The person we love is the person Jesus loves
John, the author of the Gospel was the disciple whom Jesus loved. When we love somebody as our friend, we share our secrets with him. We slowly come to know and understand him better. John’s Gospel was written by a person who knew Jesus as only a friend can know.
By Rev. Dr. Subhash Anand
John, the author of the Gospel was the disciple whom Jesus loved. When we love somebody as our friend, we share our secrets with him. We slowly come to know and understand him better. John’s Gospel was written by a person who knew Jesus as only a friend can know. Thus, the Gospel is not merely a record of ‘facts’ from the life of Jesus, but also a revelation of the deep impression he made on people very close to him. To know Jesus better, we need to grow in friendship with him. The author is not named. This is an invitation. We need to become that unnamed disciple.
John’s Gospel has a missionary thrust. Those who know Jesus bring others to him and therefore John directs his disciples to Jesus (1.29-37). Andrew brings his brother Simon, and Philip his friend Nathaniel to Jesus (vv. 41-42; 45-46). The woman of Samaria draws her people to the Messiah (4.29-30). The sick, who have experienced the healing love of Jesus, proclaim him even to those who were inimical to him (5.15; 9.25-34). The mission of Jesus and of his disciples is directed to all people. The people of Samaria (4.42), the Roman official (v. 46), Greek pilgrims (12.20): they are all welcome.
Mark’s Gospel begins with John preaching at the Jordan, and Jesus receiving baptism from him. Matthew and Luke record the infancy of Jesus. John takes us into the very heart of God and gives us a glimpse of the eternal communion between the Father and the Word. The whole of creation is centred on the Word. This Word becomes flesh and shares our life (1.14). Now the eternal Word is also the centre of human history. All this is the gift of love (3.16).
John mentions by name many men who were part of Jesus’ life: Andrew, Peter, etc. (1.40-45); some women too are named: Mary, Martha, etc. (11.1; 19.25). Yet, there are two significant actors who are not named: the disciple whom Jesus loved and the mother of Jesus. To understand this, we need to keep in mind that of the four Gospels, John’s is the most symbolic. The disciple whom Jesus loved represents all of us: we are all loved by God. When we respond to this love, then we become like Mary, the woman who was concerned for others (2.3-4). To be concerned for others is to share in the Cross of Jesus (19.25). Every time we love somebody, Jesus is born anew in us and in the person we love. We become the mother of Jesus. The person we love is the person Jesus loves.
Unlike the Synoptic gospels, John’s Gospel does not speak of the ‘mighty deeds’ of Jesus. The author prefers to record his ‘signs’ (2.11; 4.54). The miracles of Jesus are a revelation of his person. After healing the paralyzed man on the Sabbath, Jesus defends himself by claiming to be in harmony with the Father, who works even on the Sabbath (5.17-47). The multiplication of loaves is followed by a long discourse on Jesus as the bread of life (6.25-59). Before rising from the dead, Jesus presents himself as our resurrection and our life (11.17-27).
John gives an account of how people gradually come to understand Jesus. Nathanael begins on a sceptical note: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” and ends up with a deep confession: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (1.46, 49). The Samaritan woman begins by thinking Jesus to be a prophet and then wonders whether he is the expected Messiah (4.19, 29). We see a similar recognition of Jesus by the man born blind (9.11-38), and Martha and Mary (11.17-27).
Another peculiar feature of John’s Gospel is that it portrays Jesus as making claims about himself, using the expression ‘I am’: “I am the bread…” (6.35, 41, 48, 51); “I am the light…” (8.12; 9.5); “I am the door…” (10.7, 9); “I am the good shepherd” (10.11, 14); “I am the resurrection and the life…” (11.25); “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (14.6); “I am the true vine” (15.1, 5). The most solemn claim is found in the farewell discourse: “I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he” (Jn 13.19). These claims remind the reader who is familiar with the Old Testament, of the way God speaks to his people.
To understand John better, we need a good knowledge of the Old Testament. The Gospel begins with the opening words of the Old Testament: “In the beginning…” In Jesus, God is recreating humanity. Describing the mystery of Incarnation, John says: “The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us” (Jn 1.14). During the Exodus, whenever the people set up a camp to rest, Moses pitched the tent where he met God outside the residential area of the Israelites (Ex 33.7-8). In Jesus, God himself is right in our midst. The first few episodes of Jesus’ public ministry are spread over a week, the seventh day being the joyful wedding at Cana. Thus, the new creation too is spread over a week. The new humanity is called to participate in God’s joy, symbolized by the abundance of good wine (2.10). I could go on.
The Jesus of John is a very motherly person. During the Last Supper, and also after his resurrection, he calls his disciples “Little children” (13.33; 21.5). Jesus describes his imminent passion and death using the image of a woman in travail (16.21). In the lives of most of us in India, our mother (or some other woman) not only serves us our meal, but she also prepares it for us. We see the Risen Lord doing this for his disciples. They were out fishing the whole night. In the morning when they come ashore, they find their breakfast ready (21.9-14). Jesus is the mother who provides for her children who return home tired and hungry after a whole night of work.
Another major difference between John and the other Evangelists is the account of the final meal Jesus has with his disciples. First, the Synoptic gospels give the impression that the Last Supper was a Passover celebration (Mt 26.17-18; Mk 14.12-14, 16; Lk 22.8, 13, 15). John describes the Passover as a feast of the Jews (2.13; 6.4; 11.55). Second, John does not seem to take very seriously the episode of Jesus sharing bread and wine with his disciples for the last time. Many different reasons have been offered to explain this omission. I suggest three possible explanations.
First, John may not want to present Jesus the Teacher bidding farewell to his disciples with the celebration of the Jewish Passover. He even wants to make sure that the Last Supper was not at the time the Jews celebrated their Passover. He begins his account with these words: “Now before the feast of the Passover...” (13.1). Contemporary New Testament scholars think that John is historically correct. Second, John’s Gospel was finalized towards the end of the first century. The author was aware of how by the time he wrote his Gospel some corruption had already crept in and vitiated the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, as was the case at Corinth (1 Cor 11.17-34). John wanted to remind his readers of the real meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Third, for some Johannine scholars, John’s Gospel was anti-sacramental. John the Evangelist omits the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. He differentiates between the baptism with water given by the Baptist, and the baptism with the Spirit to be given by Jesus (1.33). John first reports that Jesus and his disciples were baptizing (3.22). But he almost immediately qualifies his report: “although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples” (4.2). Hence, I am inclined to believe that John did not want Jesus to be seen as someone who instituted another ritual. In that sense, there is a certain anti-sacramental or anti-ritual current in the Johannine narrative.
John is more concerned about the symbolic content of what Jesus does. This explains why John brings in the episode of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. He is their Lord and Teacher (13.14); yet he is among them as a humble servant. If our Lord and Teacher is a humble servant, then we his disciples would be denying him in wanting to be lords and unquestionable teachers (v. 16). The washing of the feet is the Johannine version of the institution narrative found in the Synoptic gospels. John gives us a hint as to why he did that.
John begins the story with those beautiful words: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he [Jesus] loved them to the end” (v. 1). Jesus sacramentalizes his love for his disciples by washing their feet. When Peter objects, Jesus tells him: “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me” (v. 8). By washing our feet, Jesus calls us to belong to him in love. For that to happen we need to come to Jesus, see him and abide with (1.39). When we do that, we will go out and lovingly call others to come and share in our life-giving experience (v. 46). Then, and only then, will we become the bread broken for others, the Bread that was Jesus. That is the meaning of being a true missionary of the Word.
(Image Courtesy: Unsplash.com)
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