This is probably my most favorite time of the three-year series. Essentially all four accounts are taken into account when you look at some of the interactions that Jesus has in the Gospel according to John. I've mentioned before the wide variety that we have, from a ruler of the Jews in chapter 3 (Nicodemus), to a Samaritan woman who was married five times in chapter 4. What's interesting is that both of them eventually stand up for what they believe. Later in the book, Nicodemus speaks up for Jesus to the other Pharisees, and later in chapter 4, the woman speaks up for Jesus to the others in the town, and the text says that 'many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony (v. 39)'.
The next set of interactions could be considered chapter 5 with the man who couldn't walk for many years and chapter 9 with the man born blind; that set of people also has some extremes. Is there a connection between sin and problems on earth? In chapter 5 (verse 14), Jesus says, "See you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you." In chapter 9, Jesus insists that neither this man sinned, nor his parents, to have something like this happen, "but that the works of God might be displayed in him (verse 3)."
These two men also end up standing up for Jesus. In both of these healings, Jesus heals on the Sabbath, and people weren't supposed to work on that day. Jesus gets into some serious trouble both times, but he's okay with that. He's also okay with the two men standing up for him. He even takes the trouble to find them later. The man in chapter 9 ends up worshiping him, and that's the only time that happens in this account.
The first three accounts, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and quite similar, and there are a few ways that they could be considered a set. With that perspective, it's interesting to get these detailed conversations with these wide ranges of people in the fourth account.
I also find it interesting that the use of the word 'answer' or 'reply' is different in this fourth account. In the previous accounts it could be considered a secondary verb. Often times the person, 'answering, said...' In this structure, the main verb is 'to say'. But in the fourth account, to answer or respond is predominantly the main verb.
How does one 'answer', 'reply', or 'respond' to Jesus? That's a great question. And that's one we continually will have to answer.
As a side point, I don't think that the fourth account uses 'the Jews' as a negative thing. Some Jews turn around and believe in him. Some Jews, sadly, don't. It's pretty much the same thing in Acts.
Whether it's one or one thousand who end up following, it's still an interesting story. And we still can ask questions and receive some answers. And the wonderful story will certainly continue.
As I mentioned last week, the contrast between the woman at the well (John 4) and Nicodemus, ruler of the Jews (John 3), is incredible. Jesus even starts the conversation! And the text clearly says that Jews do not associate with Samaritans (4:9). That word 'associate' is unique in the New Testament, and a closely related word, found nowhere in the New Testament, means to be defiled, in other words, dirty.
I can't imagine walking several miles out of my way just to avoid associating with a certain group of people, but lots of people obviously did that. And Jesus literally walks into the center of a difficult relationship.
It's helpful to remember that the Samaritans only had the first five books of the Old Testament as their bible. A mountain that is very close to the well that the woman and Jesus are at, Mount Gerizim, is quite special. It was tradition that both Abraham and Jacob had built altars in the area and that the people of Israel had been blessed from this mountain. Also, in the Samaritan scriptures, Mount Gerizim (rather than Mount Ebal) was the mountain upon which Moses had commanded an altar to be built.
One fact that shows how much tension between the two groups is that the Samaritans built a temple on Mount Gerizim in about 400 B.C., and the Jews destroyed it in about 128 B.C. That's a sad story, but that destruction may have been helpful centuries later.
If you would consider one good thing to come from this (and speaking of the word 'dirty'), there is a book by Anne Katrine de Hemmer Gudme (and if you thought that was a long name, you'll think that the name of the book is incredibly long), Before the God in This Place for Good Remembrance: A Comparative Analysis of the Aramaic Votive Inscriptions from Mount Gerizim. It's a book that I would only recommend reading if you are seriously interested in the bible or archaeology (that's where the dirt comes in). The book talks about things that people leave in a temple, things like a 'concrete prayer', if you will, things that ask God to remember a particular person.
Asking God to remember things may seem funny, but it's not a bad way of approaching the situation. God is in control, and we obviously are not. If he remembers something about us, that may be a good thing--because of what a certain man did.
The conversation between the woman and Jesus eventually focuses on Jesus, and he is that 'concrete prayer', if you will, the go-between for God and us. Jesus identifies himself to the woman (and to us) as the Messiah, the Christ. You may never read the above book, but I think you can tell where that book is headed ... supporting some very good news.
A text from the Gospel according to John is not very surprising during the season of Lent. Already in the first chapter, John the Baptist says of Jesus, 'Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world (1:29).' You might say that the story begins by going quickly to the end.
The symbol most strongly connected to the Gospel according to John is the eagle, and as that symbol is significantly different from the others (a man, a lion, and an ox--all three of them are usually found on the ground), that account is significantly different from the others. With an eagle eye, the account begins by looking back to the very beginning ('In the beginning was the Word....'), and, as the account nears the end, it looks to the one reading or listening (20:31): 'These things have been written that you may believe....'
With such a symbol, you might think that some extended conversations of Jesus are not important, but there are many within this account. The eagle eye not only sees far distances, but it sees great details as well. And the details of this text are significantly important.
Within the text for this Sunday is the famous 'Gospel in a Nutshell' (John 3:16). Although that certainly is an important verse, even more noteworthy is the contrast that this chapter has with the one immediately following. Some of the extremes within this gospel account are extremely noteworthy.
Within this chapter, Jesus talks with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews, and he does so at night. Within the next chapter, Jesus will talk with a Samaritan women, one who's had five husbands, and he talks to her at noon.
Such extremes are a good reminder that Jesus is for all. No one is left out of Jesus' view. No one is left out of Jesus' influence. He significantly influences Nicodemus, and we hear about him again in the end (John 19:39). No one's the same after an encounter with Jesus. And that's a good thing.
The text for the first Sunday in Lent is an easy one to remember--the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. The three year series easily rotates around the texts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But the Matthew text, the one for this year, is perhaps the most easily remembered.
That's not too unusual because Matthew is first in the order, and Matthew was also the most popular account in the history of the early church. There's an aspect of that temptation that I would like to have as a focus.
It seems that the middle temptation, that of the one on top of the temple, seems to have been the most difficult. Certainly all of them were difficult, although the point often made within the Lutheran Church is that Jesus, as the holy Son of God, could not sin at all. And so, the point of the devil was not so much as getting Jesus to sin as to getting him to be the Savior in a different way than that of a cross.
The way of a popular Savior would have been to jump down from the temple, have the angels help him safely to the ground, and then he starts his ministry with countless numbers of dedicated followers. That would be the way of power, not the way of the Savior who was sent as the son of Mary with a humble birth, with some magi(cians) coming to worship him.
One should also not forget the important connection of Jesus to the temple. It's the middle one in Matthew because, in Hebrew literature, the middle thing is usually the most important. It's the turning point.
This temptation is also important enough to have Luke switch the order. The theme in Luke is Jesus as the ox, leading the way, going on ahead of his people, heading in a straight line, as it were, toward Jerusalem. And, in Luke's account, the temptations are ordered so that this temptation is the last one.
It's also important to remember that the actual order that the temptations were in really shouldn't matter. The gospel account wasn't written to be a history lesson. It was meant to be a gospel account, something that brings GOOD news. This isn't bad news if you don't remember the order. It's bad news if you forget that you need a Savior. That's what this text gives, in Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins....