Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Love On John's Terms (part 5)

At the same time, though having detailed the usage of “love” words, it is not necessarily the case that one can only grasp the Johannine community’s conception of love in conjunction with the use of those words.  That is to say, it is not necessary to limit an exploration of what love of one another will look like (again, on John’s terms) to those places in the Johannine texts that use related words.  The point was providing a simple chronicle of the growing use of “love” as a Scriptural and doctrinal motif, to illustrate the ascendancy of the notion of love for one another, now understood to be based on the Creator God’s love for the world (for both His image-bearers and His creation) within the context of His redemptive purposes, as something very close to the heart of what it means to live as a disciple of Jesus. 

Having established that the motif of relational love that demonstrates the fact that one is a disciple of Jesus is love functioning in a redemptive manner in relation to the establishment of the kingdom of the Creator God (mimicking Jesus’ love, which is the manifestation of the Creator’s redemptive and reconciliatory love for the world), it is now possible to move through the Johannine writings in a way that will allow for a determination what is truly meant by Jesus’ insistence that His disciples love one another as He has loved them. 

One must remember, when moving forward, that the type of love given voice in the declaration concerning the way that the Creator God loved the world, within this Gospel presentation that explicitly equates Jesus with the Creator God of Israel, will color the way that love is perceived by the recipients of this narrative telling of the life of Jesus.  Beyond that, the Creator God’s love for the world, with its connection to concerns related to exile and exodus (perishing and eternal life) and the fact that an overt presentation of Jesus as the very embodiment of the Creator God implies that Jesus was and indeed is the Messiah of Israel, is indissolubly connected to then prevalent notions about the messianic banquet (as envisioned in Isaiah and the fourteenth chapter of Luke), and of the types of things that will accompany the messianic-banquet-signaled in-breaking of the Creator God’s reign on earth. 

The declaration of the fourteenth verse of the first chapter of John, that “the Word became flesh and took up residence among us,” is not only an unequivocal declaration that Israel’s God was present among humanity and in the world as Jesus, but it is also an unmistakable use of Temple-related language, as the Temple was understood (by Israel and almost all Ancient Near East people) to be the place in which a god was understood to reside.  Because of that claim, an implied conflict with the Temple authorities becomes the explanation for the underlying source of antagonism between Jesus and those that present themselves as His adversaries, as well as the ultimate cause of His death (though the raising of Lazarus will be reported as the proximate cause of His death---though this is understandable, as the raising of Lazarus, historical or not, certainly underscores the claim that Jesus is the place in which the Creator God’s power is present and therefore the true Temple). 

Because the dwelling place of the Creator God was always thought to be the Temple (or the tabernacle prior to the Temple’s construction, or the whole of the creation according to the overt temple language of the Genesis narrative), the author makes it clear that everything that follows in His narrative (written probably a couple of decades after the Temple’s destruction by the Romans in association with the Jewish revolt in 70 A.D., though it most certainly draws from traditions in circulation from the days of Jesus on), portrays Jesus as fulfilling the role of the Temple. 

This helps to make contextual sense of John the Baptist’s quite early declaration in the Gospel that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29b), as the removal of sin mentioned in this statement (in connection with the sacrifice of a lamb) that is provided its context by the Day of Atonement (without even getting into John’s own and possibly legitimate claim to the high priesthood), is something that was carried out in connection with the Temple.  When John gives voice to this idea, he is using overt Temple language. 

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