John’s point of view. Up to now in John’s gospel, the poor have gone unmentioned. Here the implication is that Jesus’ disciples care for the poor. Judas is a thief and does not do so. Crowds gather, reminiscent of the other gospels. Many are believing in Jesus, so some leaders decide that Lazarus too is a threat and should be killed. The animosity displayed here more accurately reflects John’s time than the time of Jesus himself.

John 12:12-19: In these verses we have Jesus entry into Jerusalem, his final entry. John narrates this in his own way (and it is the most abbreviated of the accounts), but some of the comments previously shared about this event in the other gospels bears repeating. Entry processions were important occasions during the time of Jesus. Rome was good at pomp and circumstance, and their imperial processions reflected their power and prestige. John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, in their book The Last Week propose that there were two processions entering Jerusalem that day, one an imperial procession in which Pontius Pilate rode into the city to reinforce Roman rule during Passover week and one, the procession with Jesus riding on a donkey. Jesus riding the donkey is a distinct contrast to an imperial procession – which may have been taking place in another part of town. Here there is spontaneous joy at the arrival of Jesus. There is a sense of anticipation that something wonderful may happen. The crowd that is hailing Jesus is the crowd that saw him raise Lazarus or that had heard about this event. One might contrast this joy with a sense of fear and foreboding that may have accompanied the imperial procession. Here are a few lines from Crossan and Borg’s book: Pilate’s procession embodied the power, glory, and violence of the empire that ruled the world. Jesus’ procession embodied an alternative vision, the kingdom of God. This contrast – between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar – is central… to the story of Jesus and early Christianity (p. 4-5). Jesus is taking his work and message into the heart of a city that embodied Roman domination and a Jewish collaboration with that system. It is a place where the plot to kill Jesus is alive and well. The language of these accolades would have been seen as subversive of Roman imperial rule. Rome provided any “king” and was the guarantor of peace. Like Jesus, we are invited to bring good news about God’s love into difficult places, sharing a message that will sometimes challenge the way things are. Where are some of those places in your life or in our world today? The Pharisees despair of their ability to quell the enthusiasm for Jesus – “the world has gone after him.” This reflects John’s view of the Jewish response to the growth of the Jesus movement in his own time.

John 12:20-26: The Greeks mentioned here may be Jews who have adopted the Greek language and some Greek customs. Paul was one such Jew. They may also be Gentiles. By John’s time, the Jesus movement had become primarily Gentile, and he anticipates that here, in one way or another. The word comes to Jesus that these Greeks are seeking him. This provides a context for a brief discourse on giving up one’s life to follow Jesus. The words here have a familiar ring, but John states them in his own unique way. One wonders how these words are a response to the request to see Jesus, but in a way they are – along with the words and events in the next section. To “see” Jesus rightly is to see one who is like a grain of wheat, giving up his life as a seed might, to bring life to others. To give our lives to the cause of God, to God’s dream for the world, is to see that dream of life grow. We are to follow Jesus.

John 12:27-36: Here we have Jesus agonizing over his death. There will be no such garden scene later on. But Jesus is resolute. This is what he came to do in John’s view. His reflective prayer is answered by a voice from the heavens. Jesus continues – when he is lifted up in death, he will draw all people to himself. The image here is almost of a magnet. Here again, this is the truth about Jesus that he wants others to “see.” Jesus uses “light” imagery to also bring home the point about seeing him truthfully, especially while he is in their midst. We are not only to see the light, but become “children of light.”

John 12:36-43: Jesus retreats, goes into hiding. The hiddenness of Jesus is not only physical, but spiritual. Many, though they have witnessed the signs Jesus performed, still did not believe that God was at work through him in such a way that to understand Jesus was to understand the very person of God. Jesus remains hidden to such persons. John also chastises those who believe, but keep it secret.

John 12:44-50:
John intends these verses to provide something of a summary to Jesus public teaching, which now draws to a close. There will be a great deal of teaching in the coming chapters, but it will be directed toward the disciples. In the other gospels, the focus of Jesus’ teaching was the kingdom of God, God’s dream for the world. In John, the focus is on Jesus himself. But these are not so different. In the other gospels, Jesus is seen as one who not only speaks about, but also embodies God’s dream for the world, and to understand that dream more adequately is to understand who God is more completely. John simplifies the equation, when we believe in Jesus, we believe in God. Jesus appeals to the imagery of light once again to describe what he is about. For John, the point is to help readers come to some decision of their own about Jesus. Light has come into the world – are we going to let it draw us in, or are we going to flee into darkness?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

John 10

John 10:1-21 Here we move to an extended teaching followed by a passage describing conflict between Jesus and Jewish leaders. “Instead of the Synoptic parables o f the kingdom as the substance of Jesus’ message, in John Jesus delivers extended metaphorical discourses focused on himself and his mission” (People’s New Testament Commentary). While the image changes dramatically between chapters 9 and 10, there is a continuity. Jesus has welcomed a blind man into the community of those who “see” (metaphorically speaking), while criticizing those who claim to see and know god but are evidently truly blind. Now he will use another metaphor to describe those who have come to see. The controversy with Jewish religious leaders continues from chapter 9 as well. One of the beautiful aspects of John’s gospel is his rich use of a variety of images for Jesus. It reflects the way the Johannine Jesus community was trying to understand this person who had so changed their lives and their world. How sad that all too often the Christian Church in its history has limited its use of metaphors for Jesus, choosing only one or the other as more true. While Jesus touches our lives with God’s love always for our good and the common good of the world, the way we describe that should vary, should be rich and multi-faceted.

Jesus begins by using a figure of speech about sheep, shepherd, and gates. In images many of the day would understand, Jesus talks about sheep knowing the voice of the shepherd, and about the gatekeeper recognizing the shepherd. They understand this, but don’t understand why he is now talking about sheep and shepherds.

Jesus now proclaims himself the gate for the sheep. He is the way forward, the way of life. This is not an image different from the image of Jesus as the shepherd. Palestinian shepherds often slept lying across the entrance to their sheepfolds. They were both shepherds and gates. 10:10 is a beautiful image: I come that they may have life, and have it abundantly. Those who come to steal, kill and destroy are those Jesus thought of as false spiritual teachers, and we do not lack for those today. Think of ordained persons who have abused others through their office. Think of gurus who enrich themselves more than help others. There are all kinds of people whose aim is harm rather than good. That which comes to steal, kill and destroy can also be found within. Origen, an ancient Christian theologian and teacher understood that thieves and robbers can be found within (Mystical Christianity, 211). Jesus offers another image – “I am the good shepherd.” In Judaism such an image was frequently used of kings and of God. Jesus then adds a rather surprising twist – the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. This redefines the image of power that may have been associated with the royal connotation of the good shepherd image. As the good shepherd, Jesus will be with us when wolves appear. In John’s theological view, Jesus, as the good shepherd willingly lays down his life for the sheep, but will also take that life back up. In the next chapter we will see something of the power Jesus has to give life. In verse 16, Jesus refers to other sheep, probably a reference to Gentiles who are an important part of John’s Jesus community. John Sanford takes that farther. Psychologically, this is a way of saying that the Center is a reality in all humankind. Christ is within all of us, regardless of our color or religious persuasion. (Mystical Christianity, 212) Certainly not all would agree with Sanford on this.

Jesus’ words divide those who are listening, just as they have in the other gospels. And just as in the other gospels, some accuse him of having a demon. But do demons heal?

John 10:22-42: The controversy continues, as does the use of the shepherd image. “The Jews” ask Jesus to speak plainly (note we have already commented on John’s use of this term, and of our need to be cautious as we read it). Jesus responds that both his words and his deeds have been clear enough, but that they are not responding because they really don’t want to. Those who follow Jesus have a new kind of life. This life comes from God, whose work through Jesus make Jesus and God virtually one in John’s theology. Such words are blasphemous to those listening so they take us stones to stone him. Jesus responds using Hebrew scriptures (Psalm 82:6 – “you are gods”), and by referring to the kinds of things he has been doing – teaching, healing. Surely they should see that the work Jesus does is work befitting God. The unbelief of the leaders is contrasted with the belief of many others.
John 9

John 9:1-34: In chapter 9, John continues the pattern of story and teaching, but here the story comprises most of the chapter, and it is a wonderfully told story. Jesus is walking along with his disciples in the area in or around Jerusalem. They encounter a blind man and a theological discussion begins – “who sinned?” It is a popular notion that nothing happens except for a reason, and in the thinking of the time (and of many in our time) sickness has something to do with someone doing something wrong. But who committed the wrong so that this man was born blind – he or his parents? Jesus redefines the debate. The man in not blind because of sin, and his blindness will be the occasion for God’s work to be done. Is Jesus saying, then, that God is responsible for this man’s blindness? No. His blindness just is, but that it is will provide and opportunity for healing. Evil and harm are not easily explained, but we know they exist. To say that every situation in life provides us opportunity for learning and growth would be more in keeping with the spirit of Jesus’ words here. Of course there are some extreme circumstances where the first order of business is safety, not learning. Not only will this man’s condition be the occasion for the work of God to be done, but that work needs to be done when it can be (verse 4). Verse 5 is a bit of a play on images – Jesus is light, being blind is an absence of light.

Jesus utilizes a rather unique method of healing, making mud with his spit and rubbing it in the man’s eyes, only to be washed out later. The place of washing has symbolic meaning – Siloam means “sent” and it is Jesus who is the one sent by God. John offers a nod toward the previously used image of Jesus as providing living water. We also are getting clues in the language being used that the healing will be more than the restoration of physical sight. The man, now healed is noticed by his neighbors who begin to ask questions, as would we all. The man gives credit where credit is due – the man called Jesus made mud and used the mud and water to heal.

The man is brought to some Pharisees (who, by John’s time were the leaders in Jewish synagogue life). We have the beginnings here of yet another controversy over the Sabbath. The man had been healed on the Sabbath. That debate becomes almost secondary to the debate about who this healer is. If he is cavalier about the Sabbath, can he really be a person of God. But if he is not a person of God, how to explain the healing. In a comic twist, the learned Pharisees turn to the man who was healed and ask his opinion. “He is a prophet.” Sometimes all our learning doesn’t guarantee wisdom.

Obviously this is not what they wanted to hear, so they question whether or not he had really been blind. His parents testify to the fact that this is their son, but don’t make any claim about how he came to be healed. Elements here reflect John’s time more than the time of Jesus. By John’s time, there was a growing rift between Jewish followers of Jesus and other Jews, and apparently, some of the followers of Jesus had been asked to leave synagogues. So the leaders go back to the man who had been healed. The man provides a moving testimony. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see. These words have become a part of the hymn Amazing Grace. They are a strong testimony to the importance of experience in the life of faith. Experience is not everything, but it matters. I am reminded of a Buddhist story in which someone comes to the Buddha telling him that he will not practice until all his philosophical questions are answered. The Buddha compares this person to a person wounded by a poisoned arrow who will not let anyone remove the arrow until he knows all the facts about the person who shot the arrow. He will die waiting. This blind man was not concerned to have his theology about Jesus all in line before letting Jesus heal him. Theology is important, but more important is living life, being healed and offering healing. In this case the leaders are using their theological arguments to avoid dealing with Jesus directly. They press the man again for more “information,” and here John adds another comic twist. The man says to the leaders: Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?

Again, the leaders avoid dealing with Jesus. They are certain of their own tradition, rooted in the teaching of Moses. They are not open to the possibility that the God who spoke through Moses was now working and speaking through Jesus. All this conversation with learned theologians has given this man insight, or rather their conversation has given him the ability to articulate the new insight into life that was given him by Jesus. The healing went well beyond his eyes. He understands that God must be here somewhere in Jesus or else he would not be seeing. In another bit of irony, the leaders who only moments ago had been asking the man for his viewpoint now reject anything he has to say.

John 9:35-41: The story continues, but Jesus returns and uses this as an opportunity to offer another metaphor, another symbol for who he is as one sent by God. Jesus asks the man if he believes, and the man only wants to know in whom he should believe. Jesus has already said he is the light of the world (verse 5). Here he spells out the implications of that. Marcus Borg, in Jesus argues that Jesus, as with others, is a wisdom teacher. Wisdom teachers point out that there is something amiss in common human life, and offer a way out of that predicament. Borg also argues that there are a variety of metaphors in the New Testament to describe the human problematic and the way out of it. One such metaphor is that of blindness and sight. The very form of Jesus’ teaching – parable and aphorisms – are invitations to a different way of seeing. Their function is to bring about a radical perceptual shift. Borg comments specifically about this story. The meaning of the healing is that, as the “light of the world,” Jesus brings people out of darkness into light and gives sight to the blind…. Our condition is blindness, being “in the dark,” unable to find a way. The solution is to regain our sight, to see again, to have our eyes opened, to come into the light, to be enlightened (196-197). The People’s New Testament Commentary offers some helpful words about this story, and especially about these final verses. One cannot turn on a light without creating shadows. In an absolutely dark room, all are equally blind. But when the light is switched on, the coming of the light separates those who are truly blind from those who can see. John Sanford also offers helpful commentary. Psychologically, the great sin is not the fact we do not possess all the truth. Who can say that he or she possesses all the truth? The great psychological blindness comes when we mistake our ignorance and error for truth…. When we persevere in the erroneous conviction that we see and understand all there is to be known about ourselves, life, and God, then we are truly blind. (Mystical Christianity, 208)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

John 8

John 8:1-11: About this story: “Although it is a precious story for early Christian tradition and communicates an unforgettable picture of the meaning of Jesus’ life and ministry, it is historically certain that it was not a part of the original Gospel of John” (People’s New Testament Commentary). This story is not found in any manuscripts until the third century, and is found in different places in different manuscripts. The line between Scripture and tradition is not as sharp as many Protestants have believed. We have this text because it was handed on in the church and later inserted into the Bible at various points, not because any biblical author included it in the text of the Bible. (People’s New Testament Commentary). I think this is both interesting and helpful as we try and keep an appropriate perspective on the Scriptures of our faith. At the same time, I appreciate John Sanford’s words. “Whether or not it was originally in the Fourth Gospel, it is a profound story and is within the spirit of John’s message” (Mystical Christianity, 168). As the story progresses, we notice that not only are the scribe and Pharisees quick to judge, but they make some mistakes along the way. No witnesses are provided, and according to the Law, both the man and the woman are subject to stoning. One aspect to the controversy is that only the Romans could authorize the death penalty in their territory. Is this a case like the controversy over paying taxes – some Jewish leaders trying to get Jesus in trouble with Rome? Anyway, these religious authorities have brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery and ask him what they should do. Jesus stoops to the ground and writes – we have no idea what he is writing. John Sanford suggests that perhaps Jesus is buying time, looking for a way to respond creatively to the situation (Mystical Christianity, 169). I really like that idea – to collect one’s thoughts, to breathe deeply and to connect with God’s Spirit within, to be in touch with a deep place of peace – these usually lead to a much more creative and caring response in difficult situations. Whatever he was doing, Jesus comes up with a marvelous response, asking the one who has never sinned to throw the first stone. Then he is silent, writing again on the ground. Sometimes a creative response to a difficult situation needs to be presented and let go. The leaders fade away one by one. He is left alone with this woman who has a tarnished reputation, and again offers a creative response to life – “Has no one condemned you? Neither do I… Go on your way, and from now on do not sin again.” Jesus is gracious and generous. He offers not only forgiveness, but a new way of life. It is as if he is inviting the woman to be truly free. But it should be stressed that this freedom is not license to do as one pleases…. The mystery is that there is only one freedom for the ego and that is to serve the Center within. Practically speaking, this is tantamount to serving the will of God. That is the paradox: to serve one’s deepest inner truth is to become free. (Sanford, Mystical Christianity, 171) This story encourages me to be forgiving and to try and stay free of the things which may entrap me.

John 8:12-20: The previous story was inserted late into John’s gospel, so we really don’t know who the “them” is that Jesus is addressing here. Pharisees are evidently among the audience. Jesus now uses images of light to describe what God is up to through his life. Again, his testimony is challenged based on the legal ideas within the Judaism of the time – one could not testify on one’s own behalf, or that testimony alone could not stand. Jesus rejects the standard in his own case. There may be times in our lives when we have some certainty about God’s direction for our lives, and need to move forward on the basis of that conviction, regardless of the words of others. We should always be cautious in making such a claim, but, at the same time, we know of such experiences and they are like the experience of Jesus here – he knows who he is and where he has come from.

John 8:21-30: The controversy with the authorities continues, and a sharp contrast is drawn between Jesus and how God is working through him, and those opposed to Jesus. Jesus continues to assert that his person and authority are from God, and that many will come to know that. Some come to know that even as he speaks.

John 8:31-38: Jesus now addresses those who have come to believe him. He encourages them to continue in his word, a word which is a liberating truth. But they are mystified by his speaking of freedom, again, only seeing things in literal terms. Jesus speaks symbolically, metaphorically and he speaks of the soul. We can be “free” legally, but spiritually enslaved. The truth that sets free is a deep inner knowing. What we are set free from is “sin” – and here the Greek word means something like “missing the mark.” What often enslaves us is our failure to keep things in proper perspective. We let possessions, behavior patterns, uncreative ways of thinking, relationships take on an importance they were never meant to carry and we choke off life and creativity. We are invited to relate to the world and our lives in a way appropriate to God’s relationship with us.

John 8:39-59: Remember that Jesus is said to be addressing those who believed in him, but they seem, now, more interested in picking a fight with him. Jesus accuses them of being among those who want to kill him. Again, Jesus uses words that draw a sharp contrast between himself and those who oppose him. Such language needs always to be used with great care. Too many in the history of Christianity have acted as if they were certain of their own righteousness and certain of the evil of the other. There is evil in the world, but the occasions when it is blatant and easily identified are not as numerous as some would imagine. There was precedent for the use of such language in the intra-Jewish debates of the time. Those who oppose Jesus accuse him of being a Samaritan and demon-possessed. If they cannot see God in him, then they have a hard time seeing God at all, according to Jesus. Much of the material in these verses reflects the very difficult debate between those Jews who chose to follow Jesus and were ostracized by other Jews, and even expelled by some synagogues, and those other Jews. Unfortunately, this material has been used by the Church to perpetuate anti-Semitism. John’s language about “the Jews” must always be read critically and with full awareness of how dangerous they become when removed from their original context (New Interpreters Study Bible). Toward the end, we again have Jesus identifying himself with the God who is known as “I Am.”
John 7

John 7:1-9: These verses are rather strange and I am not sure what is here for our own journeys, but we can sometimes be surprised. John’s Jesus spends much more time in Judea and Jerusalem than Jesus did in the other gospels. Here he is spending time in Galilee because of the threats of “the Jews.” Again, we need to remember the polemic context in which John was writing. It is evident from all the gospels that Jesus first followers were Jewish so he has not been opposed by all Jews. John also indicates that Jesus has disciples in Judea, something not mentioned in the other gospels. Jesus’ brothers (the Greek term may also include “sisters”) encourage him to go to Judea. John indicates that the brothers do not believe. They don’t get what he is about, and that he is doing things in God’s way and God’s time, not at the behest of others. If we can take anything from these verses, perhaps it is that going God’s way may mean even some of our closest relatives will not understand.

John 7:10-31: For whatever reason, Jesus decides to go to the festival, where he is met with mixed reactions. A rabbi named Edwin Friedman, who has written some insightful books about church leadership once said “no good deed goes unpunished.” He meant by this that anytime someone invites people to change there is resistance, some strong and some less so. The basic message Jesus conveys in these verses is that persons should judge with “right judgment.” In John’s gospel, it is not only those who oppose Jesus who fail to judge with right judgment, but also some of those who think Jesus a good person. Even some of these people fail to grasp the deeper meaning of what they experience in Jesus (Nicodemus, for example).

John 7:32-36: The controversy over Jesus continues, and some Jewish authorities seek to arrest him. For John, however, nothing will happen outside of God’s time, and the time for Jesus death has not yet come. However, the time is not far off, Jesus says he will be with them for only a little longer. As so often in John’s gospel, Jesus words, which are symbolic, are misunderstood because they are taken too literally. Ironically, within the context of John’s time, the Jesus movement had already become more Gentile than Jewish. The teaching of Jesus had reached out to the Greeks. No doubt John knew that and appreciated the irony of his words here.

John 7:37-39: As a part of the festival of Booths or Tabernacles, the priest poured fresh water on the altar as an offering to God. Jesus seems to use that imagery to make another point about what God is up to in his life. These are beautiful words of invitation, inviting people to open their lives to Jesus and the Spirit of God which is at work in him and which will be given to those who follow Jesus. John’s gospel makes use of a wonderful variety of images, and that perhaps says something about how we, too, should share about our faith. If one image does not seem to work well, we can find others.

John 7:40-44: As has often happened in this chapter, Jesus words are met with a mixed reaction. There is debate and division, some no doubt reflecting debates the Jesus community of John were engaged in with other, including other Jews. It is interesting to note that John does not seem aware of a tradition about Jesus that he was born in Bethlehem.

John 7:45-53: Controversy about Jesus rages on, even in the places of highest authority. Nicodemus seems sympathetic. Verse 53 is not in the oldest manuscripts of John’s gospel – but more about that idea in chapter 8.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

John 6

John 6:1-15: This story is one shared by each of the gospels, but each puts it into a somewhat different context, and the telling is different. Here, Jesus seems in complete control of the situation from the beginning. There are also details not included in the other re-telling of the story. The five barley loaves and two fish given by a boy are multiplied so five thousand are fed. Part of the lesson John wishes to convey is that even in the midst of seemingly meager resources, Jesus will be able to provide what’s needed most. As people notice what has happened, they affirm a faith that Jesus is “the prophet who is come into the world.” But their faith contains misunderstanding – they want to force him to become a king, a king modeled after the kind of imperial rule they have known, except that this king would meet their needs. Jesus frustrates their expectation by withdrawing to a mountain by himself. Jesus wants to meet our deepest needs, but will not always meet our expectations. By the way, this story is the closest thing we have to a story about communion in John. John has no story about the Last Supper.

John 6:16-21: This story, too, is familiar. The disciples have been left alone and are headed across the water to Capernaum when a strong wind makes the sea rough. In the midst of the rough sea, the disciples see Jesus, but the vision frightens them, terrifies them. He assures them of his presence, invites them to not be afraid and suddenly, with Jesus, they are where they need to be. The phrase “It is I” is better translated, “I Am” another Johannine affirmation of the identity of Jesus as one who incarnates God. Because of who he is, the disciples should not fear, though the waters are rough and the sea is wild. Where have you felt the presence of Jesus in the midst of the storms of life?

John 6:22-59: As is his pattern, John inserts an extended discourse after a couple of stories, a discourse that seeks to interpret the stories just told. Most scholars argue that many of these words embellish the actual words of Jesus, and for some Christians that is a huge problem. It doesn’t need to be. We can affirm that some of these ideas may go back to Jesus himself, even if the gospel writer expands on them. Think how phenomenal an impact Jesus must have had on people to inspire the kind of writing that we find in the gospels. In him, people really did encounter God as bread of life. Some, however, had a difficult time seeing beyond the fact that this person fed them bread – and that is no small matter in itself. God cares about the well-being of persons in their fullness. It is often we, human beings, who want to reduce what is important in life to only the spiritual or only the material, or who lose our sense of perspective on the relative importance of the various dimensions of human life. Not long ago, I saw a young man with a t-shirt that read, “Inner Beauty is Overrated.” That shirt represents a deep misunderstanding of what is important in human life, as do bumper stickers that read: “The One Who Dies With The Most Toys Wins.” Jesus encourages us to work “for the food that endures for eternal life.” “Eternal life does not speak of immortality or a future life in heaven, but is a metaphor for living now in the unending presence of God” (New Interpreters Study Bible). An important part of such work is to be open to the way God is at work in Jesus. As if the crowd had not already seen enough, they ask for yet another sign – you wonder if they are hungry again. They mention the story in the Hebrew Scriptures about God sending manna to the Israelites in the wilderness. The food had come for many days, and Jesus had only fed them once! But if they really understood, they would know that Jesus himself is the on-going bread of life, a bread which continues feeding day after day – not the body but the soul. Opening our selves to the gift of God in Jesus is to know life in it fullest, most abundant, at its best. A typical complaint arises, one we have encountered before in the gospels – who is Jesus to say all this, the son of Joseph. Jesus response is easily misinterpreted. “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father.” Does the mean some are merely doomed to miss out? I don’t think so. It is an on-going paradox of the life of faith that we experience it both as a result of our searching and our work and our practice, and also that we experience it as sheer gift. I’ve already said that there is no “Last Supper” story in John, but this chapter makes strong reference to the tradition of communion that had already developed by John’s time. The language is deeply symbolic, and some of its symbolism is disturbing to us – eating flesh and drinking blood. This startling language is meant to grab our attention. It suggests the intimacy of relationship that Jesus suggests is possible between his followers and himself. Jesus is to become a part of us, just like the food we eat becomes our flesh and bone. Jesus incarnated God, and we are invited to do the same. This teaching is difficult, indeed, and it causes some to turn away. To be a Christian is not to have it all figured out, but to trust that as we grapple with Jesus and the words about him in the gospels we hear “words of eternal life” (verse 68). It may be a challenge, but we trust it is one worth taking up. In order to understand what the Fourth Gospel means by images such as that of the living bread, we must be open to wider spiritual vistas. If our minds can think only literally, if we have refused any insight into ourselves, if our only means or perception are through the physical senses, if we become theologically and psychologically rigid, then we cannot appreciate the tremendous subtlety and variety of the images of Christ that we find in John’s Gospel. (Sanford, Mystical Christianity, 166)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

John 5

John 5:1-18:
On the heels of the first healing story in John comes the second. Here we find Jesus back in Jerusalem. Some other details in the story are a little confusing. Verse 3b-4 are not found in the earlier manuscripts, but they help explain why it seems important for the man to get to the pool while the waters are stirred up. Jesus question to the man who had been ill for 38 years seems like a no-brainer, of course he would want to be made well. But the question goes deeper than a wish. The Greek implies a desire that one is willing to act upon. The man initially refuses that kind of step, instead he complains that he has not gotten the help he needs. Jesus offers a different kind of help, a healing word from God. This will require that the man acquire a whole new sense of himself, not an easy task after 38 years. But the man responds by taking up his mat and walking. The healing stories in the gospels, including this healing story, often work at many levels. But then a controversy familiar to us who have been reading the gospels arises. The healing occurred on a Sabbath day. We have already discussed how important the question of appropriately observing the Sabbath was in Jesus day and time and mentioned that it was a part of a debate within Judaism. The controversy begins not with Jesus, but with the man who was healed. Some Jews noticed that he was carrying his mat on the Sabbath, and warned him against such activity. Jesus, too, offers the man some advice – go and sin no more. This is pretty cryptic here. Some assert that the man’s behavior in identifying Jesus to his opponents may indicate that the man needed deeper healing still. Others have Jesus encouraging the man to find inner as well as outer healing. The controversy turns to Jesus. Jesus’ reply to those Jews who criticized his healing is different from the reply in the earlier gospels. He argues that God has not quit working on the Sabbath – obviously the man was healed, and because God is working, Jesus will work. A conspiracy to kill Jesus begins at this point, though John’s language about it coming from “the Jews” is indiscriminate. The conspiracy arises not only because Jesus questions the authority of others over the Sabbath, but because he asserts a special relationship with God. For John, Jesus is one who embodies the very presence of God in the world.

John 5:19-47: As is the pattern in John, an event is followed by a long discourse. Here Jesus asserts his special relationship with God. The early Christians shared the monotheism of Judaism (the view that there is one God), but also shared the view that Jesus was related to God in a very special way, and, in fact, brought God’s kingdom in touch with the world, or even Godself in touch with the world. Each gospel writer sought unique ways, using images, stories and metaphors that had come to them through the developing Christian, to share this good news with others. John’s method is to have Jesus engage in long discourses which assert aspects of the special relationship between God and Jesus. Here the image of a father and son are used to talk about who Jesus is and his authority for healing on the Sabbath. Even greater things will be in store. To trust that in Jesus God was up to something very special is to have this new quality of life – “eternal life.” “Death” in verse 25 is used metaphorically, but seems to be used more “literally” in verses 28-29 where a future time of judgment seems anticipated. The remainder of the chapter builds on two important principles in Judaism for evaluating witnesses and testimony – the truth cannot be based solely on the word of one witness, and the truth about a person cannot be established based solely on that person’s testimony. John the Baptist witnessed to Jesus. Jesus’ own works bear testimony to him. Finally, God also bears witness to Jesus. Searching the Scriptures is important, but only as one finds the person to whom the Scriptures testify. These are powerful words for our own day and time when the temptation among some is to give our Biblical texts a status that exceeds their true status. They testify to the living God. I guess the temptation has been around for a long time, to substitute words for a living relationship with the God to whom the words point. Christian faith is not finally in the Bible, but in the God of the Bible. Believing the Bible can be an idolatrous barrier to faith in God. (People’s New Testament Commentary) Those are powerful words worth mulling over.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

John 4

John 4:1-42: This is a long and lovely story. “Jesus encounters a woman, a foreigner, of questionable reputation, who becomes a hesitant but effective witness, resulting in the conversion of many Samaritans. There is an obvious contrast with the preceding narrative featuring the male rabbinic teacher of Israel who never understands.” (People’s New Testament Commentary). As with Luke, unlikely Samaritans are portrayed as people who come to faith, who join the transformational spiritual journey with Jesus. John Sanford asserts that both the Nicodemus story and this one demonstrate that “the capacity for symbolic thinking enables us to be born again through the waters of transformation” (Mystical Christianity, 107). There is a lot going on in this story and as we explore its depths and dimensions, there is much to be learned for our own spiritual journeys. As noted before, Samaritans were not highly regarded by the Jews of Jesus day. While they worshipped the same God, the Samaritans were considered of mixed race, having been conquered by Assyria with resulting intermarriage. Furthermore, they worshipped the God of Israel in various places in Samaria, eschewing Temple worship in Jerusalem. That Jesus speaks to this Samaritan woman in the first place is amazing – another indication that the way of Jesus is the way of reaching across and breaking down social barriers. The interchange between Jesus and the woman is full of word association and word play. The word for “living water” is related to the word for “life” used in the first chapter – the Word brings life. There is also an interesting contrast between the way each talks about the source of their water. The woman in talking about the deep well uses the Greek word for a human constructed well. Though it may be very deep, all such wells ran out over time. Jesus speaks of a spring of water, using a Greek word that refers to a naturally occurring, renewing stream – a seemingly inexhaustible source. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the symbol of living water had been used of God. To receive Jesus as a source of power from God is to open oneself to living water, to God coming within and changing one’s life so that it is eternal life. The woman’s story comes out in the course of her conversation with Jesus, and for John it is important to assert that Jesus sees into the human heart. But Jesus does not shun or judge this woman – he tries to help her come to faith, to take the next step in her spiritual journey. But as often happens in our own lives, when something uncomfortable comes to light, we change the subject. The woman asks Jesus a religious question about the difference between Jews and Samaritans. Jesus does not fall into the trap, or rather expands the question. The question is not “where” but “how.” God is looking for people who worship “in spirit and truth.” “The implication is that one can worship God only in an inner spirit of moral integrity, genuineness of character, and self-perception” (Sanford, Mystical Christianity, 116). Maybe what is being said is that this kind of life is itself worship of God, and that our gathering for worship services is meant to be in service of forming this kind of life. An early Christian named Irenaeus once wrote, “the glory of God is a human being fully alive.” To worship is to glorify God, and glorifying God seems to have something to do with moral integrity, genuineness of character, self-perception, with living fully, with having springs of living water gush forth from within. This again seems too much for the woman, who wants now to talk about the coming Christ. But the Christ is present in Jesus! This is the first of many occasions where Jesus will identify himself with an “I am” statement. There are echoes of the Exodus story where God speaks to Moses, identifying Godself as “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be.” In John’s gospel, Jesus is the one in whom God is being made known. In John’s gospel as well, Jesus will find a number of ways to finish “I am… - - - bread, light, shepherd, sheep gate, resurrection and life, way-truth-life, true vine. “These nouns are common symbols from religious and human experience, and the ‘I Am’ identifies Jesus as the one who meets basic needs and desires” (New Interpreters Study Bible). God in the remarkable and in the ordinary! The conversation is ended by the arrival of the disciples who are taken aback that Jesus is talking to this woman. The conversation has made a deep impression on the woman who goes and tells others (again, sharing good news about what is happening in one’s life, sharing one’s story is what “evangelism is all about). There is an interlude, the disciples encourage Jesus to eat. He takes their very literal encouragement and turns it into an opportunity to speak symbolically – he has bread, the bread of living the life God calls him to live. One is reminded of the temptation scene in the other gospels where Jesus asserts that humans don’t live by bread alone. Verse 38 suggests that the disciples will continue the work Jesus began. Back to the Samaritan woman – her sowing is beginning to reap a harvest, as many come to believe because of her words. But others have come to Jesus and experienced him first hand. We tell our story in hopes that others will be curious enough, interested enough to check out Jesus for themselves.

John 4:43-54: Jesus returns to his home region in Galilee. Though there may have been some initial skepticism, that seems to have changed. While in Cana, a royal official approaches Jesus, asking Jesus to heal his son. Jesus seems to disparage him a bit, putting down his quest for signs and wonders, but the man’s response is one of genuine concern for his child, not a seeking after some other kind of sign. John’s gospel seems to contain some ambivalence towards signs – they can invite faith, but faith needs to go deeper than this. Jesus tells him his son will live, and it turns out to be true. There is a sign, and the official who witnessed it comes to believe. Jesus is shown to be one who gives life, and one receives this life through faith. In the Fourth Gospel especially, faith is not hostile to knowledge but is an adjunct to it. Faith, as the early Christians understood it, had nothing to do with making oneself believe in things that could not be understood or blindly assenting to doctrinal formulations one could not understand…. In the biblical view, faith is not a category of the intellect but of the soul. The mind needs to know so it does not live in darkness, the soul needs faith or it loses its strength and will to live, and mind and soul need each other and the gifts of knowledge and faith that they bring to one another. [Faith] is an action from the soul that enables a person to place her trust in a living reality; [it is] a quality of the soul that springs from the soul and is nourished in the soul by the object of faith (Mystical Christianity, 124, 125). I cite this rather long passage to help us see that faith, which is often translated by the words “to believe” is much more than we usually mean when we talk about belief. Healing, wholeness, well-being, living waters, eternal life come through faith in Jesus as the Christ, in trusting that in Christ God really was and is at work doing something unique (this is not to say that God acts only in Jesus). We open ourselves in faith. We trust. Our lives are changed, and as our lives are changed we in turn work to change the world by bringing the life, love and compassion of Jesus to others – both in sharing good news and in acts that are themselves healing for others.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

John 3

John 3:1-21: Only John tells the story of the wedding at Cana, and only John tells the story about the Pharisee, Nicodemus who comes to Jesus in the night. John often has a rather harsh view of Jewish leadership, but here the portrayal is somewhat sympathetic. Having said that, Nicodemus one who has come to believe because of the signs he has seen (2:23-25), but still has not come to the kind of deep faith Jesus invites people to know. Nicodemus approaches Jesus in the night (a symbolic touch for John – Nicodemus has not yet fully seen the light) and offers a positive assessment of his ministry. Jesus responds with remarks that seem to come out of nowhere – but remember, we have just read that Jesus “knew what was in everyone.” It follows, then, that he knows Nicodemus is on the right track, but has not yet arrived at a faith that will transform his life. Jesus tells him that no one “can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” The phrase can also be translated “born again” or “born anew,” and the above language refers to being born of the Spirit. Nicodemus does not get it, still. He hears Jesus words literally and wonders how this is possible – a little comic relief from John. One must be born of water and the Spirit, not of the water and flesh alone. Word play continues in John – between wind and Spirit. This new birth in the Spirit has a distinct quality of grace to it. At birth, we receive the gift of life entirely as grace, without our decision, without getting to vote on it. We can only be grateful for it. John understands the mystery of salvation as this kind of divine grace. (People’s New Testament Commentary) At verse 10 Nicodemus disappears, and Jesus offers and extended discourse on eternal life and openness to God’s love, though where the words of Jesus end, and where the “author’s” words may begin is unclear. “Eternal life” does not speak of immortality or a future life in heaven, but is a metaphor for living now in the unending presence of God (New Interpreters Study Bible). God’s intention in Jesus, thus the heart of God toward all is that all should have this kind of life. God is not interested in condemning the world, but in saving it. God comes him/herself in Jesus to “save” the world. What might it mean to accept this gift, to be open to it? Pictured as birth, conversion is the gift of God, the result of God’s choice and initiative, for which the believer can only give thanks. Pictured as faith, conversion is the result of human decision and responsibility. These two views are juxtaposed but not combined or harmonized in the New Testament. (People’s New Testament Commentary) For John, the light and love of God have come into the world in Jesus, and every person has to make a choice about following the light or remaining in darkness. John is not interested in speculating about whether one makes a once and for all choice – Peter after all will deny Jesus in this gospel as he has in every other one, and yet he comes back to faith. Nor is John interested in speculating whether or not the light and love of God ever touch the world in other ways that demand a response. His concern is to witness to Jesus as the one in whom God’s light and love touch the world. And if God’s light and love touch the world in Jesus, we are invited to respond to that. We should ask ourselves whether our questions about the place of other religious traditions are genuine questions of faith, which they may be, or intellectual avoidance mechanisms, trying to evade the question before us – are we on a transformative journey of the Spirit, are we trying to walk in the light of God’s love in Jesus, are we being born anew? This is a rich story, one I plan to explore more in my sermon on Sunday.

John 3:22-30: Unlike in Luke where John the Baptist is related to Jesus, here they are seen as teachers and baptizers, working simultaneously. However, while John continues his work he is clear (in the view of the gospel writer) that Jesus is the greater. Some of John’s disciples continued to follow his way, and were a small alternative to the Jesus movement. Here the gospel writer again claims that it is clear who people should follow, though he is not particularly harsh toward followers of John.

John 3:31-36: These words look like they might be an extension of the words of John the Baptist, but it is unclear. There were no quotation marks in the gospel. Whether the words were supposed to be the Baptist’s or not is really not that important. They reflect the understanding of the gospel writer. Again, decision is emphasized, and I would reiterate what was said above. John is not engaged in some comparative exercise with other “world religions.” He is testifying to the way God’s Spirit moved in Jesus so that Jesus and God, while distinct are also identified. When God shows up, one has to make some decisions. Deciding for God - responding not just with the head, but with heart and mind and life – means life. Going another way means not seeing life, not participating in God’s dream for the world. This may or may not have much to do with what happens when one dies – heaven or not. It has everything to do with how we choose to live or lives now – in eternal life, or on the outside of that.

Monday, September 10, 2007

John 2

John 2:1-12: We have already been introduced to the incredible powers that Jesus seems to possess as this special person from God, this Son of Man who is also Son of God. He had remarkable insight into Nathaniel. The next chapters in John’s Gospel will be chapters in which Jesus performs many signs that give evidence that he really is who the gospel writer has already told us he is. Most of the incidents shared are full of symbolic language. Whatever the historical truth behind the stories, the stories themselves are told as much for their rich symbolism. That is certainly true of the story here, the miracle at the wedding at Cana. Marcus Borg classifies this story as a “symbolic narrative” created for its “metaphorical meaning” (Jesus, 57). What does Borg think its metaphorical meaning might be? This is John’s inaugural story about Jesus, thus, along with the poetic prologue, it sets the tone for the gospel. What happens when the Word becomes flesh, full of grace and truth and from whom we have received grace upon grace? Borg notes that big things happen in the Bible on the third day – as does this miracle. He also notes that marriage was often a rich religious metaphor – signifying the relationship between God and God’s people, the marriage of heaven and earth, and later the marriage between Christ and the church. He also notes the sociological context. In Jewish peasant life at the time of Jesus, weddings were the most festive celebrations. Life was hard for peasants, and their diet was basic and meager. It seldom included meat or poultry, which required killing one of their few animals. But a wedding celebration meant momentary release from unremitting labor and enjoying copious amounts of food and wine, accompanied by music and dancing. (Jesus, 58) Borg uses all this information to say that this story indicates that for John the whole story of Jesus is about a wedding, a wedding in which the wine never runs out and in fact gets better and better. When you look at some of the details of the story, it makes it an incredible celebration. The six jars held twenty to thirty gallons, which will become 120-180 gallons of wine! On another note, Jesus’ mother is never called “Mary” in John’s gospel, but always the mother of Jesus – just a note of interest. Further, his word to her is unusual, calling her “woman” but the overall impression is one of a caring relationship. Her concern becomes part of the context for the miracle. Also note verse 11 – “the disciples believed in him.” John will resist any easy confluence between signs and belief – one should not rely on signs for belief – but the signs are always only meant to invite belief, and belief, trust, following Jesus, is the point.

John 2:13-22: Already in the second chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus goes to Jerusalem. In the other gospels, Jesus seems to make only one trip to this city, the trip in which he will lose his life. In the other gospels, it is also on that trip that Jesus engages in the symbolic action in the Temple. John follows the joyous sign story of the wedding at Cana with this story about conflict. Jesus’ story is a story of joy, but a joy that can disrupt the usual way of things. John uses this story to stake a claim in post-Temple Judaism. After the destruction of the Temple, Jews wondered where the presence of God would be most alive. One answer was in the synagogue and in the study of the Law. John’s answer was that Jesus himself was the presence of God among people, and that presence would continue in his followers who were filled with his Spirit. Again, near the end of the story we have a note on belief – this time belief in Jesus that came only later.

John 2:23-25: Jesus did other signs while in Jerusalem, and people believed, but these verses suggest that belief on the basis of signs alone is insufficient. Sometimes people have a wonderful experience with the church, with faith, with God and initially get enthused about it, but over time the enthusiasm wanes. Will we continue to follow? I think again of Mother Teresa who continued to follow even in the midst of painful doubts.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

John 1

John 1:1-18: John’s Gospel begins poetically and profoundly. “John opens with one of the greatest passages of poetic prose in the language, philosophically dense, metaphorically rich and rhythmically lucid at the same time” (Blake Morrison, Revelations, 295). “In the beginning” does not refer to some chronological sequence, but a time out of time, before time. These verses are a hymn-like celebration of God’s sharing of Godself with the world in grace and truth through Jesus who was called Christ. Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy that starts with Abraham. Mark starts off with “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Luke’s Gospel begins with a prologue to Theophilus. John’s beginning takes us to a beginning before time – “the beginning is outside the normal calculations of time, in the cosmic pre-existence of the Word with God” (New Interpreters Study Bible). “The Word” translates the Greek word logos. It “has a wide range of meanings, including word, speech, discourse, language, thought reason, message, account, document, book” (The People’s New Testament Commentary). It was a term used in a wide variety of Greek philosophical schools as well as by the first-century Jewish philosopher Philo, who thought of the logos of God as the wisdom of God and sometimes referred to this as son of God. “For John the logos referred to that expression of God’s innermost nature which poured forth to create and be immanent in the world, giving the world order and expression, and which was most closely to be experienced within the human soul” (Sanford, Mystical Christianity, 21). John is using different language to say something similar to the other gospel writers. God was up to something very special in this Jesus. For John, Jesus was the very logos of God enfleshed, incarnated. God was sharing God’s very self in Jesus in a very special way. Some theologians and biblical scholars say that this is one part of the message, the other part of which is that we, too, are to incarnate God. “To incarnate God is what it means to be fully human” (Walter Wink, The Human Being, 30). “Jesus is… a human being who incarnated God and who taught us how to do the same, through the working of the divine Spirit within us. That is what it means to incarnate God” (Wink, 201). Whether this is a valid interpretation of John’s Gospel we will explore as we read the rest of the Gospel and the rest of the New Testament. Some evidence for this view can be found in verse 12, where the Word , the Light come into the world, gives power to become children of God. For now, we notice that John is using a set of symbols unique to him to try and describe what God was up to in Jesus. Accompanying the image of the Word of God is the image of creation and creativity. “Christianity teaches that the creative ability to gather up form from chaos is a divine quality in the human being” (Tom Driver, Patterns of Grace, 151). We also find images of light and life. “For John… the gospel inaugurates an alternate reality, the Reign of God. John likes to call it eternal life – life in a new dimension, which begins the moment one encounters the son of the man. To believe in the Human Being (John 9:35) is to affirm that this new reality that Jesus incarnates and reveals is from God” (Wink, 203). “Light is an archetypal religious image, found in all of the world’s enduring religions. When Buddha was born, a great light filled the sky. And enlightenment as an image of salvation is central to many religions, including Christianity…. The claim made by the use of this light imagery is concisely expressed in John’s gospel: Jesus is the light shining in the darkness, the true light that enlightens everyone, indeed the Light of the World.” (Marcus Borg, Jesus, 63-64). This Word, this Light, the Life, this Creativity, became flesh, here meaning simply human being. And this human being, because of his identification with the Word, the Light, the Life, the Creativity, was full of grace and truth, and that grace was shared abundantly (verse 16). People have witnessed this. John the Baptist appears in these verses as one whose role it is to testify to the Light. In these verses, John sets the context for all that will happen in his gospel. It will easily fit in with some parts of the story – especially those stories where Jesus heals, raises the dead, and the like. What will be more difficult to fit into this grand poetic vision is that this Jesus, the Word, will be killed.

John 1:19-28: From a beginning before time, we are brought into history with the figure of John the Baptist. We have already been told what his role is to be – “to testify to the light.” As Christians, that seems part of our role too, to testify to the light we have experienced in Jesus. Our role will also be to become Christ-like in our lives – to let the light shine in us (John 14:12). Remember that part of the context for the gospels is that followers of John the Baptist remained active, even after the beginning of the Jesus movement.

John 1:29-34: Jesus makes his first appearance in these verses. John has no birth story. The details are not important to him, only that in this Jesus God was up to something very special. A new image is introduced, “the Lamb of God.” This image is distinctly tied to Hebrew faith. It evokes the Passover lamb, the symbol of deliverance. Remember that the Temple has been destroyed and thus “sacrificial worship” has come to an end. Part of what John may be saying in his gospel is that the best continuity of the Jewish faith is to be found in following Jesus. The Passover lamb was not an offering for sin, so John is using some overlapping imagery here, again, trying to communicate that in Jesus, God is drawing close to humankind, not letting human sin get in the way of that relationship, at least from God’s side of it. John the Baptist is giving testimony here, but there is no story of Jesus’ baptism by John.

John 1:35-42: The preceding verses provide a context for these. John the Baptist’s role seems to be entirely that of testifying to Jesus, whatever his own ministry may have been until Jesus came on the scene. Two of John’s disciples are with him as Jesus walks by. John testifies about Jesus and John’s own disciples decide to follow Jesus. Jesus asks them a wonderful question – “what are you looking for?” This is deeply symbolic, as is the response of the disciples who ask, “where are you staying?” Searching human persons find something in Jesus, and yet we ask even after that, “where is Jesus?” Think of the recent reports of the journey of Mother Teresa. One of those who followed Jesus was Andrew, who in turn shared the news with his brother Simon, who Jesus renames Peter. Andrew uses yet another symbolic term for Jesus – Messiah.

John 1:43-51: The sharing of the good news continues (an encouragement to the church today!). Phillip is called and follows, and goes to tell Nathaniel. Here some detail about Jesus is introduced, information that is familiar from the other gospels – “Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathaniel is invited to “come and see” if anything good can come out of Nazareth. “Come and see” – what a great invitation to the church and to faith. That something very special is going on with Jesus is evidenced by his conversation with Nathaniel. He has insight into Nathaniel. One of the witnesses of Christian faith today is that in Jesus we see more deeply into our own lives. For Nathaniel this is cause to proclaim Jesus, the teacher as “the Son of God.” Notice how early in John’s Gospel these affirmations of faith come, and come from the disciples. There is no secret about Jesus here. The disciples are not portrayed as rather obtuse. Rather they get it right from the start. Nathaniel also calls him the King of Israel, a dangerous thing to say about someone when Rome determined who was to be king. Jesus introduces yet other images to describe who he is – Son of Man ( a term familiar from the other gospels) which not only means a human person, but linked to images in the Hebrew Scriptures, it is a designation of one who would be used by God to bring salvation. Walter Wink’s book The Human Being is a very rich exploration of this designation for Jesus. Jesus also alludes to the Hebrew Scriptures image of a ladder between heaven and earth (“Jacob’s Ladder”). There will be no need for another ladder, because Jesus himself will be the bridge between the reality of God and God’s dream for the world and the world itself.