Monday, February 24, 2014

Love On John's Terms (part 10)

Not only does Mary become the first to see Jesus, but she speaks with Him and is instructed to “Go to My brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.’” (John 20:17b)  So “Mary Magdalene came and informed the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord!’  And she told them what Jesus had said to her” (20:18).  Interestingly and in an ironic contrast, there seems to be an indication that Jesus’ own disciples did not necessarily believe Mary’s report, whereas the Samaritans believed the report of the woman that came to her (naturally, one supposes it’s easier to believe things being said about a live man at a well, regardless of the source, than things being said about a man that one is certain was crucified and placed in a tomb) . 

This report of Mary’s message and the natural, incredulous response to such a message, also gives witness to the nature of the spread of the Gospel and of the church in the days of the composition of this Gospel narrative.  Taken together, these two instances of women evangelists provide a context that provides a better understanding of what “love” means for this author, for his community, and for the church. 

The events of the sixth chapter of the Gospel continue to add to the insights on love that have been gained through this approach to John.  This is where the Johannine account of the “feeding of the five thousand” is encountered.  Just before the author delves specifically into the account of the feeding, the reason for the large numbers of people that are following Jesus is given.  Verse two reports that “A large crowd was following Him because they were observing the miraculous signs He was performing on the sick” (6:2).  Surely this presentation of Jesus as being overtly concerned with the sick is a component of the defining of the way that the love of Jesus is to be on display by, for, and through His disciples.  At the same time, this use of “miraculous signs” is something in which an observer can take interest. 

As one considers that the Gospel writer has a structure in mind, and that, rather than throwing together stories and sayings haphazardly, that structure can be recognized as being carried out across the whole of the Gospel (think about the comparison between the story of the Samaritan woman and that of Mary Magdalene).  Thinking along those lines, this use of the term “miraculous signs” becomes something of a “trigger phrase.”  When it comes to the Gospel accounts, the phrase is unique to John, and it is encountered on nine occasions. 

Taken together with the preponderance of the use of “love” in the Johannine corpus, the repeated use of “miraculous signs” becomes significant, though going so far as to make a direct correlation that says that the miraculous signs are the evidences of “love” would be unwarranted.  Though it would be difficult to disconnect the miraculous signs from the conception of the love of the Creator God that was presumed to have been on display and outworked through His Christ, one cannot help but think that the “signs” are somehow closely related to the way that “love” is to be understood, and how it is to be expressed by those seeking to truly understand what it means to be disciples of Jesus. 

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