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Monthly Scripture Study & Reflection

The Gospel of John

Recommended readings: Path Through Scripture by Fr. Mark Link (Paperback 1995--$14.50), Understanding the Bible: A Basic Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, Fr. George T. Montague, S.M.,(Paperback 1997 $15.96)  An Introduction to New Testament Christology by Fr. Raymond E. Brown. Time magazine hailed Raymond Brown as "the leading U.S. Catholic authority on the Bible."   In this accessible work written for all Bible students, Brown presents an intelligible introduction to the way Jesus was understood in His lifetime and in the lifetimes of His original followers.

     In its forward to John’s Gospel, the Catholic Study Bible gives us a picture of what to expect in this gospel which was probably written in the 90’s of the first century. "The Gospel according to John is quite different in character from the three synoptic gospels. It is highly literary and symbolic. It does not follow the same order or reproduce the same stories as the synoptic gospels. To a much greater degree, it is the product of a developed theological reflection and grows out of a different circle and tradition." In this synopsis, we look at John 15:12-21 

Many people think of the spiritual life in terms of servile obedience. The nineteenth-century philosopher Nietzsche criticized Christianity for being a "slave religion." He was surrounded by a form of Christianity that thought of God as tyrannical ruler, depriving his people of all freedom and pleasure. Karl Marx who called Christianity the "opiate of the people" levied a similar charge. By this he meant that the church deadens people against the sacrifices they make in this world by promising them a better world after they die. There is a shared idea in these indictments of Christianity-- the Christian must grovel before God to win God's forgiveness and to earn his blessings. The best Christians are like slaves who are totally powerless and completely dependent on their Master. However, the Gospel of John reminds us that the are not slaves and that Jesus called us "friends" because Jesus has told us "everything I have heard from my Father ."

There is a place for self-sacrifice and a time for self-abnegation in the Christian faith. But the idea that we are enslaved to God cannot be squared with what Jesus taught us about our relation to God. He could not have been clearer about the character of our relationship to God. "I no longer speak of you as slaves, for a slave does not know what his master is about. Instead I call you friends, since I have made known to you all that I have heard from my Father." Think about that -- we are friends of Jesus and friends with God! Being friends lends a whole different character to self-sacrifice and self-effacement. What we give to and what we give up for a friendship do not diminish us. We are uplifted and fulfilled by the sweet sacrifices of friendship.

In those last days of his life on this earth, Jesus reiterated again and again that the world would treat his followers like the world treated him. He had struck a chord with the common people and had drawn many followers to his side. But the crowds which flocked to hear him and to see him perform miracles did not remain with him. Close friends and family members were a source of joy to him, but all in all he was as the Bible said, "a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief." The greatest source of his sadness was that he could not reach the religious and political leaders of his day with his message of redemption. They saw him as a threat to their power and so they hated him. They hated him for no other reason than that he opened the doors of the Kingdom of God to all people and not just a chosen few.

"Because the world has hated me," Jesus warned his followers, "it will also hate you. They will harry you as they harried me. They will respect your words as much as they respected mine." In other words, Jesus instructed his followers to be prepared for hard times. But he was not simply making a comment on life in general which always carries its fair share of troubles. He was talking explicitly about the hard times that are a result of living a Christ-like life. The world is not too eager to hear a call for justice nor to receive an offer of love. Attitudes of justice and love get in the way of politics and business, where the survival of the fittest is the rule of the day. Jesus angered people by upsetting the balance of power in his day and the same thing will happen to us if we follow in his footsteps.



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