The reason we don’t understand John….

It seems a shame that we don’t pay more attention to John’s Gospel. After all, it was included in the Canon and is supposedly on an equal par with the Synoptics. How come we give him short shrift? Let me be the first admit: I don’t really know. I am sure others, particularly the Fathers and saints, may have pondered this question and been inspired to offer explanations. I just haven’t run across any.

We certainly have a treasure of additional material that is not present in the other Gospels that we rarely hear in Church. We reflect with him on his Chapt. 6 dialogue on the Eucharist in Year B. We relish the relation of the wedding at Cana for our nuptial ceremonies. We cling to our Resurrection hope through the raising of Lazarus at our Funerals. We use the washing of the feet as the Gospel of Holy Thursday. With much recrimination, we visit his passion narrative on Good Friday. And we love his post-Resurrection vignettes between Easter and Pentecost.

But we miss much of the flavor we pick up of the Synoptics through the constant cyclic exposure throughout an entire year. Why, then, are we frightened of this magnificent radically different take on Jesus’ life.

I suggest that perhaps we were scared off by the straight forward spiritual language starting with the daunting Prologue which reminds us too much of our college course in Metaphysics…and never get much farther than that.

Now maybe that small dose of Revelational reality would be ok if it were an isolated incident. But it’s not:

  • Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit….Do not be amazed that I told you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” [Jn 3:5-8] [1] or
  • Amen, amen, I say to you, a son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees his father doing; for what he does, his son will do also. For the Father loves his Son and shows him everything that he himself does, and he will show him greater works than these, so that you may be amazed. [Jn 5:19-20]

or, “worse yet,” the entire 3 chapters of the Final Discourse, including:

  • “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” [Jn 14:6-7]

No wonder, we are tempted to say with Philip: “Master, show us the Father,show us something tangible, something that we can relate to, something that we can feel and touch…and that will be enough for us.” [Jn 14:8]

I mean, really, who talks like that? In normal conversation? To the general public? Theologians who study this stuff had a difficult enough time understanding this stuff after years of concentration, and we’re suppose to understand it on the fly? I mean, come on…!!!

But I submit that, for Jesus, this was “normal” conversation, this was want He saw, how He lived, what He experienced. He lived the Kingdom of God, the Spirit is real, the Father is His Father and He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. These are real things to Jesus. They are as real to His perspective as bread and butter, brick and mortar, iPods and Facebook are to us. Granted, He doesn’t couch it in the parables that are recorded in the Synoptics, but they are about the same spiritual realities.

The rub comes because I don’t look at them as that real…I mean, they are “real” in the sense that they exist in Scripture, in Church teaching, in preaching. There are real whole sciences built up around each of them and men and women theologians spend their whole lives teasing out what they are about…but for us, they are not as real as bread and butter, brick and mortar, iPods and Facebook.

But they made an impact in His life…in fact, they were his life…when, On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood up and exclaimed, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink,” He means this literally, as literally as if they were taking a cup of water from Him, for He was sensibly aware of the spiritual life that swirled around Him, the wind that blows where it wills,…and it is in this plane, this mode of existence, this wider reality of being, that He constantly lived,…and He invites me to live.

The fact that I can’t perceive the living water, the bread from heaven, His flesh as real food and his blood as real drink, that the Father and He are one, that saying “Your sins are forgiven you” and “Arise, take up your mat and go home,” are a physical example of the reality of the spiritual strata of existence in which I live and move and have our being, is simply because, though I would deny it strenuously, I have eyes but do not see, ears but do not hear, a mind and will but do not think straight and act accordingly.

But John the Evangelist, by the grace of God and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, perceived, amid all the flotsam and jetsam of the world, that Jesus was just talking Truth, the straight Truth, and nothing but the Truth…because He was God.

I suggest that one of the reasons that the encounter with Nicodemus occurs so early in John’s Gospel is that I am to see myself as a teacher of Israel to whom Jesus says in amazement and frustration: “You do not understand this? Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony. If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?” [Jn 3:10-12]

I suggest that one of the reasons He next encounters the Samaritan Woman is that I, along with everybody else, seek the spring of water welling up to eternal life…and my take on this is: “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah? [Jn 4:14,29]

I am still very tentative, very cautious. It is John’s purpose, the Spirit’s intention, to draw me, bit by bit, in Jesus’ own inimitable words through all the Book of Signs and the Book of Glory, that what we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. [1Jn 1:3]

Jesus, help me cast aside my doubts, cast aside my fear of the unknown, of Your Truth which is most difficult to understand and realize that though This saying is hard; who can accept it?…You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God. [Jn 6: 60, 68-69]


[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.


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