I was blogging a bit over with Benjamin the Scribe, but didn’t get all of this first lesson quite done. So, I thought I’d just finish it up here, by reading the selection from the Johannine tradition. It consists of two of the three sections of the Fourth Gospel’s prologue:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
This passage, thought by some to be an early Christian hymn broken up by parenthetical insertions such as vv. 6-8, is delivered by the Johannine narrator. The narrator is a reliable figure so readers are invited to understand the rest of the Gospel through this passage. The import of this is that when Jesus makes claims of an exalted status which are rejected by “the Jews” as blasphemous, readers know that Jesus is speaking only the truth, that is, he is a reliable revelation of God.
The sections assigned for this first week’s lesson describe the relationship between the Word and God, and between the Word and the world. As usual, I read for insight into the usual six questions:
What is the human condition? The human condition is roughly portrayed by “the world.” On the one hand, the world is a special place since it was created by God through the Word and remains the object of his love. On the other hand, the world is in darkness, that is, it is very much in need of a new and better revelation of God to give human life purpose and direction.
What is God going to do about this? God sends two characters as witnesses to provide light to this world that he loves. First, John the Baptist is “sent from God” as a witness to testify of the Word who has come in the flesh. Thus, in the Johannine tradition John is one of the five witnesses listed out by Christ (John 5:32-35), and far more important in this role than as the person who baptized Jesus (as he is in the Synoptics). The Word, who is everything God is, is the perfect revelation of God, having been with him from the beginning. His revelation of God is not a series of propositions about God, but is the perfect portrayal of God’s love.
Who is Christ that he can accomplish God’s intent? Christ is the Word who took on human flesh and lived among humans. The key point is that he is the sole entity capable of doing what needs to be done because he has seen and known God like no other. A bit farther on, outside of the selections for this week’s lesson, John will say that Jesus is the only person to have seen God. This does not mean that John has forgotten about the great theophanies of the Hebrew Bible, but that Jesus is the only one who is “in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18 KJV), a position of intimacy claimed by none of the prophets.
What is the nature of the community that responds to this? The community formed in this tradition is illustrated by John the Baptist. He is the first witness, sent by God, to the Word made flesh. The community, then, is composed of those who first respond to someone’s witness by believing that Jesus is who he claims to be, and who then bear witness of this point themselves, thereby drawing others to Jesus, who reveals himself more fully. This idea of a community formed by and around a chain of witnesses is actually illustrated in John 1:19-51. After Jesus is resurrected, he will send his disciples out into the world just as his Father sent him: “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Joh 20:21 NRS). Thus, the Johannine church is the extension of Jesus’ mission to reveal the love of God, which makes people who respond “the children of God” (1:12).
What behaviors are incumbent on this community, and why? Because this community is defined by a relationship, the primary ethical obligation will be what sustains a relationship: love. Thus, to get ahead of things, “this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12 NRSV).
What does this community anticipate in the future? This community sees a future that is dominated by conflict between light and dark: “ The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” In the end they are confident that the light will prevail; this favorable resolution is foreshadowed by their witness of the glory of the Father’s unique Son, which they have seen. In the meantime, they enjoy a relationship with God as “the children of God” (1:12). This is not the relationship that Jesus has with God, because he is the Son of God, but it is not something enjoyed by the rest of the world, nor does it come by human desire or initiative (not of blood…not of the will…).