Monday, September 06, 2004

Commentary on Gospel of John and more questions

In preparation for a lectionary Bible study on John 10:22-30, I read The Cambridge Companion to the Bible:

The Gospel of John combines the cultural factors of the wisdom tradition and a religion that offers the possibility of a direct experience with God. With the growing sense of the vast difference between God and humans and the awesomeness of God, there was a yearning for some way to have contact with God. For some, it was through Wisdom, viewed as the first of God's creations (Proverbs 8) and the channel through which knowledge of God comes to humans (Sirach 1). Others hoped for the more direct experience of the prophets. This resulted in the search for a religious experience that would combine the traditions of wisdom with a direct and immediate experience of God. The Gospel of John combines these factors.

Focus of John on the narratives of miracles/signs of Jesus and extended discourses by Jesus ("I am" statements).

I think this next part also came from the Cambridge Companion....

Are you the Messiah?
Whenever Jews asked Jesus who he was, he always gave answers by which he hoped to broaden their narrow conception of Messiah's work and deepen their shallow conclusions.

Instead of receiving his words and moving forward, they mentally stood still. Now they raised the question again (8:25).

Perhaps they were moved by the festival in hoping he'd declare himself the Messiah they wanted and expected, one who would deliver them from Roman rule and oppression.

The answer to their question can be seen in his works and his words -- to the spiritually discerning. Sheep metaphor: you do not believe because you are not one of my sheep. My sheep hear my voice -- they understand and they believe; they have discernment.

What is eternal life? To me, it begins now with the acceptance of Christ as the Messiah and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Its abundant life on earth and eternal life after death. Of course, this view of mine comes directly from the Reformed view espoused by the Bible Study I've been taking. I know enough to see those who don't accept Christ as Messiah having abundant life and serving God and I would never condemn can I hold to a theology that would? But where do I go from here?


Anne Zelenka said...

I'm reading Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk. I liked this quote; maybe it's relevant:

"To know and to understand are two different things. When you climb a ladder, unless you abandon the lower step, you will not be able to climb to a higher one. Knowledge is like that. If you are not ready to let go of your knowledge, you cannot get a deeper knowledge of the same thing....

So you have to be ready to let go of your notion of God, your understanding of Jesus, your notion of Buddha, and your understanding of the Buddha.""

I don't know what it would mean to let go of your current understanding. There seem to be at least two possible ways forward:

1. Drop the idea that everyone's path is right. You could accept the idea that Jesus is the only way to abundant and eternal life.
2. Drop the idea that Jesus is the only way to eternal and abundant life.

Do you see an alternative way forward? Maybe I'm making this too strictly into a logic game... there can be wisdom in accepting inconsistency and contradiction.

Thich Nhat Hanh seems to like Paul Tillich, an existentialist Christian theologian. I don't know much about Tillich, but this quote from him also seems relevant: "Being religious means asking passionately the question of the meaning of our existence and being willing to receive answers, even if the answers hurt."

Larry said...

This is great, Sparky. You're going to surpass my
cousin Margaret (my age), who have been going to
Sewanee for years to hobnob with the Episcopal
literati and learned holy men.
(Borg is one of her favorites.)

Well, here goes: "a yearning for some way to have
contact with God." I believe it's utterly
universal- like intimacy in general: everyone
craves it-- and avoids it.

"What is eternal life?" You and I are fully agreed
at that point, except that, as a matter of language
I think of now and then as both eternal life.

"But where do I go from here?" I think we're back
to Christology. Re Buddha, I agree with Thich Nhat
Hanh: Christ and Buddha are brothers. I take his
seeming exclusivistic statements in John and elsewhere
as poetic, and I wonder if Jesus really said them.
I have seen many Buddhists, Jews, etc. who are
obviously better Christians than the generality of
people in church. I just tell everybody that you're

But you're very specially okay, Sparky. No kidding!