Sunday, May 9, 2010

John, the Soaring Evangelist

Throughout the Easter season, we have been hearing from the Gospel of John. As God would have it, I have been in a bible study on this very gospel that started in January and just ended last Tuesday, although we will continue with the three Catholic Letters of John. I have studied the Gospel of John in the past, but as with all of scripture, it never fails to teach me something new.

I think that this go round, I have been so impressed by this gospel not only as a great theological piece, as an impressive work of literature. In John's effort to communicate that Jesus is God, he takes us by the hand and we walk through his gospel with him. John is the beloved disciple, but we eventually come to know that we are also the beloved disciple.

In his writing style, John's is very repetitive, seeming to go round and round saying the same thing over and over again. The author's use of the word "and" is particularly semitic and John was a Jew. For some of us, this can almost be irritating. Just as an example, in his prayer for His disciples in John 17 - the word "and" occurs 23 times in 26 verses. In those same verses, you can find the words "world" 18 times, "given" 12 times, "I am" 9 times, "know/known" 9 times, "one" 7 times, "but" 7 times, "send/sent" 7 times, "glory" 3 times, "thy word" 3 times, "glorify" 3 times, "love/loved" 3 times and so on. But in John's repetition, there is also a message. Note the perfect numbers of 3, 7, and 9. 18 is 3x6 = the perfection of man. 12 is symbolic of Israel, the number of the 12 tribes represented by the 12 apostles "given" to Jesus by the Father and only one is lost so that scripture might be fulfilled.

Another repetition in John's style is in fact due to a literary device called a chiasm or chiasmus coming from half the Greek letter "chi" (our "X"), thus ">". The entire Gospel of John is built on this structure that uses a pattern of words or ideas to construct a main point and then repeats this pattern, but in reverse order. Such a pattern may be found in only one verse, but it is possible to cover several verses, entire chapters, or even an entire work. This literary form was used commonly by the poets and prophets of the Bible as a teaching method.

This video is a modern example of a chiasm.

A - I am part of a lost generation and I refuse to believe that I can change the world
     B - This may shock: “happiness comes from within” is a lie; “money will make me happy”
          C - So, in thirty years, I will tell my children they are not most important in my life
               D - My employer will know I have priorities straight: work is more than family
                    E - I tell you, once families stayed together; this won't be true in my era
                         F - This is a quick fix society
                              G - Experts say in 30 yrs I'll be celebrating the 10th anniv. of my divorce
                                   H - I do not concede that I will live in a country of my own making
                                        I - In the future, environmental destruction will be the norm
                                             J - No longer can it be said that my peers and I care about this earth
                                                  K - It will be evident: my generation is apathetic & lethargic
                                                       L - It is foolish to presume that there is hope
                                                            X - And all of this will come true unless we reverse it
                                                       L`- There is hope
                                                  K`- It is foolish to presume my generation is apathetic & lethargic.
                                             J`- It will be evident the my peers and I care about this earth
                                        I`- No longer can it be said: environmental destruction will be the norm
                                   H`- In the future, I will live in a country of my own making
                              G`- I don't concede: in 30 yrs I'll be celebrating the 10th anniv. of my divorce
                         F`- Experts tell me this is a quick fix society but this won't be true in my era
                    E`- Families stayed together once upon a time
               D`- I tell you this, family is more important than work
          C`- I have my priorities straight: my employer will know they're not most important

     B`- In 30 yrs, I'll say “money will make me happy” is a lie & “happiness comes from within”
A`- This may shock: I can change the world & I refuse to believe I'm part of a lost generation

The above statements build to the key point that all of what is said will come true unless we choose to reverse it. The point is that the future is made of our choices, unless we choose to do nothing and allow outside forces to dictate what our future will be.

An example of a biblical chiasm is the scriptural verse "The first shall be last and the last shall be first."

A - first
     B - last
          X - [the first and last shall be made equal]
     B` - last 
A` - first

A-B-B`-A` creates half the X pattern - ">".
While X is the implied main point, A and A` reinforce one another, as do B and B`.
 Chapter 6 of John's gospel contains this same structure on a larger scale. The climax of the chiasm spotlights an intended embedded theme in between the endpoints, helping us to understand what the Holy Spirit is saying via the chiasmic structure. The main point in John 6 is that Jesus flesh and blood, the new manna, is different from the old because He is the means of eternal life for all.

A - John 6:1-15 
      [the people want to make Jesus king after the miracle of the loaves]
     B - John 6:16-21 
           [the apostles are frightened until they recognize Jesus when
           He says, "I AM"; Jesus teaches that He is the new Exodus]
         C - John 6:22-27 
                [he who eats bread will be hungry again]
               D - John 6:28-29 
                     [the work of the Father is belief in Jesus whom He sent]
                    E - John 6:30-33 
                          [the people seek signs - like manna in the desert]
                    E`- John 6:34-40 
                          [Jesus Himself is the sign - the new manna]
               D`- John 6:41-51 
                     [the Father gives faith in Jesus as the living bread He sent]
          C`- John 6:52-59 
                [he who eats this "Bread" will live forever]
     B`- John 6:60-65 
           [the people do not recognize Jesus as the new manna, and
           are frightened away by His teaching, "I AM the Bread of Life"]
A`- John 6:66-71
      [Peter acclaims Jesus as the "Holy One of God"]

In another analysis of John 6, we see a simple triptych of sorts with the central panel being verses 16-21 when Jesus walks on the water. This event is sandwiched between the multiplication of loaves and Jesus' Bread of Life discourse. The meaning intended by the author can be discerned through this triptych structure: Just as the first Passover and crossing of the Red Sea represented new life for the Hebrews and freedom from Egyptian slavery in the Old Covenant, celebration and participation in the Eucharist - in Jesus' flesh and blood - is the means to eternal life in the New Covenant. As a chiasm it might be represented thus:

A - the people follow Jesus, believing Him to be a prophet
     B - Jesus miraculously feeds the 5000 in the "wilderness"
          C - the people are filled but will hunger again
               D - the people, having seen the sign, want to make Jesus king
                    X - Jesus, the New Moses walks on water
               D`-  the people want Jesus to perform more signs
          C` - the people ask for the bread that does not perish
     B` - Jesus tells the people that He Himself is the new manna
A`- the people who do not believe in Jesus, turn away

A new Exodus is represented by Jesus walking on the water. He is the New Moses who gives us Himself as living bread for eternal life, not like the Moses of old who was said by the people to have provided the manna in the wilderness. As Jesus says, "Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die." (John 6:49-50)  

The Old Exodus prefigures the New Exodus. The New Covenant in the body and blood of Christ is pre-eminently better than the Old Covenant on Sanai, for we no longer have only the Word written on Stone; we are given the Word made Flesh. And while the manna in the wilderness only sustained the physical life of the Hebrew people until they died, Jesus gives eternal life to all believers because He is the Living Bread who gives His life for the world. This took a leap of faith that many of the people could not accept and they walked away mumbling, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" Do we believe that participation in the Eucharist - in Jesus' Body and Blood - is the means to eternal life in the New Covenant? ABSOLUTELY!!!

The Gospel of John is also unique for the "I AM" sayings. In Chapters 6-15, Jesus says "I AM" seven  times, following it with a specific metaphor or symbol. Jesus is describing Himself as the Great "I AM" of Exodus 3.
Moses said to God, "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" ~ Exodus 3:13-14
  1. Chapter 6:   "I AM" the bread of life - bread that came down from heaven, living bread.
  2. Chapter 8:   "I AM" the light of the world.
  3. Chapter 10: "I AM" the door of the sheep.
  4. Chapter 10: "I AM" the good shepherd.
  5. Chapter 11: "I AM" the resurrection and the life.
  6. Chapter 14: "I AM" the way, the truth and the life.
  7. Chapter 15: "I AM" the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser; "I AM" the vine, you are the branches. 

Between Chapters 4 and 18, Jesus proclaims nine times that He is the Great I AM revealed to Moses.
  1. Chapter 4:26 - Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am (he)." [lit. "I am, the one speaking with you."]
  2. Chapter 6:20 - he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." [lit. "I Am"; do not be afraid.]
  3. Chapter 8:24 - "I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I AM (he)." [lit. "I AM"]
  4. Chapter 8:28 - So Jesus said, "When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am (he) [lit. "I AM"], and that I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me.
  5. Chapter 8:58 - Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM."
  6. Chapter 13:19 - I tell you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am (he). [lit. you may believe that "I AM"]
  7. Chapter 18:5 - They answered him, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus said to them, "I am (he)." [lit. Jesus said to them, "I AM."] Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.
  8. Chapter 18:6 - When he said to them, "I am (he)" [lit. "I AM"], they drew back and fell to the ground.
  9. Chapter 18:8 - Jesus answered, "I told you that I am (he) [lit. "I AM"]; so, if you seek me, let these men go."

Is it no wonder that the symbol for John is the eagle?

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