Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Love On John's Terms (part 17)

Moving along to the seventh chapter and to the next use of “miraculous signs” in this Gospel narrative, one finds “Whenever the Christ comes, he won’t perform more miraculous signs than this man did, will he?” (John 7:31b)  The immediate context is provided by “Yet many of the crowd believed in Him and said…” (7:31a)  So again, “miraculous signs” is linked with “belief.”   Thus one must again consider the overall movement of this presentation of Jesus, in that the Creator God’s love for the world (John 3:16) is bound up with belief in Jesus.

By this, additional credence is lent to the link between the repetitious appearance of “miraculous signs” here in John (the only Gospel where such are to be found, save one usage in Luke), and the obvious Johannine predilection towards love, clearly rooted in the covenant God’s love for the world, as the operative Christian ethic.  The words of the thirty-first verse also forces a consideration of the wider context of the statement, which are questions about Jesus’ identity as the messiah.  As an observer situates himself within the original and intended audience for the narrative, such is done with the pre-supposition that Jesus is the Messiah (the Christ), and the development of the Gospel presentation will be heard from that position.

Whereas Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand, His walking on water, and His discourse about Himself as the bread of life took place in Galilee, these words from the seventh chapter are lifted from His being situated in Jerusalem.  Presumably then, Jesus has a new audience, differing quite significantly from the audience that He has had in the region of Galilee.  The season of the year is the Feast of Tabernacles, which is one of the fall feasts of Judaism.  The setting is presented in the fourteenth verse of the seventh chapter, where the author writes “When the feast was half over, Jesus went up to the Temple courts and began to teach.” 

A back and forth between the Jewish leaders and Jesus stems from the commencement of the aforementioned teaching.  As should be expected by now, at least according to the structure at play, Jesus brings a reference to Moses into play.  Eventually, the back and forth leads to what is reported to be an open discussion on the part of the residents of Jerusalem as to whether or not Jesus could actually be the Christ (7:25-26), which also results in some words from Jesus that lead to an unsuccessful attempt seize Jesus. 

In all of the back and forth, and in all of the reports within this Gospel about what Jesus has done since venturing back into Judea and Jerusalem, the reader does not stumble upon anything that seems like it would prompt the people of Jerusalem to mention Jesus in the same breath as “miraculous signs.”  Nevertheless, this is the very thing that is reported to have taken place.  In fact, though it can be reasonably presumed that word of the large-scale feeding has made its way around the countryside, the only miraculous signs that Jesus has performed to this point in the Johannine narrative are the turning of water into wine in Cana and the healing of the royal official’s son in Capernaum. 

The latter two of those three, which could be supplemented by the walking on water, would not be prone to massive dissemination.  To this point, the only miraculous sign that Jesus has performed in Jerusalem itself is the healing of the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda.  In this Gospel story, the remainder of Jesus’ activity in Jerusalem so far, is confined to teaching and speaking about Himself.  There is little reason to wonder, then, that the story demonstrates that there is not an outright acceptance of Jesus’ claims about Himself.  At the same time, one is left to wonder at the paucity of miraculous occurrences to be found in the very Gospel that is loaded with references to miraculous signs.  However, one must never forget the over-arching/underlying context of love and the love of the Creator God for the world as it is being expressed through Jesus, that seems to inform every aspect of this presentation of the life of Jesus.

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