Thursday, March 6, 2014

Love On John's Terms (part 19)

In the fourth chapter of John, Jesus’ talk of water is linked to Jacob.  The context of everything following the feeding of the five thousand, in the sixth chapter, including His talk of water, is the Moses-and-Deuteronomy-linked statement about “the Prophet who is to come into the world” (6:14b).  Here again, Jesus’ talk of water, when offered to a people that lived in expectation of a messiah and of their God’s working on their behalf to bring about another exodus, and who had a constant consciousness of their history of exile and exodus (especially their primary exodus story), is linked back to Moses.  Upon Jesus’ declaration concerning water, “some of the crowd begin to say, ‘This really is the Prophet!’” (7:40b)  For the author’s purpose, this would almost have to be directly connected to the similar words spoken in the sixth chapter, following the feeding of the multitude. 

Whereas in the sixth chapter Jesus is linked to Moses by the provision of bread, here He is linked to Moses by the provision of water.  This, of course, is connected to the remembrance of the flowing of water from a rock during Israel’s time in the wilderness.  For these people, the Creator God’s love is expressed in such ways, and Jesus is to be seen as the embodiment of that expression of love.  It becomes more and more clear, as the story progresses along, that love is expressed by means of bread and water, and that these things, being the staples of human existence as well as the points of reference by which Jesus is recognized as the Messiah, are far from being simply spiritual terms.   

In the eighth chapter of John, the author offers a very brief reminder of Jesus’ dealings with the Samaritan woman of chapter four.  In verse forty-eight of this chapter, in response to an extended monologue by Jesus, “The Judeans reply, ‘Aren’t we correct in saying that you are a Samaritan and are possessed by a demon?’”  Naturally, this mention of “Samaritan,” within a continuous narrative in which the listener or the reader will have learned about the Samaritan woman and the response of a group of Samaritans that came to believe in Jesus as Messiah, is thought-provoking.  The response from Jesus is “I am not possessed by a demon, but I honor my Father---and yet you dishonor Me” (8:49). 

With what is known at this point, it is not surprising to find Jesus completely dismissing the negative statement leveled against the Samaritans, and responding only to the accusation that He is possessed by a demon.  The Judeans are here shown to be putting Samaritans and demons on the same level, but the hearer knows that this is ridiculous.  This seems to be yet another subtle indicator of the nature of the love, modeled by Jesus through this Gospel presentation, that is to be practiced by the Johannine community and of course the wider body of believers.

From there, the story moves to Jesus’ healing of a man that had been born blind.  In that story, Jesus declares Himself to be “the light of the world” (9:5b), which builds on a concept introduced in the first chapter and built on in the eighth chapter.  With this, Jesus adds to declarations of Himself as both bread and water (evidences of love).  As it has been well-established that these statements about bread and water are Moses and exodus related statements, and acknowledging that taking a dogmatic stand in this area would not be warranted, it stands to reason that Jesus’ speaking of Himself as the light of the world might tie in to the same theme, calling to mind the pillar of fire that was said to have accompanied Israel in the wilderness.   

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