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Monthly Scripture Study & Reflection

"We can admire those who live a separate life to follow a religious calling ."

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.

   John's Gospel, referred to as 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 and tells about spiritual life by drawing sharp contrasts. The author contrasts darkness and light as a way of describing good and evil; flesh and spirit as a way of explaining 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 is on John 17.

Jesus had so many negative things to say about the world that it's no wonder some Christians have fled the world. The sectarian impulse has been strong among serious Christians from the earliest years of the Christian faith. Many of the holiest of Christians withdrew into the desert where they lived austere lives in order to escape the temptations of the world. In later centuries, monasteries were established where those who wished to dedicate their lives to prayer and study could live separate lives. But along side the few who separated themselves totally from the world have been the multitudes that remained in the world to pursue their life of faith. Many of them have chosen that path not out of laziness but out of stewardship. They have remained in the world to sanctify the world by their words and deeds.

The larger groups of Christians who have chosen to remain in the world have the full approval of Christ to live that kind of life. What else can we conclude from these words from John's gospel. Jesus was praying his great Highly-Priestly Prayer for God's care of his people. Jesus acknowledges that neither he nor his followers belong to the world. Still he prays: "I do not ask you to take them out of the world but to guard them from the evil one."

In fact, Jesus goes further and acknowledges that he has sent his followers into the world as he had been sent to the world to consecrate the world through holy living and loving deeds. We ordinary Christians can admire those who live a separate life to follow a religious calling. But our lives in the world are no less difficult and no less holy than their life out of the world.

Jesus knew what would happen to his message after he left this earth. Having entrusted it to his disciples, he knew they would put their own stamp on that message as they took it to the world. Had they remained in one place as a tightly knit community under authoritarian rules, the message might have remained the same over the passage of time. But Jesus did not create a cult that was devoted to maintaining the original purity of his message. He sent his disciples out into the world with a story to tell and a faith to share. Each disciple had his own recollections of Jesus and his own experience of faith. The Christian movement began as a many-spendored thing, growing more like an English garden than a French landscape. No wonder that Jesus prayed that there would be a core of unity in this rich diversity.

What is that core of unity? Over a period of several hundred years, the churches formalized that core of unity by establishing structures and writing creeds. The faith was brought under the control of authorities that defined true doctrine and sound practice. But even this effort at maintaining unity through uniformity failed. Each center Of Christendom puts its own stamp on faith and practice.

Each missionary outreach into a foreign culture produced new forms of worship and new explanations of faith. Unless we believe that the Risen Christ has lost total control of his church on earth, we have to believe that he approves this diversity even while ensuring its unity. But such it was from the first day of Pentecost when each person heard the one gospel in his own tongue and went forth to spread it in their own way. GLP


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