Thursday, March 13, 2014

Love On John's Terms (part 26)

Just as it has become apparent that it is a self-sacrificial love as supremely demonstrated in Jesus’ talk of Himself as the good shepherd that comes to undergird the life of the church, and that the absence of self-sacrifice or a willingness to undergo suffering and deprivation will be fatal to the Jesus movement, so also it can be affirmed, as part of an approach to the Scriptures so as to hear them on their own terms and in their own voices, the hearers of the Gospel of John will know that pulling out isolated pieces and examining them independently of the entire narrative, would be damaging to the story and to the message of the Christ as a whole. 

Clearly, the issues of love, Jesus as the embodiment of Israel’s Creator God, miraculous signs, the concept of eternal life (with its exile and exodus subtext that hinges on an understanding of the history of Israel), sight and blindness, the idea of Jesus being the prophet like Moses, Gentile inclusion, bread and water, and talk of Jesus as possibly being demon possessed are to be held in mind while the story is being told (whether it is being heard or read). 

The narrative is constantly building, and it is clearly designed to be consumed as a whole, rather than treating passages in isolation, as this will lead to a consistent mis-construal of the author’s intentions as it relates to his attempt to convey that which he wants to be known about Jesus.  As one considers how strange it seems that the Gospels were originally designed to be heard as dramatic presentations for an orally attuned community rather than read as part of a devotional experience, one is also forced to confess that our post-Gutenberg press culture is just as foreign to John’s author, as would be John’s author’s pre-Gutenberg culture.    

The Gospel reader must subject himself to this reminder because it has a bearing on the entire project of discerning love on John’s terms, related to the whole of the Johannine corpus that does not explicitly reference an author by the name of John (John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John).  If one intends to understand the ethic of love within the community of Christ-followers, which is an ethic that would appear to be of paramount importance to this author and therefore the community addressed by his composition, it is entirely necessary to take a wide-angle approach to his story of Jesus, attempting to interpret the presentation in a way that allows for an accurate glimpse of the issues with which are being dealt in the early decades of the Christian movement (presumably in the latter part of the first century) through this particular telling of the Jesus tradition. 

Not only must it be said that individual scenes in John’s Gospel are not to be taken in isolation, but it must also be said that histories are not created in isolation.  That is, there is no such thing as a truly objective representation of the facts.  In the process of doing history, and especially when one is doing history that is heavily tinged with theology, as can be seen in the Gospel of John, one is forced to realize that all facts and events are viewed through a lens that is colored by the worldview with which one approaches a given set of facts.  There is nothing wrong with that, but the reader does himself a disservice by failing to acknowledge such things.  Along with that, any creation of a historical narrative will be affected by a culture that is constantly conditioning its members respond to events along certain lines. 

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