I’ve just completed a week-long retreat on the Gospel of St. John packed with insights about this “maverick” account of the life of Jesus. I thought I’d share some of what I gleaned from the conferences. As background, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were composed rather early. John’s Gospel took shape much later after the Church had time to reflect on Jesus (with the help of the Holy Spirit) and when Christians were not regarded as a Jewish sect that still worshiped in the Temple but as a new and highly suspect religion in the eyes of Jewish leaders. That being said, here are ten insights.
- The poetic prologue (which we used to pray after Mass when I was a little girl) immediately identifies Jesus as God. The opening verses, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . All things came to be through him” echo Genesis, whose first words are “In the beginning” and which goes on to tell how merely by words (“Let there be …”) God created the universe.
- The prologue introduces the themes that are woven through this Gospel: Jesus brings life. He is light in our darkness. Some reject him, while others accept him and enter into the intimacy that he has with the father: They become “children.”
- God became man. There was no advantage for him in doing this. He did it to reveal himself to us. Jesus proclaimed, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30) and “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
- At the time this Gospel was written, there was still tension between the disciples of John the Baptist and those of Jesus. The evangelist makes an effort to show Jesus, not John, is the Messiah.
- Jesus brings abundance: about 180 gallons of wine at the wedding of Cana, bread and fish sufficient for more than 5,000 people–and with twelve baskets of leftovers, the promise to the Samaritan woman of living water that quenches thirst forever.
- That people come to the light gradually is shown by the increasingly important titles they give Jesus. The Samaritan woman calls him sir, a prophet, then Messiah. The man born blind calls him the man, a prophet, sir, and then Lord.
- Multiple times Jesus refers to himself as “I am” (in Greek, ego eimi). This is the personal name God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. When Jesus walks on water, he identifies himself: It is I, or I am. He also says, “I am the bread of life. I am the light of the world. I am the resurrection and the life. I am the good shepherd. I am the gate for the sheep. I am the true vine.” He says, “If you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.” He predicts, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM.” He exclaims, “Before Abraham came to be, I AM.” Before his betrayal, he explains, “I’m telling you before it happens, so that when it happens, you may believe that I AM.” When soldiers in the garden say they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, he replies, “I AM.”
- The first part of the Gospel of John comprises seven signs. These all demonstrate that Jesus brings us eternal life and in abundance.
- John’s Gospel does not include the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Instead Jesus speaks about it at length immediately after the multiplication of the loaves and fish. The Gospel is unique in presenting Jesus washing the feet of the apostles.
- In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, during the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, his human nature predominates. He is meek like a lamb, silent, passive, forsaken by all. But in John’s Gospel, Jesus is in command. He is assertive and in charge from the moment in the garden when the soldiers fall to the ground at his voice. It’s Pilate who is on trial. The death of Jesus is a victory.
This is just a taste of the meanings underlying John’s Gospel. You might open your Bible to this Gospel, read it slowly and thoughtfully, and refer to the footnotes. John sates that he wrote so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name. That is, eternal life, which we already experience.
What event in the Gospel of John speaks most poignantly to you?
BOOK REVIEW: Mother Mary: Inspiring Words from Pope Francis, edited by Alicia Von Stamwitz, Franciscan Media, $22.99
Anyone who loves Mary and anyone who loves Pope Francis will love this book. It is a collection of this Pope’s reflections about the Blessed Virgin gleaned from his writings, homilies, speeches, and even tweets. His love and admiration for Mary is obvious. The reflections are neatly filed according to six topics: Handmaid of the Lord, Model of Faith, Mother of Mercy, Our Refuge and Our Hope, Star of the New Evangelization, and Queen of Peace. They may, however, be read by dipping into the book at random. Each reflection is labeled with the date and the occasion the Pope gave it.
The selections focus on Mary’s yes to God and yes to her brothers and sisters, Mary as a model for us, and Mary’s tender love and protection of us. Many of the concepts are easily applicable to everyday life, and some of them are quite relevant to today’s world, in particular, the reflections on peace.
In the Holy Father’s inimitable way, he poses unique titles for Mary. In discussing the Annunciation, he refers to her as “this little girl” and “mother and daughter of Jesus.” Later, he calls her our mamma. Other times he names her an icon of faith, the mirror of the Trinity, the virgin of readiness, and the mother of help.
The little book ends with a bonus: nine original prayers to Mary composed by Pope Francis. To me the most powerful prayer is the first one, “Mother of Silence.” In it we pray, “Save us from the idolatry of the present time, to which those who forget are condemned. . . . Help us to burn away the sadness, impatience, and rigidity of those who do not know what it means to belong. “
Reading this book deepens one’s understanding and appreciation of our Blessed Mother and her God-appointed role in salvation. It also encourages and inspires the reader to imitate her. More important, it fosters a love of this extraordinary woman who is God’s mother and ours.