Category Archives: John

His testimony is true

April 30, 2014

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news today from the end of John’s gospel — 21:24-25.

It is this disciple who testifies to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.

Endings are seldom easy, seldom without sadness or grief over the loss of someone or something. The early Christians had lost Jesus and then they suffered the loss of the apostles and other disciples as the years wore on. The anticipation of the return of Jesus and the disagreements that inevitably plague human communities were taking their toll. As Moloney writes in The Gospel of John, “Troubled by the unanswered questions concerning the nature and mission of the community and questions of leadership and authority, someone had to tell the readers that although the story of Jesus had come to an end another story had begun.”

I often fail to realize that another story will begin with the ending of the one I have been living in. Too often the pain, the wistfulness for what has been lost, obscures the new path that lies ahead. That’s what many of the early Christians faced. It doesn’t matter the age, we’re very much alike — the early Christians and me. Sometimes I want to stay in and other times I’m trapped in the in-between time, the time between what was and what will come to be. However, Jesus was all about sending his disciples and me out to be God’s love in the world, to live as he did in faithful obedience to his Father’s will. The end of chapter 21 emphasizes the end of chapter 20. “These things are written that you may go on believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”

I am brought back to the good news of Jesus. That is what propels me into the beginning of a new story, the first footfalls on a new path, embracing the life that Jesus has given me and living it abundantly. Jesus crucified signifies grievous loss while the risen Lord offers me happiness and hope. This is so because I believe that John’s testimony is true.


What about him?

April 29, 2014

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news today from John 21:20-23.

Peter turned and saw the disciple following whom Jesus loved, the one who had also reclined upon his chest during the supper and had said, “Master, who is the one who will betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus said to him, “What if I want him to remain until I come? What concern is it of yours? You follow me.” So the word spread among the brothers that that disciple would not die. But Jesus had not told him that he would not die, just “What if I want him to remain until I come? [What concern is it of yours?]”

Chapter 21 is titled ‘Epilogue.’ It is widely agreed by scholars that this chapter was added by someone other than John. On the other hand it appears in all the early manuscripts and it has content that doesn’t appear elsewhere. So, Moloney concludes in The Gospel of John, “[I]t must be regarded as an ‘epilogue,’ something that belongs to the Gospel as we now have it, and not just an ‘addendum’ or ‘postscript’ added as an afterthought.

What about him? This is a question the early Christians must have had. Jesus essentially tells Peter not to worry about it; Peter has his own commission to worry about. As Barclay writes, “As Jesus said to Peter: ‘Never mind the task that is given to someone else. Your job is to follow me.’ That is what he still says to each one of us. Our glory is never in comparison with other men; our glory is the service of Christ in whatever capacity he has allotted to us.” Jesus has a call for each of us that is of no concern to anyone else. I would do well to keep that in mind.

Peter and John were the two most important disciples and closest to Jesus. Yet Peter had been chosen by Jesus to shepherd his flock. So, what was John’s role to be? Moloney explains these verses in this way, “Living in the in-between time, after the deaths of Jesus, Peter, and the Beloved Disciple, the community has a link between the events of the past and the experience of the present, and the Beloved Disciple’s witness provides it. He was a disciple of Jesus who both witnessed ‘these things’ and then became the author of a record that transmitted ‘these things.’ The witnessing is still present because of the record. On the basis of this recorded witness, alive despite the death of the Beloved Disciple, the community can be confident in the knowledge that their Jesus story and the life-style they are living as a consequence of that story are true. Peter is the appointed shepherd of the flock and the Beloved Disciple is the bearer of the authentic Jesus tradition.”

So, what about me? What is my role? We each have our own faith journey that is personal to us, internal. However, Jesus made it clear that we each have a commission as well. We are each sent. It reminds me of my charisms. Writing was one, so I think I’m being called to continue writing these reflections. I still write principally for myself but others apparently find value in them for their own faith journey. So, we can continue to journey together.


You may have life

April 28, 2014

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news today from John 20:30-31.

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of [his] disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

I first asked myself whether I believe because of the signs Jesus performed. I don’t think so. Then I read the notes in the New American Bible, which makes more sense for me personally. “[A] small number of quite early ones (manuscripts) read ‘continue to believe,’ suggesting that the audience consists of Christians show faith is to be deepened by the book.”

I don’t look for signs so much as try to be aware of God’s abiding presence in me and all around me, to be cognizant of the miracle of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness that comes to me in so many forms. It’s not that I look for them; it’s more that I try to be open or porous so that the demonstration of HIs love and forgiveness can permeate my self-centeredness and my habitual way of looking at the world. I try to be alert to the unexpected. It’s difficult to be mindful in this way, but when I’m able to do it I am transported beyond my myopic fixation on myself.

I think that’s what John is trying to tell me in wanting me to have life in Jesus’ name, not his name but in the way he lived his life, living in a way that honors his name. Moloney in The Gospel of John puts it this way, “The author (John) has shared his belief in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, by means of the story from which the reader now rises. The journey of Jesus and the journey of the reader have been completed, but the story-telling is successful only if the one rising from the story has become part of it, led more deeply into belief in Jesus and all he has made known about God, and comes to life as a result of the reading experience.” For me John has met with success.

John Shelby Spong amplifies this notion in The Fourth Gospel, “To have life — not to become religious, not to achieve moral purity, not to win the contest to gain doctrinal orthodoxy, but to have life — that is the function of the Christ. It is to bring us to the experience of living in which we pass into new dimensions of life and cross the boundaries of fear that separate us from one another and from ourselves. That we ‘might have life and have it abundantly’ — that is what Jesus is about; that is what Jesus brings. To be Christian is not to believe that message, but to live that message.”

Reading and reflecting on the gospels, not just John, for more than 2 1/2 years has enabled me to cross the boundaries of fear in many ways, fears that separated me from myself and from others. My journey is certainly not completed, but I have traveled far down the road of living the gospel message — moving more deeply into the embrace of God’s love and living life more abundantly as a consequence. It is a liberating, joyful experience.


P.S. There are a couple of passages yet to write about in chapter 21, an appendage to John’s gospel. Then I will have completed all the gospels. I have been trying to discern for several months what to do next. I have considered many possibilities — Acts, the epistles, the Hebrew scriptures. However, there is something that seems to be drawing me back to the gospels. I’m thinning about starting over again with Mark this time instead of following the daily readings as I did the first year. I value any suggestions or perspectives you may have.

Receive the holy Spirit

April 25, 2014

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news today from John 20:19-23.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. [Jesus] said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Gosh, there’s so much to consider in these few verses. First, I’m struck by the fact that the disciples had locked the doors because they were fearful. Fear is such an oppositional force throughout both the Hebrew and Greek Bibles but especially in the gospels. It is opposed to the love and peace of God. Jesus told his listeners over and over not to be afraid but to rest in the loving faithfulness of God, his Father. Fear is one of the principal tools that Satan uses to separate me from God, to weaken my trust in Him, to doubt His desire to provide for all of my needs. What does Jesus do to help them and me overcome this fear? He breathes on them just as God breathed life into Adam.

Such an intimate act — breathing into someone. There is nothing more intimate than God breathing His spirit of life into me. His spirit dwells within me and revivifies me with each inhalation if I let it. His spirit is my life’s breath. That’s why meditation, relaxation, and yoga all require deep breathing practices and awareness of one’s breathing. It makes me aware of God’s indwelling spirit, breathing in His holy Spirit and exhaling fear, tension, anxiety, and anger – the forces opposed to His love and peace. And it’s so simple just as all things are with God.

Why did Jesus show his disciples his hands and side? I think it goes to what I was writing yesterday — continuity. Jesus wasn’t restored to life as we know it; his wounds weren’t healed. His resurrection carried forward the fact of his suffering and death. He was reminding his disciples that neither could they avoid suffering and death particularly if they were true to the mission he was sending them out to accomplish. However, he gave them the gift of his peace through the breath of the holy Spirit, the peace that could withstand their fear. They could carry with them the joy they felt in seeing him again just by being aware of God’s indwelling holy Spirit, the breath of life. It wasn’t just the experience of joy and peace that Jesus gave them; they were given a mission, a responsibility. As Moloney writes in The Gospel of John, “As risen Lord he further gifts his disciples with the Spirit that they may be to the world what he has been.” And what was he? In the very beginning of his gospel John states that “What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race.”

Lastly, Jesus confers upon them the power of sins forgiven and retained. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary casts a new light on this for me, “This ‘power’ of forgiveness is probably expressed in the bestowing of the Spirit on those who believe as a result of the disciples’ ‘mission’ and who join the community rather than in a process of dealing with Christians who have committed sin.” Or as Moloney describes it, “the power to isolate, repel and negate evil and sin.” This makes sense to me. It wasn’t that the disciples and those who followed were given the power to condemn or punish believers for their sins; it was that through the holy Spirit they were given the power to repel and negate evil, the forces in opposition to God’s love, which we perpetuate through our sins. They were given the power of the holy Spirit so that they could breathe life into all those they encountered, the life of Jesus as the light of the human race. Each one of us has the power to forgive, to breathe life into someone who has sinned against us, and the power to repel evil through the gift of God’s peace and love. That’s my mission and responsibility.


He had to rise

April 24, 2014

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news today from John 20:9-10.

For they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned home.

All of life is a continuity. All through the gospels Jesus took care to connect for his listeners the word of God in the Hebrew Bible with his mission as fulfillment of his Father’s word. God was one and the same in all time. He was always the God who had chosen his people and loved them as His children. He was always the God of love and His Son Jesus was the embodiment of that love.

I have a hard time seeing life as a continuity. I tend to demarcate time between before and after, between old and new, between then and now. John had seen the empty tomb and believed; Peter had seen it and was perplexed. It seems to me that John represents the heart of man and Peter the mind. However, neither seemed to understand that scripture — the word and promise of God — stipulated that Jesus must rise from the dead. It was all one continuous stream of God’s love for us — before His Son’s incarnation, during his life, and in his death and resurrection. It’s difficult for my dualistic mind to understand that. When I can’t understand something I revert to my habitual way of thinking; I return home to the way I’ve always thought about it.

It’s always been hard for me to grasp God’s love in Jesus’ death. Death is separation, loss, nothingness. What Peter and John had to learn was that God’s love has no beginning or end; it always has been and ever will be. It does not begin with conception or birth nor end with death. Death simply denotes the time I will be reunited fully and forever with God’s spirit. Scripture tells me that God is in me and that I am in God. I always have been and always will be, which is why I will rise from the dead into God’s spirit. So, death is not to be feared but rather to be embraced. That’s what I have come to understand about Jesus’ death and resurrection.


I will tell you clearly

April 23, 2014

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news today from John 16:25-28.

“I have told you this in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures but I will tell you clearly about the Father. On that day you will ask in my name, and I do not tell you that I will ask the Father for you. For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have come to believe that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world. Now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”

In much of the gospels Jesus speaks in parables and sayings that are difficult to understand at first reading for me. Barclay notes that “figures” means, “[A] saying that is hard to understand, a saying whose meaning is veiled to the casual listener, a saying which demands thought before its meaning can become clear.” This is the technique of a good teacher, making the student think for him- or herself. That’s what has happened for me in reading the gospels and trying to make sense of them for me, in how I am to live my life, and what the nature of my relationship is with Jesus and with God.

So, it was with the disciples in listening to Jesus day in and day out for more than two years. They were good students and had come to the belief that Jesus had come from God. Now Jesus could speak to them directly. He had come into the world from God and now he was leaving the world and returning to God. That’s unmistakably clear.

The God of the Hebrew Bible is often portrayed as an angry God, vengeful, stern, punishing. That has been my view and at odds with my understanding of God in the gospels. Jesus has corrected my perception. He tells me that God loves me because I love Jesus and believe he is the Son of God. I like the way that Moloney in The Gospel of John puts it, “Jesus tells his disciples that because they have loved him and believed he came from God they will be swept into the love of the Father.” Swept into the love of the Father. What a lovely image! And because of understanding that they were being swept into the love of God they no longer would have need of Jesus as an intercessor for them. Moloney describes this as oneness with God.

I still find it hard to fully accept that I am one with God just by loving Jesus and believing that he is the Son of God. That seems too easy! I should have to try harder to refrain from sin. I must love others in the same way I love God and myself. I so often fail in both those. I am not perfect, yet I have strived all my life to be perfect. I have so missed the point! God loves me just as I am with all my flaws and failings. He has always wanted me to be swept into His love and I have resisted all these years because I wasn’t good enough. All I had to do was accept and love myself as I am, love myself as God loves me. Who knew it was that simple! He knows that when I am able to do that that my love of Him and myself will naturally and abundantly flow out in love for others. That’s how He uses me as His instrument to bring about His kingdom on earth. All these years I have heard Jesus’ word in figures of speech when all the time he was really speaking to my clearly and directly. I had to become a good student first, though. I had to figure it out for myself. Not that I have it all figured out, but I now see more clearly that ever before. As Barclay writes, “The lover of Christ is the beloved of God.”


I have chosen you out of the world

April 22, 2014

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news today from John 15:18-25.

“If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. And they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin; but as it is they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me also hates my Father. If I had not done works among them that no one else ever did, they would not have sin; but as it is, they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But in order that the word written in their law might be fulfilled, ‘They hated me without cause.’”

John was writing at a time of persecution of the early Christians. He was always of the mind that there was a stark division between followers of Jesus and opponents, not just non-followers. For John there was no in-between place.

Barclay writes, “There is bound to be a cleavage between the man who regards God as the only reality in life and the man who regards God as totally irrelevant for life.” On the one hand our culture pressures me to conform to its values and customs. It doesn’t tolerate easily those who are different. And as Barclay says, “The world acutely dislikes people whose lives are a condemnation of it….[T]he world always suspects nonconformity. It likes a pattern; it like to be able to label a person and to put him in a pigeon-hole….The basic demand on the Christian is the demand that he should have the courage to be different. To be different will be dangerous, but no man can be a Christian unless he accepts that risk, for there must be a difference between the man of the world and the man of Christ.”

I grew up in the middle of the country in the middle of the century in the middle class. Conformity was the rule of the day; that’s how one got ahead in life. So, I learned not to be different. I learned not to be like Jesus. Instead I learned to be intolerant, to be judgmental, to be exclusive, to be unforgiving, to be hateful. I learned to be like everyone else and not like Jesus.

I always admired those who were independent thinkers and actors. I envied their courage to be themselves, to live life on their own terms un-dictated by society. However, I remained in the prison of conformity; I belonged to the world as John puts it. Reading and reflecting on the gospels so intently these past two-and-a-half years has enabled me to begin to break loose of the world’s hold on me. And now I have no excuse for my sin, of behavior that Jesus abhors. I have come to love God through His Son Jesus. That has given me the capacity to begin to love myself and to try to love others as God does. It’s hard and it’s not my accustomed reflex, but at least it’s a beginning so that I can more often be a follower of Jesus than a man of the world. I know now that I am chosen out of the world.