For a Study Guide for next week’s readings in John look after the Sermon.
The Gospel According to John I Chapters 1-6
Raymond Brown, one of the leading scholars on Johannine literature divides the Gospel into four parts. Chapter 1:1-18 is the Prologue: an introduction and summary of the career of the incarnate Word. Chapters 1:19 through 12:50 are the Book of Signs: The Word reveals himself to the world and to his own but they do not accept him. Chapters 13 through 20 are the Book of Glory: to those who accept him, the Word shows his glory by returning to the Father in death resurrection and ascension. Fully glorified, he communicates the Sprit of life. Chapter 21 is the Epilogue: Galilean resurrection appearances and a second conclusion.
Pondering the strange inclusion of a second ending with the story of Thomas and Jesus’ wounds, Robert H Smith believes that the story gives readers of John’s Gospel clues about the incarnation and God’s willingness to become as vulnerable as other humans. Despite of the glorification of Jesus as Son of God in John, Smith believes that the Thomas story also elevates the humanity of Jesus in a particular way. So, he concludes, John is not telling us that this vulnerable Jesus is like God, but rather that God is like Jesus with his wounds. Jesus is the revealer of God, but also the revealer of authentic humanity. Smith says that John’s phrase, “we have seen his glory,” would include us the readers, God’s children meeting God in God’s turning to the world as John unfolds the story of Jesus.
There is much speculation about how John’s Gospel came to be so different from the Synoptic (‘synoptic’ means they share a point of view) Gospels. Brown posits a Judean community of Hellenized Jews who became believers in Jesus as the Messiah following the tradition of Moses rather than as the Davidic Messiah, and who provided a different source of the material that was preserved separately from the material used by Mark. John’s geography of Palestine is more accurate than that of the Synoptics, as is his explanation of the Jewish holiday traditions. Scholars agree that John’s is the latest Gospel, perhaps written as late as 100-110 CE.
In the beginning: Compare John’s prologue to the genealogies and birth narratives of Matt and Luke? See any similarities beyond the obvious differences?
Lived among us: This is often translated as ‘dwelt’ among us. Look for this word to show up as ‘abide,’ ‘live,’ ‘stay,’ ‘remain,’ ‘dwell.’ God’s coming to live among us is a powerful theme of John.
Testify: John the Baptist gives testimony. Witnessing is another theme of John, and Jesus’ miracles are called ‘signs’ as they testify to God’s power. Jesus himself is a sign of God’s power and love.
First Words: What are Jesus’ first words in John? Could they be directed at you, the reader?
Jesus’ First Sign: The Wedding at Cana reveals a great deal about Jesus and his family and disciples. How do those relationships look different than those of the Synoptics?
Cleansing the Temple: John puts this early in Jesus’ ministry. What difference would that make in the message?
Nicodemus: Based on the themes of dark and light and the source of the “children of God” from John’s prologue, could you read the story of Nicodemus with new eyes?
The Woman of Samaria: Scholars who believe that John’s tradition comes from a Judean community rather than the mixed Gentile communities of Syria, use the early presence of believers in Samaria as part of their evidence.
“The Jews:” They begin to persecute Jesus after he heals the man at the pool (another ‘sign’ exclusive to John). Scholars wonder if the antagonism between Judeans who accepted Jesus as the Messiah and those who did not drives the vicious rhetoric against the Jewish leaders. See what you think as you continue in John.
His Disciples Remembered: Look for this to turn up regularly.
14th Sunday after Pentecost
September 2, 2012
John 1: 1-18; 35-39; 3:1-11;16-21; 4:7-15;
Read John 1:1-18.
For all its mystery and circular rhetoric, the Gospel According to John is written in the simplest Greek. Every seminary student learns Greek by reading John.
Matthew and Luke tell us about Jesus’ human lineage, making the connection between his earthly parents those lifted as God’s faithful. But John tells us that this Word, who was Jesus, was God, present at creation, the One who brings the light of God to the world. “He was in the world and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him…but to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” So John is telling us that God’s children are only created by God, not through any special ethnicity or behavior, but by belief. You will hear Jesus say this over and over again: that he came to testify to God’s presence so that people will believe in God.
So the movement in John is that Jesus, as the Word, the action of God, comes down to dwell among us, becoming the dwelling place of God in flesh just like ours. If you want to know about God, look at Jesus, because God is like Jesus, who lives a fully human existence, just like ours. All through John’s Gospel, the evangelist lifts up the image of God in Jesus coming down to be us and then going back to be with God forever. Look for it, because it will unravel some of the confusing, circular discourse that is so much a part of John’s writing.
Read John 1: 35-39.
Here are the first words of Jesus in this Gospel: “What are you seeking?” This is Jesus question to you the reader. The custom was for disciples to follow the teacher to the place where he taught and lived, so they want to know where he is staying. It is a request to become a student, and they believe John the Baptist who claims that this is the promised Son of God, as he saw the Spirit descend when he baptized Jesus. “Come and see,” says Jesus. I have come to think of this as the Evangelist’s invitation to come and see the story he is about to tell me, so that I, too, can see Jesus’ glory and believe, and have eternal life.
Read 3: 1-10
John continues to use the themes of dark and light in the story of Nicodemus, who comes at night. He says, “we know you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs apart from the presence of God. “ In this story we see one of the Evangelist’s devices: the person sees something remarkable about Jesus, but completely underestimates who he really is. It happens again in the story of the Samaritan woman; she notes that even though he is a Jew, he asks her for a drink, something remarkable. Jesus challenges this misunderstanding with a challenge: to understand the kingdom of God you must be reborn. Wish the Samaritan woman, he offers living water. Again he is misunderstood – he’s talking about something much more than physical rebirth or well water bubbling up.
Jesus lifts the misunderstood statements to his theological premise: that he is more than someone who comes as God’s emissary, but that he is God’s unique Son come to grant eternal life to those who believe. I am afraid that Nicodemus remains in the dark. Turning to the darkness means that one rejects Jesus, God’s light in the world.
Read 4: 23 – 26
After a long discourse with Jesus, the Samaritan woman stakes her claim to her tradition of worship outside of the temple in Jerusalem. But Jesus tells her that the hour of decision is upon the world. Now where you worship will not determine whether or not you can belong to God, God seeks those who look for the truth. Jesus reveals himself to her as the Messiah. The woman runs to share her knowledge and after staying with them for 2 days, many Samaritans believe in him also. Not only is this woman a keen theologian, she becomes an evangelist as well.
So in these stories, John sets a pattern. Jesus is the true Son of God, who has come down to live with us in flesh exactly like ours, he performs signs that show that he has the power of God, people confront and converse with him, seeing that he is something different and completely misunderstanding his true identity, until Jesus reveals himself to them fully as God. Some people believe and step into the light of God, and some do not.
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of father’s only son, full of grace and truth”. I think the Evangelist’s ‘we’ includes us. It is always and only through belief that we come to God, and that we understand that God has come to us in the person of Jesus. When I was growing up I though of belief as being about knowing the right stuff. I went to Lutheran School, so I knew huge parts of the Bible from memory, and Luther’s Small Catechism word for word. I had the whole thing nailed down tight. But I have come to understand belief as trust. It’s not about what you can recite, or how theologically acute you are, it’s about who you trust. John is going to take us on a journey to Jesus’ hour, the hour in which he will be lifted up to open God’s arms to the whole world. We will see his glory when he comes back to show us that God’s promises are real and true. You will then become the witnesses and the believers who are able to tell that you, too, have seen his glory.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Study Guide for John II, Chapters 7-13
Misunderstanding and Double Meaning: One of John’s stylistic features is having Jesus use figurative language to explain something “that comes from above,” and having that language misunderstood by the hearers. Think of Nicodemus’ take on ‘born from above/ born again,’ and the Samaritan woman’s take on ‘living water,’ in his crucifixion Jesus is ‘lifted up’ and ‘glorified.’ The reader sees the layers of meaning because he/she is a believing Christian already.
Jewish Festivals and Jesus as Their Replacement: Beginning in Chapter 5, Jesus attends Jewish feasts (Sabbath, Passover, Tabernacles, Dedication (Hannukah)), and does something at each one that replaces a significant aspect of the feast. 5:1-47, Jesus heals and give life on the Sabbath; 6:1-71, Jesus multiples the loaves and fishes at Passover, giving a discourse on the Bread of Life; 7:1 to 10: 21, Jesus replaces the water theme of the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths) with the living water flowing from himself, and the theme of light by claiming to be the light of the world; 10: 22-42, Jesus claims to be the one the Father has consecrated and sent into the world, replacing the dedication of the altar in the Temple.
I AM: In 8:58, we hear one of Jesus’ most awesome statements. What is his claim? Why does it bring such controversy?
The Man Born Blind: A pastor friend of mine wants to turn this story into a Broadway musical. How does this story highlight some of the themes we’ve already mentioned in John’s Gospel? Would you call this man a believer in Jesus? How might his faith journey reflect the journey of the community to which John is writing? Your own experience? Your community’s experience?
The Good Shepherd: John does not use parables for Jesus to explain about heavenly things. Could these images take their place? To whom are these metaphors directed? If division about Jesus and his saving work within the Johnannine community is an issue, might these metaphors have something to offer them?
Mary and Martha: What do you already know about these women? How does this story fit with the Luke (chapter 10) story about the sisters?
Martha’s confession: What other believer states that Jesus is the Messiah?
Raising Lazarus: In this story we have another example of Jesus’ deep emotions for those he loved. What other story(ies) in John tells you about Jesus’ friendships and loves?
This story itself is so human, with all the sights and smells and tears and questions that accompany the death of a loved one. In “The Last Temptation of Christ,” Martin Scorcese portrays Jesus reaching into the tomb to pull Lazarus out and almost getting pulled in himself. Do you think this foreshadowing of Jesus’ own impending death might be right on the money according to John?
Raymond Brown: “Lazarus will die again – that is why he emerges from the tomb still bound with the burial clothes. Jesus comes to live an eternal life impervious to death, as he will symbolize by emerging from the tomb leaving his burial clothes behind.”
Anointing Jesus: How is this story different from the ones you have heard (Mark 14: 3-9, Matt 26: 6-13) before? How is it the same? Is John’s point different than the others?
Caiaphas: another example of a double meaning?
My Hour has Come: Several times Jesus has mentioned that his hour has not come (2:4, 7:30, 8:20), now when he meets these Gentiles, he acknowledges that this has changed.
My Soul is Troubled: John has no scene of Jesus praying in Gethsemane. Would you consider this a parallel?