Sunday, March 16, 2014

Love On John's Terms (part 29)

So when it comes to paying attention to the wider narrative on offer by the Gospel of John, what assistance does the author provide?  He provides assistance with his record of the people saying “everything John said about this man was true!”  This forces the listener and the reader to recall what it was that was said by John the Baptist.  Just as the statements by the Baptizer form the foundation for the introduction of Jesus into the Gospel narrative (and into the long-running story of Israel itself), this recapitulation of statements forms the bedrock for the transition to the second half of this narrative. 

Therefore, it is important to know what Jesus’ cousin said about Jesus, so that these things are in mind while proceeding.  He offered: “This one was the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is greater than I am, because He existed before me.’” (1:15)  He also said, “Among you stands one whom you do not recognize, who is coming after me.  I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandal!” (1:26b-27).  He said “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  This is the one about whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who is greater than I am, because He existed before me.’  I did not recognize Him, but I came baptizing with water so that He could be revealed to Israel” (1:29b-31).  This speaks quite strongly to Jesus’ first identifying Himself with John’s movement, as He underwent the exodus-themed baptism (symbolically crossing the Jordan River into a new land that reflected the Creator’s promise to His people) so that He might fit into a recognizable pattern for the covenant people of Israel. 

John also said of Jesus: “I saw the Spirit descending like a dove from heaven, and it remained on Him.  And I did not recognize Him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining---this is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’  I have both seen and testified that this man is the Chosen One of God” (1:32-34).  Finally, John saw Jesus and said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” (1:36b) 

Amazingly, this recollection of statements by John, accompanied by another mention of “miraculous signs,” is immediately followed up by the author’s presentation of that which he presents as the most significant of Jesus’ miraculous signs (outside of the Resurrection), which is the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  The raising of Lazarus, in this Gospel, is presented as the catalyst that causes Jesus’ ultimate fate to come cascading down upon Him.     

This is yet another reflection of the Moses motif that the author has seemingly gone to great lengths to create, though it is not one that is immediately obvious.  Because this study is concerned with defining love, and because Moses and the exodus appears to be a prominent feature of the background construct (as the exodus was always a crucial component of the way Israel understood themselves as a nation and of the way that they understood their relationship with their God), one must make note of the way that the story of the Creator God’s deliverance of Israel from out of Egypt effectively begins. 

In the second chapter of Exodus it is reported that “During that long period of time the king of Egypt died, and the Israelites groaned because of the slave labor.  They cried out, and their desperate cry because of their slave labor went up to God.  God heard their groaning, God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob, God saw the Israelites, and God understood…” (2:23-25).  The words immediately following are “Now Moses” (3:1).  This is a very tight grouping of highly important people and concepts.  The author of John, naturally and as would be expected, has a firm grasp on the fact that the Creator God’s covenant underlies all of His activity throughout history, and as has been seen, Abraham, Jacob, and Moses (but not Isaac) are mentioned in the narrative. 

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