Saturday, April 23, 2016

On Loving One Another: Reflections on Jesus in the Fourth Gospel

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35, New Revised Standard Version, here and following).
Here, during the last supper with his disciples before his crucifixion, Jesus tells them to love one another as he has loved them. Let us review the Gospel According to John for examples of how Jesus loved others. Let us also note how others chose not to love Jesus.
One day Jesus, his mother, and his disciples are guests at a wedding in a town named Cana. His mother notices the wine has run out and mentions that to him. In response, he turns a lot of water into some mighty fine wine (John 2:1-11). Jesus responds with graciousness to sudden want and potential embarrassment to save a meaningful celebration.
Jesus goes to the Temple in Jerusalem. There he finds business as usual. Some people are buying and selling the right animals to be used as sacrifices. Others are exchanging foreign coins for Temple ones so that visitors can buy these right animals. Suddenly Jesus chases the animals out of the Temple, dumps the moneychangers’ coins, turns over their tables, then loudly demands “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” (2:16). Jesus vigorously questions our marketplace mentality, our whole understanding of our relationship with his father in terms of credits and debits, right in the middle of a packed church building. Love!
A very important religious leader wants to talk with Jesus. He doesn’t want anyone to know about the conversation, however, so he goes to Jesus at night (3:2). Jesus nonetheless assures even this person that the Son of Man will die for him too so that he may have eternal life (3:14-15).
At a venerable well, a very unimportant woman in broad daylight asks Jesus what business he has talking to her since Jews don’t talk to Samaritans (4:9). He surprises her. First he tells her that he wants to give her a spring of water gushing up to eternal life (4:14). Then he tells her that where the Father is worshiped is not nearly so important as how: God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth (4:24). She is so impressed with Jesus that she forgets her water jar, hurries back to town, and tells everyone she’s found the Messiah!
A government official hears that Jesus is back in Cana. He goes to Jesus and begs him to heal his son. While Jesus has misgivings about being used as means to an end, he speaks the needed word and the boy is healed.
Returning to Jerusalem, Jesus sees a man who has been paralyzed for a long time. He heals him. Religious leaders see the healed man carrying his mat. They scold him for doing so on the Sabbath. These same leaders then decide to start persecuting Jesus (5:16) for healing people on the Sabbath. When he points out to them that he is simply doing what his father is doing on the Sabbath, they want all the more to kill him (5:18).
Jesus travels to the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd decides to follow him there because of the signs that he was doing for the sick (6:2). Jesus shares another, unexpected, sign: he feeds all 5,000 people starting with only five loaves and two fish. The crowd misunderstands the signs and wrongly seeks to make him king. He shows his love by walking away.
The next day the crowd finds him and demands more signs (6:30). It wants bread from heaven like Moses gave the Israelites in the wilderness. Out of love, Jesus shares a liberating yet difficult truth rather than indulging the crowd's self-serving and meaningless request. Jesus says that he himself is the bread of life (6:37) which “came down from heaven” (6:41). This displeases the crowd but Jesus presses on. He tells it that, to have eternal life, people will have to eat his flesh and drink his blood (6:52-56). Jesus speaks this truth with love but many of his disciples abandon him anyway (6:66).
Again in Jerusalem, Jesus is teaching in the Temple. Some theologians and other religious leaders bring to him a woman caught in the act of adultery. They say that plainly, according to the law, she should be stoned. They demand to know his opinion. Strangely, these very religious men don’t love the woman, the law, or Jesus. They seek rather to abuse all three. Jesus does not retaliate. Instead, just as the finger of Yahweh wrote the law on tablets of stone at Sinai (Exodus 31:18), so Jesus bends down and writes with his finger on the ground. Then he stands and invites the sinless to start the stoning. Eventually all the accusers leave. Jesus refuses to take their place but does warn the woman to sin no more.
Jesus is and shares with others the truth that leads to life. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (8:12). He tells his disciples, “If you live according to my word, you are truly my disciples; you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (8:31-32). Finally, Jesus says, “I came that [you] might have life, and have it abundantly” (10:10). Jesus, then, is and shares with us the truth that sets us free to love and leads us into fullness of life.
We may share his truth, love, and vitality with others but we don’t have to. Some disciples complain to Jesus that they are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves of anyone. Jesus tells them that, on the contrary, their desire to kill him reveals that they are children of the devil—the source of all lies and a murderer from the start (8:44). They claim he’s crazy.
Later on, seeing a man born blind, Jesus repeats that he is the light of the world (9:5), makes a little paste of dirt and spit, rubs it on the man’s eyes, then tells him to go wash. When he does, he can, for the first time in his life, see. Since, again, Jesus did this on a Sabbath, religious leaders again choose to respond with anger. They choose again to deny that Jesus is from God because he heals people on the Sabbath. They choose to excommunicate anyone who affirms that Jesus is the Messiah. They assure the formerly blind man that Jesus is a sinner. When he laughs, they excommunicate him. When these same leaders deny their blindness to Jesus, he tells them, in that case, their sin remains (9:41).
Jesus tells his disciples, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” (10:11). By saying this, Jesus highlights the difference between himself and other religious leaders—unloving leaders who come only to steal and kill and destroy (10:10). Jesus also begins to prepare his disciples for the death he is about to suffer in their place and on their behalf.
Although Jesus receives a message that his close friend Lazarus is ill, he delays going to him. When Jesus finally arrives at the home of Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary, he discovers that his friend has already been dead for four days. Still, he reassures Martha by telling her, “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25). He cries with Mary and her friends. Then he goes to the tomb, orders the stone sealing it to be moved away, and shouts, “Lazarus, come out!” (11:43). Lazarus comes out. The most important religious leaders decide that’s it. Jesus must die (11:53). Even though other leaders know in their hearts that Jesus is the Messiah, they remain silent out of fear of excommunication—for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God (12:43).
Just before sharing a last supper with his disciples, Jesus washes their feet. Jesus explains that as he, their leader, has served them, so they should serve one another. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (13:34). Let’s do that!

Copyright © 2016 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.