Friday, March 14, 2014

Love On John's Terms (part 27)

The author of John provides an excellent example of the necessity of hearing the story as a whole in what follows from the presentation of Jesus as the good shepherd.  In the twenty-second verse of the chapter, there is a change of scenery in Jerusalem, as the author writes “Then came the feast of the Dedication in Jerusalem.  It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the Temple area in Solomon’s portico” (John 10:22-23).  Clearly, this represents a substantial shift in timing, because all that has been heard from the seventh chapter up to this point has occurred in conjunction with the Feast of Tabernacles, which does not take place in the winter. 

The temptation, then, is to pick up right here with these verses and treat this story separately.  To do so would be foolish, as when Jesus is heard to say “My sheep listen to My voice and I know them, and they follow Me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish” (10:27-28a), it can only be heard correctly in the context provided by all that has come before in the narrative, which is also dependent on a knowledge of Israel’s history along with then current understanding of Jewish hopes that would have informed Jesus’ use of eternal life (otherwise, Jesus could not expect to be understood).  As stated, the narrative continues to build, demanding to be heard as a whole. 

Again, the concepts as presented, and especially ideas concerning what is meant by love, demand to be heard on their own terms.  So to understand John’s notion of love, which is prefaced by the description of the way that the Creator God loved the world, and to do so without retrojecting preconceived notions about its definition, it is entirely necessary to take this step by step journey through the Johannine text, so as to come to grips with this author’s theology and its accompaniments (Christology, soteriology, eschatology, ecclesiology, etc…) that will define the ethic. 

A fair amount of space in this study has been spent on the issue of “miraculous signs” in this Gospel, with nine such appearances in the text having already been reviewed.  The phrase has not been encountered since the seventh chapter, but it reappears at the close of the tenth chapter, where the author reports that “Many came to Him and began to say, ‘John performed no miraculous sign, but everything John said about this man was true!’  And many believed in Jesus there” (10:41-42).  This is prefaced by a reference to the fact that “Jesus,” following his time spent specifically in Jerusalem, where He has His dealings in the time periods of the Feast of Tabernacles and the Feast of Dedication, “went back across the Jordan River again to the place where John had been baptizing at an earlier time and He stayed there” (10:40).  This mention of John at the close of the tenth chapter is mildly intriguing, as it obviously calls attention to the words and work of John the Baptist.  It takes the step of re-identifying Jesus with John and the exodus-themed movement that John had begun at a place not terribly distant from Jerusalem. 

By making mention that it was being said that “John performed no miraculous sign,” it seems that the author wants to hang a substantial amount of weight on the miraculous signs performed by Jesus, as reported in his Gospel.  It would appear to be the case that the miraculous signs are what, in the author’s mind, set Jesus apart from all those that had come before Him.  With the Resurrection from the dead following His crucifixion being the ultimate miraculous sign, it could be said that the church was fully agreed that Jesus was quite unique.  

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