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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.

     The   fourth gospel is not simply history; the narrative has been organized and adapted to serve the evangelist’s theological purposes as well, according to the Saint Joseph Edition of the New American Bible. He was writing taking pains to show that religious belief and practice must be rooted in Jesus. His purposes have impelled the evangelist to emphasize motifs that were not so clear in the synoptic gospels. The gospel contains many details about Jesus not found in the synoptic gospels. It talks about the spiritual life by drawing sharp contrasts. The author contrasts darkness and light as a way of talking about good and evil; flesh and spirit as a way of talking of belief and unbelief.

Critical analysis makes it difficult to accept the idea that the gospel as it now stands was written by one person. Most theologians place the final edition of the gospel and arrangement in its present form from probably between A.D. 90 and 100. Traditionally, Ephesus has been favored as the place of composition, though some theologians support a location in Syria, perhaps the city of Antioch, which some have suggested and other places, including Alexandria.

This reflection covers John 6:22-35.

Western Christianity divided over the question of faith and works. The sixteenth century reformers were convinced that the Catholic Church believed in "salvation by works." All the emphasis on acts of penance and deeds of charity seemed to say that Christians must earn their own salvation. Martin Luther was a deeply devoted Catholic monk who submitted himself to all the disciplines of the Church without ever feeling that he had done enough to satisfy God. Out of that deep frustration, Luther discovered a passage in the book of Romans which declares that the "just are saved by faith." He realized in a flash that no person could ever be good enough to deserve the love of God. That experience launched the Protestant Reformation that divided the western church until this day.

For several centuries, the division between Catholics and Protestants was captured in the question of faith versus works. As often happens in such battles, each side caricatured the other's position -- Protestants claimed that Catholics believed they could earn their own salvation and Catholics charged that Protestants thought they were free from any obligations to God. Fortunately, modern Protestants and Catholics have revisited this old debate and realized that both sides emphasize faith and works, though they explain their connection in somewhat different terms. For the Catholic, the grace of God administered through the sacraments empowers us to do good works out of necessity. For the Protestant, the grace of God given through Christ compels us to do good works out of gratitude.

New Testament scholars have long recognized a difference between the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke and the gospel according to John. The former three gospels are called "the Synoptic Gospels" because they are very similar to one another in content and format. In fact, there is clear textual evidence that the authors of these three gospels made use of a great deal of shared material. Moreover, these three gospels read like straightforward historical reports of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. By contrast, John's gospel is a highly stylized telling of the story of Jesus that is structured around eight great miracles. Each of the miracles drives home the same theological point -- God is present in human history in the same way that he was present in Jesus Christ.

This intention of John's gospel is clearly seen in this incident from today's gospel lesson. The people wanted to see some splashy miracle to prove the presence of God. They wanted manna from heaven that Moses gave, or another feeding miracle like Jesus performed by the Sea of Tiberias. But Jesus refused their demands for a miraculous demonstration of divine power. He simply presented himself as the sign of God's presence. In so doing, he drew attention to the way in which God always gives himself to us. God always comes to us through human agency. If we have the eyes of faith, we can see God in every human hand and face. God is the Maker and Destroyer of worlds but he reveals himself most clearly and gives himself most fully in human relationships, for God is love and where love is God dwells!



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