Lenten Reflections on John’s Gospel
By now you may possibly have read the first couple of my Lenten Reflections on the Gospel of John. Stewart asked me to write this blog as an introduction to the series.
I’ve now written Lenten Reflections on all four Gospels. Some of you will have read them all with me over the last three years, and will now be starting this one. (Poor souls – I’m sorry you’ve been subjected to this!)
Of all the Gospels, I’ve found this one the hardest to write. Before I began, I would have said that John was my favourite Gospel. Now I’m not so sure about that glib assessment. I have to confess to you that I have found writing this series very hard grift. I’ll try to explain why.
First, I found myself having to do a lot of homework. In writing on the other three Gospels, I could just write from my general knowledge. With John, I’ve had to go back and read so much to understand it. I’ve read pages and pages of ancient history, of ancient Jewish sources such as Josephus, of Jewish writings in the Talmud. I needed to do all this just to feel that I had got inside John’s mind. I’m glad I began last November – I’ve lived daily with John for the last three months – and I still feel as though I’m missing a lot of what John has to teach us.
The first three Gospels charge along telling stories. They are full of action. They’re like watching an action film. Luke tells more than 35 parables; John has none. Even a short Gospel like Mark has about 30 miracles; John has 8. And six of those don’t occur in any of the other Gospels.
John plods along, carefully building a case that Jesus is the Son of God, the promised Messiah. John tells us who Jesus is– the others tell us what Jesus did.
So John tends to be harder to wade through. Chapters 6, 7 & 8 are really slow going. As I re-read what I had written on them it was so boring I couldn’t be bothered to read it myself – so I couldn’t inflict it on you! I found myself deleting pages and pages of completed reflections and just starting again.
I’m not sure why I found these so hard. It may be because I am still grieving the passing of my wife, Mieke, just six months ago. Sometimes, I had to force myself to grab each day by the throat and just get through it. It wasn’t always the best mental setting for good writing. Sometimes I could barely see the keyboard for the tears filling my eyes as I wrote. Voices in my head told me I was wasting my time: No-one will read these reflections anyway. Just give up. Your life’s finished. Just accept it.
But John helped me so much here. He told me so clearly something that I had not fully grasped. In the middle of those difficult, dense chapters, he quoted Jesus, saying: Whoever keeps my word will never taste death. As I mulled on that, I realised that this was exactly what I really did believe – and began to grasp what it meant. I can’t tell you in this little blog the consequences of that realisation, but they were immense.
John is the writer who takes the most difficult things that Jesus said and did, and shoves them right in our faces. He will not stop demanding, persuading us that Jesus is the Son of God. He is quite fanatical about this claim – and its consequences. If Jesus is just a nice teacher, then OK, pop along to a nice church now and again and fill up a roster when that nice lady from the office emails you, asking so nicely.
But if Jesus really is the Son of God who actually came from heaven to earth and was actually born to a young virgin, then was killed, then rose from the dead on an actual day in history, John insists that nothing can ever be the same again – and you and I have to face up to that.
So he carefully builds the prosecutor’s case. And he keeps saying to us, by the stories he tells, that you and I have to stand up and be counted with our decision. Are we on his side – or not? He follows some strange stories right through to the very end where a final decision is made.
John is a theological Gospel. By that, I mean that we don’t read him for fun. Read Mark for fun. We read John to have our minds stretched a bit. I’ve tried to keep my comments as simple, or at least as basic as I can. But sometimes, John just insists that if we want to follow Jesus, we have to do it with our heads as well as our hearts.
I hope I haven’t quite dissuaded you from reading John. But I think that these reflections, and John’s Gospel itself should come with a Government Warning:
Caution: These words are dangerous. Ingesting them could lead to alteration of heart alignment and irreversible changes in mental processes.
Consumers are advised to use this product with extreme caution.