Monday, May 11, 2009

St John the Evangelist

Occasionally some sermons of mine seem to go well. Here is one delivered last week in the College of St John the Evangelist on the feast day of the same:

The Feast of St John the Evangelist
1 John 1; John 21:19b-25

Three questions: Who was John? What is his gospel? What does this mean to us celebrating this Feast?

Who was John?
Is he John the Son of Zebedee?
He could be, for this gospel makes this leading character of the other canonical gospels into an almost anonymous figure, consistent with being the author who diminishes himself in order that Jesus might be glorified.
Is he another John, a Jerusalem based disciple who may be among those shadowy cast of figures in Jerusalem according to the other gospels who supply dining rooms and donkeys for Jesus?
We do not know. Either gives reason to think he was ‘the Beloved Disciple.’
But whoever this author was, he is rightly described in tradition as ‘the Evangelist’.
He writes in order that his readers may believe in Jesus Christ.
But if John’s purpose is clear, his content is puzzling.
Side by side with the Synoptic gospels, his gospel challenges us with its omission of the parables, inclusion of discourses and ‘I am’ sayings not found elsewhere. Then there is the question of its chronology:
how can the cleansing of the Temple be both at the beginning and the end of Jesus’ ministry?
How can John’s Gospel be true when read alongside the Synoptic Gospels?
I suggest that the key lies in understanding the relationship of the Beloved Disciple to Jesus:
in 13:23, 25 and 21:20 this disciple is the one who reclines close to Jesus at the last supper.
13:23 employs the word kolpos (bosom, heart, side) in its description of this intimacy, the same word used in 1:18:
‘No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.’
The Beloved Disciple
who we also know as John the Evangelist makes Jesus known to us with the insight that intimacy affords, just as Jesus the Son has made God the Father known to us.
Thus John is confident, like all evangelists, that his message is both true and important,
for it comes from the heart of God via the heart of Christ.

What was his gospel?
Miracle at Cana is our clue, backed by all the Johannine signs:
water to wine, illness to health, paralysis to movement, a few loaves become a feast, blindness to sight, death to resurrection …
John’s gospel is the transformation of life through union with Christ:
‘the signs are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’ (20:30-31)
This happens through union with Christ which begins with belief in Christ:
‘I am the vine, you are the branches, … apart from me you can do nothing’, 15:5.
So one important summary of John’s Gospel of transformation through union with Christ is John 10:10:
‘I have come that you may have life in abundance’.
Either the Evangelist or an associate writes the First letter of John:
his words provide an alternative summary of the Johannine gospel message:
‘our theme is the Word which gives life’ (1:1 REB).

Celebrating this Feast, in this College, what does this mean?
I note that a recent draft of the College’s strategic plan speaks about ‘preparing students to be sent out from the College confidently equipped to be transformative, healing and reconciling agents in the name of Christ’.
In terms of John’s Gospel we could say that this means that the College of St John the Evangelist is preparing students to be sent out as evangelists,
as agents of transformation of life through union with Christ.
That could also mean that St John the Evangelist leaves us with some questions today:
(1) Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?
(2) Has your life been transformed by his life?
There is no ministry unless we are the branches joined to Jesus Christ the vine: ‘apart from me, you can do nothing’.
We cannot be agents of a transformation we have not experienced ourselves.

May you and I each encounter Jesus and be transformed by him so that we too may serve the gospel mission as evangelists in the mould of St. John.

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