This is the only Sunday in the church year when one could say that we focus on a teaching of the Church rather than a part of the life of Christ (and what he taught). This Sunday is Trinity Sunday, and the Gospel text this year is John 8:48-59. This will be our last look at the Gospel according to John for a long time, until Christmas Day. It would be good to look again at the bigger picture of this unique gospel account.
At the beginning of this Sunday’s text there is some serious name-calling going on; Jesus supposedly is a Samaritan and has a demon. But, by the end, the ‘Jews’ are picking up stones and are ready to kill him. Obviously the situation is getting worse.
First of all, it should be noted that this problem has been going on for a while. This talk of a group of people who are ‘Jews’ was first mentioned in 1:19, when that group sent some ‘priests and Levites’ from Jerusalem to find out more about John the Baptist. Obviously this group of Jews has some power, some authority. And we have seen other examples of authority being misused.
After Jesus does his first two miracles that are called ‘signs’, the next miracle described is a healing on the Sabbath. After that healing, the text says that ‘the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath (5:16).’ After Jesus responded by saying, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working’, there is this text: ‘This is why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God (5:18).’ When you compare that text to chapter 8, you can see that this problem has been going on for a while.
What is the overall structure of this gospel account, and how does this connect to the others? Certainly there are similarities of the gospel accounts to ancient biographies. But these gospel accounts, especially when viewed as a fourfold structure, are, in a sense, quite unique. This may be in much the same way as the one true God is unique.
Theologically, I like to make the connection of the Gospel according to Matthew to the Father, the Gospel according to Mark to the Son, and the Gospel according to Luke to the Holy Spirit. Although Jesus is frequently calling God his Father in the Gospel according to John, nowhere else is it so frequent as in the Gospel according to Matthew. And in the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus is very much on his own; sometimes even his disciples are against him! And in the very first verse he is called the Son of God. While the other accounts of course emphasize the Son, this is especially true in this account. And the same person who wrote the Gospel according to Luke also wrote the book of Acts, and we see the Spirit playing a significant role at the beginning of that work.
So, if those three similar accounts do connect to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in some way, then what about the Gospel according to John? That gospel account might be compared to a blessing at the end of a service. The pastor usually raises his hands and blesses the people with a few special words.
I like to think of the first two signs in this account as two hands, raised for people to see, for a blessing for those who are willing to receive a special gift. An uplifted hand shows some authority; and, with that picture, some type of gift may be given through some well-chosen words. At the end of both signs, there are those with authority who believed. At the first, the ones who believed were his disciples (2:11); and, at the second, an ‘official’ believed, along with his household (4:53).
Some others with authority also believe along the way. In the section of the text, from John 7-8, Jesus is talking to ‘the Jews’, and, just a few verses earlier, the text says that, ‘[a]s he was saying these things, many believed in him (8:30).’ But this group is essentially also the one that tries to stone him! Jesus ends up doing another miracle in chapter 9, and, after many more words, the result of all of that is described in this way: “There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. Many of them said, ‘He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?’ Others said, ‘These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind (10:19-21)?’”
After a couple signs come many words. And the words come, overflowing with blessings. And certainly those blessings can be refused; they are not forced upon people using powerful means. They are given to people as a gift, in a very loving way.
Blessings certainly have been refused by many in the past, by those who have forgotten that all their authority comes from the Author of heaven and earth. And, unfortunately, it looks like that trend is continuing in our present culture.