Friday, February 21, 2014

Love On John's Terms (part 7)

The second chapter of John begins with the story of Jesus and His disciples attending a wedding feast in Cana.  John’s report of Jesus’ actions at this wedding feast continue to aid in defining love on John’s terms.  There is not the space here to go into great detail (see the study entitled “Water Into Wine”), but when Jesus turns the water into wine, thus providing the best wine to those who are going to be served towards the end of the feast, He is making it possible for those at the lower end of the societal spectrum (less honorable) to enjoy something better than those at the higher end of society (the more honorable).  With his actions there, He provides an illustration of the last becoming first while the first become last, and in so doing teaches His disciples about preferring others, while also demonstrating what it will look like when the kingdom of the Creator God is present among them. 

In the fourth chapter of John, one encounters the story of Jesus and His conversation with a Samaritan woman.  This was taken to be a highly unusual event.  It is written that Jesus, while passing through Samaria, which was a customary practice of a Jew, “was tired from the journey” (4:6b), so He sat down next to a well.  The author reports that this well was known as “Jacob’s well” 4:6a), and that it was “near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph” (4:5b).  Because these are not haphazard presentations, but calculated theological treatises, mention of a well, along with mentions of Jacob and Joseph, are clearly designed to cause the listener or the reader to reflect upon the patriarchs of Israel (and indeed Israel’s self-defining historical narrative).  It is unsurprising to find this to be the case, as there has already been a reflection back to Jacob at the close of the first chapter (“heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man”).

This talk of Jacob’s well is John’s Gospel is significant.  Without going into an exhaustive recounting of all of the instances in which they are to be found, let it be said that wells are a rather prominent feature of the Genesis narrative.  Wells are found in association with the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Of course, the words that open this Gospel account, “In the beginning” (1:1a), indicate that the author intends the Genesis narrative to lie consistently in the background as the story unfolds.  Beyond Genesis, wells are mentioned in connection with men such as David and Samson, among others, so it only seems natural that the story of Jesus would also include a story about a well. 

In addition to such thoughts, a cursory glance at the narrative itself demonstrates that the treatise of John is deeply rooted in the history of Israel---giving it a historical depth, which is a consideration that should weigh on the mind of the audience that, in the end, the author indeed intends to convey a message about a man that actually lived, actually died, actually rose again, and is still, by the presence of His Spirit, alive, well, and an abiding force within and for this world. 

This historical rooting is amplified when taking note of the fact that questions about John the Baptist are couched within concerns related to the prophet Elijah.  Along with that, Israel’s history is called upon in the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus in the third chapter, as Jesus mentions Moses and alludes to Israel’s time in the wilderness following the exodus (which plays right into the exile and exodus theme that is found in John 3:16’s statement that contrasts perishing and eternal life).  So even though John offers up a very different type of historical narrative than that to which the modern reader may be accustomed, it is worth noting that the narrative is not to be looked upon as being ahistorical.

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