At the outset, the first three gospels may have us overlook the work and skills of its writers. Whatever vision they wanted to transmit about their Savior, they dealt so plainly with the witnesses that oftentimes we seem to have seen and heard Jesus himself.
Comparatively, John’s gospel is very different. This book has matured along with him in his life. His experience as an apostle moved him to constantly re-interpret the presence of the resurrected Jesus in the Church.
John does not let us ignore his purpose: “This has been recorded that you may believe that Jesus is the Son of God” (Jn 20:31). The
faith of the Church proclaimed Jesus as the Son of God. But how should we understand this term? Though Jesus’ resurrection had manifested the divine character of his person, one could wonder how and from what moment was Jesus Son of God and to what extent was he identified with God. John’s Gospel clearly asserts that Jesus’ existence was forever in God. This assertion on Jesus’ origin helps us understand the range of his work. The eternal Son-of-God-become-human did not only come to teach us the way of amending ourselves, but also to transform the whole creation.
John did not create his gospel from nothing. Here we find quite a number of precise witnesses including more confirmed details than the other gospels. However, he did not confine himself to his own remembrances. As time passed, he expressed and developed Jesus’ words by crafting discourses in which Jesus, “with the help of John”, actually talks to us.
John’s Gospel is controversial because the purer and harder a truth is, the lesser are those who are able to receive it. This is why this gospel raised controversies within the very Church but was later acknowledged as word of God and as apostolic witness.
So it is that John’s Gospel was written and re-written and was most probably published only after the death of his author, about the year 95, as a small paragraph added at the end let it understand. In this last composition it seems that John organized it around the three Passovers which mark out Jesus’ public ministry.
Here we find an important element to understand John’s mind. He finished writing twenty years after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Roman armies. John knows as well as Paul that Jesus’ resurrection originated a new age. The revelation to the Jewish people and the great liturgies in the Temple belong to a certain extent to the past, but in this first covenant that has become the old covenant are found the keys to the understanding of Jesus’ achievements. This is why John will call to mind the Jewish feasts and religious symbols such as the water, the palms, the lamb… and he will show how these are transfigured in the Christian life and liturgy.
This is why three sections can be gleaned after an opening that we call the week of discovery (till 2:16). These are:
– In 2:17 Jesus goes up to the Temple for the Passover: chapters 2–5 develop the sign of the Temple.
– In 6:4 the Passover is mentioned again and John develops the sign of bread.
– In 13:1 we find the third Passover, when Jesus is put to death at the moment in which the lambs are sacrificed in the Temple. The lamb will be the third sign.
Is John the author of the gospel called by his name?
This question is very difficult to answer. There are many reasons to doubt authorship of the apostle John, but there can be found as many reasons to vindicate the traditional attribution to John.
As we said in the Introduction to the gospels, an unavowed reason leads some persons to look for other authors than the very apostles. John’s message is clear and it hurts. Must we accept that the One who marked him forever and probably loved him more than the other apostles was the eternal Word of God, God born from God? What a stunning assertion! Perhaps we would prefer that this kind of things were not said by a direct witness but added later by some theologian. This would have easier idealized the person of Jesus because, by looking from afar he would not have borne the full weight of his human presence: his way of looking, of eating, of washing, and the scent of his sweat…
We must however recognize that strong arguments move us to doubt John indeed as the author, and for many scholars the primary point is this: dozens of years went by between the first and so fresh accounts about the doings of Jesus, and the discourses which were built later from them and which seem to sometimes forget the original tradition. Is it possible that one of the first witnesses of Jesus have ran such a long tread?
The one who shaped John’s Gospel discourses in the 70ths, most probably near Ephesus where according to a very ancient tradition John withdrew and died, was a theologian. His interest for the liturgy and the Temple lets us think that he was a priest. Can this fit with the person of John, Zebedee’s son, a fisherman of Tiberiadis? Is it possible that such a vision of Jesus, the Messiah, and then the Son of God, Savior of the world, had been borne in him and that he has expressed it in his gospel?
The answer to such questions depend mostly from each one’s experience. We may have met believers who are deeply and truly theologians though they have not passed through university. They encountered some outstanding personality and this was enough to awaken their gifts. Later they became one of these few apostles who continually go over the events and the discoveries of this ministry, always eager to understand the ways of God. Do they need some books, some friends to help them to mature in their thinking? The same God who pours in them wisdom will direct to them this kind of help.
Can’t this be the case of John, so close to Jesus and then apostle for some sixty years? He did not go, as Paul did through rabbinical schools, and this is why he does not use sophisticated arguments, but ever so, couldn’t he be a Theologian, this someone who knows God?
• 1.1 In the beginning was the Word. The real beginning is not the creation of the universe. For this beginning of time, space, matter, existence explains nothing yet demands an explanation. The real beginning is beyond time. John does not say that at this beginning “God was” because we know it. He speaks of the Word. We keep this traditional term word, although the term word that John uses says more than “word.” It is both “thought” and “word”, which is the word expressing what one carries in oneself. We ought perhaps translate with: The “Expression” of God. To speak of this Word, or Expression of the Father, or to speak of his Son, is the same thing. In other pages he will be called Splendor (Heb 1:1) and Image (Col 1:15) of the Father. The Son is not part of the Father, or another God since he has nothing that is of himself but all which is the Father’s is also his (Jn 16:15).
John will remind us that no one has ever seen God (v. 18). The Father from whom existence comes and all that exists is without beginning and his springing forth is known only to himself. John tells us here that for him, “being,” is communicating himself, expressing himself, giving himself. God expresses himself in him who is at the same time his Word and his Son and through this uncreated, unique Word, which fully expresses him; he creates a universe that is yet another way of saying what is in God.
This is still not enough to satisfy the need of God to communicate himself. As several texts of the Old Testament have already said (Pro 8:22 and 31, 2 S 7:2-30), God has entered through his Word into the history of humankind. It was he who was “spoken” of in their own way by all who carried the Word, all the prophets of the Bible and those of other religions as well. The Word enlightened all human beings, including those who did not know God; he was the conscience of the upright in every race, in every age. This Word, Son and Expression of the Father came one day to give us the definitive word by means of his own existence in becoming human among us.
Whatever has come to be, found life in him (v. 4). It is a property of life to develop from within until maturity is reached. This growth is to be seen throughout history in all the work of the Word; it is the language of God that develops among humankind. Whether we study the history of our race from its origins, or whether we read the Old Testament, we see how the language of God has been developed among humans. It always was a human language, but this language was inhabited by the Spirit of God, and in a special way within the history of Israel, it was also the word of God. We shall find this living word in him who is the Son-made-human, Jesus, but in a way that disconcerts us. For there is the mystery about the Son: it is true that he is God like the Father, but having received all, he is in a posture of offering: he empties himself so that the Father may exalt and glorify him anew.
A man came, sent by God. Twice in verses 6-8 and 15, John, the author of the Gospel, speaks to us of John the Baptist, precursor of Jesus. The Word has truly identified himself: he has not come with glory; he was introduced by a word which came from himself, but remained human in John’s preaching. It was easy to reject this witness and in fact when he came to his own, to the people of Israel, his own did not receive him.
The Word was made flesh. John uses the word flesh to underline the utter humility of God who, despite being spirit, became a creature with a mortal body. John says: was made, and not: “took the appearance” of a human person, because the Son of God was truly human.
God become human dwelt among us. The root sense of this verb “dwell” in the Bible is: to have one’s tent pitched. So John is pleased to allude to the sacred tent that served as the Hebrews’ sanctuary in the desert: in that tent, God was present beside them (Ex 33:7-11). In reality Jesus, the Son of God become human, is the true Temple of God among people (Jn 2:21), a temple as humble and apparently fragile as the tent in the desert was: nevertheless, in him is the fullness of God. The apostles saw his glory at certain moments of his mortal life (Jn 2:11 and Lk 9:32). They saw his glory in his Passion and Resurrection.
How does the Word save us? John does not speak only of Jesus rescuing us from the abyss of sin; he prefers to speak of Jesus allowing us to attain a status totally unexpected and beyond our reach: he made them children of God. We are made children of God by the very Son of the Father, provided that we believe in his Name, which is in his divine personality.
In him was the fullness of Love and Truth (v. 14). Love (or Grace) and Truth (or Faithfulness) are God’s two main qualities (Ex 34:6-7). These words are repeated as a refrain throughout Psalm 89. John means then that he has recognized the fullness of Jesus’ divinity (Col 2:9).
God has given us the Law. While recounting the sins of Israel, the biblical story foretold the time when there would be no need for a Law engraved in stones or written in books (Jer 31:31). Some day God would change the sinners’ hearts (Ezk 36:26) so that relationships of mutual Love and Faithfulness between God and humankind would begin (Hos 2:21-22). John affirms that the promised time of Love and Truth (of perfect religion) arrived through Jesus Christ.
• 19. THE LAMB
The authorities wondered: “Who is this who on his own initiative has begun to preach?” At that time, various Jewish groups “baptized,” or bathed, as a means of purification and to hasten the coming of the Messiah.
Regarding John the Baptist’s preaching and baptism, see Luke 3:10.
The Messiah is the name the Jews gave to the expected Savior. They also expected the Prophet, but it was not clear whether or not the Prophet would be someone other than the Messiah. It was believed that the prophet Elijah would reappear before the Messiah’s arrival (Mk 9:11).
There is the Lamb (v. 29). In the language of the Jews, the word “Lamb” can mean both servant and lamb. Jesus is the Servant of God spoken of by the prophets, who was to sacrifice himself for his brothers and sisters. He is also the true Lamb that replaces the Paschal Lamb (Mk 14:12).
A man comes after me (v. 30). In history, Jesus appears after John, but being the Word of God, he existed before all creatures. He also precedes, that is to say, all – including John the Baptist – are guided by his light.
• 35. DISCOVERING JESUS
This Gospel is the work of John the Evangelist who should not be confused with John the Baptist. John the Evangelist was one of the first two disciples to follow Jesus (v. 39).
John, concerned about helping us understand the profound meaning of Jesus’ actions, dwells on details to which we would not immediately pay attention. For example, the Bible begins with the poem describing Creation as happening in seven days, and because John sees Jesus’ work as a new creation, he describes the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry as happening within a week (seven being a symbolic number) (vv. 29, 35, 43 and 2:1).
On the first day John the Baptist affirmed: there is one among you whom you do not know. We see how, during the week, John the Baptist was the first to discover Jesus. Then later, John, Andrew and Simon also discovered him. The last day of the first week will be at the wedding in Cana, where Jesus will let them discover his glory.
What are you looking for? (v. 38). John did not forget these first words Jesus spoke to them. We want to know who Jesus is, but he asks us what our inner dispositions are: because we will gain nothing through finding him unless we are disposed to submit ourselves to him.
These two disciples began to live with Jesus. With time, they would discover that he is the Teacher, the Messiah, the Son of God. So, too, with us. We progress in this knowledge of Jesus Christ as we go on our journey through life.
John the Baptist was without jealousy; he had encouraged his disciples to follow Jesus, and later the first two brought others. Likewise, we come to Jesus because of another person who spoke to us of him, or involved us in an apostolic task.
These two disciples recognized Jesus. It would be more exact to say that Jesus recognized those whom the Father had entrusted to him. Thus he recognized Nathanael when he was under the fig tree (v. 48). Among the Jews, this expression referred to a teacher of the Law engaged in teaching religion, since ordinarily they taught under the shade of a tree. In the same way, Jesus recognized Simon whom the Father chose to be the first Rock of the Church (Mt 16:13).
You will see the heavens opened. See Genesis 28:12.
• 2.1 THE SIGNS OF JESUS
The Week of Discovery ends with the wedding at Cana. Indeed Jesus was at the wedding and brought his disciples to join in the singing, dancing and drinking wine. His presence and participation sanctified not only marriage but also festive celebrations and togetherness.
The disciples began to know Jesus, but someone else already understood and believed in him: Mary his mother. How did it ever occur to her to ask him for a miracle? Did she know that Jesus could perform miracles? Mary did not ask for the conversion of sinners, or for bread for the hungry; rather, what she wanted was a miracle or something like it to free the groom from embarrassment.
Jesus answered her with a phrase which, directed to a stranger, could be interpreted as a reproach, but said in a different tone to his mother demonstrated a familiarity and a mutual understanding that went beyond words. Apparently Jesus had no thought of beginning his mission in that manner or at that moment, but his spirit recognized the Spirit speaking through his mother, and he granted this first miraculous sign.
It is worth noting that John relates only seven miracles of Jesus, and sometimes he calls them works, sometimes signs. They are works of the Son of God in which he manifests his power. They are signs, that is to say, visible things adapted for us by which he enables us to understand his true work – that of bringing life and renewal to the world.
This is why John mentions some details of this event that were symbolic of spiritual realities. Jesus participated in a wedding, and what was he trying to do, but to prepare for other weddings – of God with humanity? Jesus speaks of his hour that had not yet come, for, in reality, his true hour will be that of his Passion and Resurrection.
John adds that Jesus made use of the water that the Jews set aside to purify themselves. The Jews were obsessed with avoiding “defilement,” so their religion multiplied the rites of purification (v. 6). Jesus, by changing the blessed water into wine, signified that true religion should not be confused with the fear of sin: what is important is to receive from Jesus the Spirit which, like heady wine, makes us break from established norms and the narrowness of our own knowledge and learning.
The water changed into wine: Jesus comes into our house to sanctify our daily life – its routine and its chores.
It was thus Jesus manifested his glory to those who were beginning to discover him. Mary brought grace to John the Baptist (Lk 1:39); again she intervenes to hasten the beginnings of the Gospel. She will not speak again in the Gospel, and her last words are: Do whatever he tells you (v. 5).
In those first days after John’s baptism, Jesus was still living among his relatives and townmates whom the Gospel calls “his brothers”: see commentary on Mark 3:31.
• 12. With the wedding at Cana, the first section of the Gospel we have called the Week of Discovery ends. Another section begins in which Jesus defines himself in relation to the Jewish world and their hopes. John presents four scenes:
– Jesus in the Temple: The priests are materialistic, and Jesus judges them severely.
– Jesus and Nicodemus: Nicodemus expresses the concerns of the learned and believing Jews.
– the Samaritan Woman: This is the dialogue of Jesus with the townspeople who are believers in their own way.
– Jesus heals the son of an official: Jesus points out that the majority of those who come to him, seek him because of his miracles.
• 13. Jesus had not yet begun his preaching. He went to the Temple of Jerusalem that was the heart of the Jewish nation and the symbol of their religion (Mk 11:12). The Temple, however, was not immune from corruption and lust for power. In the Temple the people had to make use of the priests’ services to offer their sacrifices. The priests’ authority and power derived from the Temple. The Temple was the place where the community’s offerings and gifts were brought; and there the chief priests disposed of this treasure. Besides this, they also received the taxes that the sellers and money changers paid.
Zeal for your house devours me as a fire, and the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me. This is taken from Psalm 69. Actually the hatred of the chief priests for Jesus would bring him to his death.
The apostles could not understand these words: for at that time nothing was more sacred to them than the Temple and the Scripture. Later, they would know that the most ordinary word of Jesus had as much weight as the whole of Scripture. They would also understand that Jesus is the true Temple. Until then, people constructed temples and looked for places where they could meet God and obtain his favors. Now God has made himself present in Jesus: it is he who delivers God’s riches to us.
• 3.1 A NEW BIRTH
Nicodemus was a religious person, concerned about knowing God and his ways, and he went to Jesus as to a teacher of religion. What he needed was not so much to receive instruction, however, as to undergo a change within himself. That, too, is what we need. We must recognize our powerlessness – by ourselves, unaided – to pass through the barriers which block us from an authentic life. Like Nicodemus, despite all our accumulated experience and knowledge (or because of them), we are old people.
Jesus says we must be born again and born from above: John’s gospel uses a word that can be interpreted in both senses (v. 3). Nobody gives birth to himself, and just as we received our life in the flesh from others so, too, we receive the life of the Son of God from the Spirit.
All claim that they live: something moves in them, thoughts come to them, and they make decisions … Yet this could possibly be nothing more than the life of the flesh, or the life of an unawakened person.
The other life, that of the Spirit, is more mysterious because it takes place in the innermost depths of our being. We see the external appearance; we notice a person’s face and behavior, but we do not see God’s working in her. The awakened believer, however, who is habitually led by the Spirit gradually discovers changes in what motivates her actions and her ambitions. She feels at ease with God and without fear, experiencing that it is not so much she who orients her life, as another who lives in her. Yet she could not, in fact, be able to say exactly what happens within her.
Hence Jesus compares the action of the Spirit with the passing of the wind that we feel, although we do not see or hold it. Let us also take note that in Jesus’ language the same word means spirit as much as “wind.”
We have to be reborn of water and of the Spirit: this points to baptism. Let us not think that merely by receiving the waters of baptism, one is fully established in the life of the Spirit; rather, let us realize that normally one is baptized in order to begin the life of the Spirit: the words of the Gospel refer to adults converted to the Christian faith. The case of infant baptism is different. Baptism works within them. Yet they should receive instruction in the faith to lead them to personal conversion.
Like many in Israel, Nicodemus was a religious person and a believer. Why did he come by night? Possibly he did not want to risk his position and reputation, or mix with the common people around Jesus. This would not be the attitude of those who have been born again: these have been liberated from many things that paralyze others.
JESUS REVEALS THE PLAN OF GOD
• 11. John’s Gospel is different from the other three. Often, after relating some words of Jesus, John adds an explanation of the faith, which he supports with declarations that Jesus made on other occasions. That is what happens in this case.
How can this be? Nicodemus asked. To enter into the life of the Spirit, we need to know God’s plan for us. Yet no one can speak properly of such things except the Son of God. He has seen heavenly things, that is, the intimate life of God; he also speaks of earthly things, that is, of the Kingdom that God brings to us. Many of Jesus’ listeners will not accept what he says about the Reign of God; much less will they pay attention to what he reveals about the mystery of God. Jesus reveals to us that which, by ourselves, we are unable to know. Thus a Christian is not one who merely “believes in God”; we are Christians because we believe the testimony of Jesus (v. 11) regarding God and his plan of salvation.
In this plan, there was something very difficult to accept: that the Son of Man would have to die on the cross and to rise from the dead (be lifted on high means the same). Jesus reminds them of the serpent in the desert. This episode in the Bible (Num 21) prefigured what would happen to Jesus. Of course, the Jews did not grasp the meaning of this message; in fact, they passed over all the predictions of the sufferings of their savior without understanding them.
They had to revise their ideas about other matters, also. The Jews had been praying for God to come and expected him to condemn the world and to punish the bad. He, on the other hand, sent his own Son to the cross so that the world will be saved (v. 17).
Other verses of the New Testament say that we should not love the world; which seems to contradict what we have just read: God so loved the world. The reason for this contradiction is that the word world has several meanings.
First, the world means all of creation, which is good since it is God’s work. The center of this divine work is humankind, which has come under the influence of Satan (8:34 & 44). Everything that sinful humanity creates – riches, culture, social life – is influenced, disfigured and used for evil. Hence, God sent His Son so that the world will be saved.
Yet, even though Christ’s resurrection initiated his invincible power over history, a strong current of evil continues, dragging along all who refuse to acknowledge the truth. This evil current is sometimes called the world. It would be more appropriate to say: the people who surrender themselves to the Master of the world. The Scripture points to them in saying: Do not love the world, or You are not of the world (1 Jn 2:15; 4:6).
• 22. The Gospel admits that many disciples of John the Baptist did not recognize Jesus. They had been drawn by their teacher’s example: he was intense and outspoken, hard on himself in food, drink and clothing. Somehow they had the hope, maybe because of John the Baptist’s manner, that God’s true justice would come and bring about direct punishment of the wicked. Like militant followers of whatever good cause, John’s disciples had this weakness: they were too focused on their own leaders and ways to consider other possibilities. To become Christ’s disciples, they would have to give up their own prophets.
It is necessary that he increase but that I decrease, says the greatest of the prophets (v. 30). Only Jesus comes from On High, and can fully satisfy the human heart. In him nothing of the good is lost, since he embodies all.
Always faces the justice of God (v. 36). Those who do not recognize the Son of God remain in the situation humanity was in when expelled from Paradise. If they are not able to receive the witness of “God the Son who is one with the Father,” they will never solve the contradictions in their lives or in the world in which they live; and they cannot but mistrust God.
• 4.1 LIVING WATER
The Jews hated the Samaritans. In addition, talking with any woman in a public place was looked upon with disapproval in Jewish culture at that time. Jesus, overcoming racial and social prejudices, began to talk with a Samaritan woman. In the person of this woman he met the common people of Palestine. The woman was from a different province and belonged to a rival cult, but both shared the same promises of God and both were waiting for a Savior.
The first concern of the woman was to quench her thirst. The ancestors of the Jewish people walked with their flocks from one water source to another. The most famous Jews (like Jacob) dug wells, and around these wells the desert began to live. This fact was like a parable; people look everywhere for something to quench their thirst; but they are condemned to find nothing but stagnant waters. Those who make tanks to preserve water find that the tanks crack (see commentary on Gen 26). Jesus brings the living water, which is God’s gift to us, his children: the gift of the Holy Spirit (7:37).
When there is water in the desert, although it does not surface, it is noticeable because of the verdant vegetation. The same happens with us when we truly live: our actions become better, our decisions more free, our thoughts more directed towards the essential. The living water from which all these fruits flow is not seen: this is eternal life, against which death can do nothing.
The second concern of the woman is to know: Where is truth to be found? Jesus tells her: You have had five husbands… This symbolizes the common destiny of the townspeople who have served many masters or “husbands” and, in the end, do not have anyone whom they recognize as their Lord. To begin with, what is the true religion?
The Samaritans had their Bible, somewhat different from that of the Jews, and in the town itself, a few kilometers from the Well of Sychar, was their Temple, which rivaled that of Jerusalem. Jesus maintains that the Jewish religion is the true one: Salvation comes from the Jews. In this he does not share the position of those who say: “It matters little what Church we belong to, since they are all the same.” Nevertheless, although one has the good fortune of following the true religion, he has to arrive at the spiritual knowledge of God (v. 23). The Spirit, whom we receive, helps us worship God according to the truth. The Father seeks such worshipers who enter into intimate personal contact with him.
Spirit and truth (v. 24). God does not need the words of our prayers, but looks for simplicity, beauty and nobility in our spirit. The Spirit of God cannot be communicated except to those who seek the truth and live according to truth in a world of deception.
In the final analysis, the Samaritan woman’s account is a parable of our own lives. Each one of us is in some way the Samaritan woman. What happened at the well of Jacob describes our own encounter with Jesus; the ways by which Jesus led the woman to recognize and love him are the ways by which Jesus, step-by-step, accomplishes our own conversion. In the end, the woman became Jesus’ disciple, and through this very experience she also became Jesus’ apostle: Many in that town believed in Jesus because of the woman (v. 39). This Jesus experience is the source of the apostolate. To evangelize is to share this experience with others.
Four more months … (v. 35). Like the harvest, the people who follow Jesus are also maturing.
People who reap the harvest are paid for their work: this Jesus’ maxim has many applications. Verse 36 possibly refers to the shared joy of the Father who sowed and of the Son who will harvest. In a different way, in verse 37, Jesus and his own are aware that they do not work in vain. Others have worked: Jesus refers to those who came before him, and especially to John the Baptist.
• 46. See Luke 7:1.
Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe. Jesus’ reproach is directed, not to the official who will later show great faith, but to the Jews and to us. While Jesus works miracles which confirm his mission, he also stresses that we should recognize him by seeing and hearing him. Do lovers demand miracles in order to trust one another? Do those who follow leaders demand absolute proof? Those who really seek the truth recognize it when it is presented to them.
Jesus’ second miracle in Cana concludes this second part of the Gospel in which Jesus defines himself in relation to Jewish society and its hopes.
Now begins a new section: Jesus proclaims the work for which he has come into this world; his Father has sent him to judge and to give life. We must first believe in the Messenger of God. This is treated in chapters 5 and 6.
• 5.1 Why did Jesus go to the Pool of Bethzatha? It is known that the said pool was a pagan place dedicated to Aesculapius, the god of health. Rumors abounded that, from time to time, the sick were healed there. The pious Jews, scandalized that healings should occur in a pagan place, maintained that people were healed not by Aesculapius but by an angel of the Lord. Unscrupulous Jews went there to seek a cure even from pagan idols. Jesus, too, went there, but in search of the sinner he wished to save.
Note the sick man’s first response. In this miraculous place many hoped for a cure but few were healed. By ourselves alone – I have no one – we cannot be saved. We need a Savior.
Jesus disappears after the miracle. Some people might have said that he was at ease in a pagan temple, or think he healed the sick in the name of their gods. Jesus will make himself known in the Temple of the true God, his Father.
The Jews attacked Jesus because he “worked” on the Sabbath day. Let us examine Jesus’ reply more closely: My Father goes on working. It is well that people observe a day of rest to pay homage to God; yet God himself does not rest, nor is he absent from the world: he gives life to people. Being God-the-Son, Jesus should imitate God the Father instead of resting like people do. His enemies, on hearing him, were not mistaken about his claims: they wanted to kill him because he made himself equal with God (v. 18).
Don’t sin again… (v. 14). Jesus reminds the sick man of his lack of faith that led him to the pagan sanctuary where he waited in vain for 38 years, just as in former times the Israelites remained secluded 38 years in the oasis of Kadesh in the desert, without being able to enter the Promised Land. John noted this coincidence. He also understood that the cure in the pool represented baptism. Jesus’ remark to the healed person is addressed to those who have been converted and baptized: Do not sin again.
After this account the Christian faith is presented again. See commentary on John 3:11.
It should be mentioned that in these “discourses” John the Evangelist is fond of repeating key words of the discourses seven times. Here, for example, we find the words Sabbath, Jesus, and Moses seven times each; and the Father 14 times. John intends to contrast the Jewish religion instituted by Moses, whose major precept was the Sabbath rest, with that of the new times which Jesus came to inaugurate, wherein he enables us to know the Father.
• 19. THE SON AND THE FATHER, THE RESURRECTION
Jesus’ opponents were surprised to see how he violated the law of the sacred rest; this, however, was only the first intervention of Jesus (7:21). Jesus intends to do much more than just reform religion: he has come to renew the whole of creation.
The books of the Old Testament spoke of God as only one. Now Jesus shows us a new face of God: he is Father and has sent his Son to complete his work. In all that he does, God endeavors to give us life, and the greatest of his works is the Resurrection.
This rising from the dead does not mean “to return to life” but to begin a new and transformed life. The dead will rise again, of course (v. 28), but we can also speak of the resurrection in the lives of those who become believers. A word of Jesus accepted in faith gives us life and later takes root in us and transforms us. Together, the Father and the Son raise us to new life. God’s love, which engenders life, reaches us through the voice of Christ (v. 25). Compare v. 25 with v. 28.
Jesus then is not only human like us. Though human, he is also divine and reveals to us another face of God. Jesus wants to replace in our minds any image of God as a jealous or paternalistic God. The Gospel shows the Father giving all his authority to a human, to Christ. This resonates with modern psychology that teaches that a person is not fully adult until he liberates himself from parental authority. Our contemporary world rightly rejects a paternalistic God.
On numerous occasions, Jesus called himself the Son of Man (See the explanation in Mark 8:27). Here John says a son of man (v. 27); that is, a Jewish idiom which means a human being. By being human, Jesus saves humanity from within.
When Jesus claims to be the Son, he repeats these two affirmations in various ways:
– Everything that my Father does, I do; all that the Father has, I have.
– and: I cannot do anything by myself.
In this way, Jesus is a model for the sons and daughters of God. We also should commune with the Father, so that he may teach us his works: there is no Christian life without prayer, that is, without a personal relationship with God.
• 30. THE TESTIMONY
To gain a direction in life, we need some understanding of the world and humankind. This understanding may come through reason and science, but more often we are influenced and guided by the testimony of others – by their words, attitudes and personal qualities.
It is thus that those in love discover one another, friends accept each other, a career is decided upon, a religious or political commitment is made. It is also thus that the Word of God is discovered. Therefore, Jesus speaks of the testimonies that accredit him:
– his works, that is, his miracles.
– John the Baptist’s testimony in pointing him out as the Savior.
– the words of the Bible that refer to him.
Some people say that since the Bible is the word of God they do not need anything more than that to guide them. Let them know that just as God spoke through events and through prophets, he continues speaking to us through actual events and through spokespersons of the Spirit in the Church. Jesus rebuked those who believed they possessed the truth just by having the Bible, but did not believe in him whom God was sending them (v. 38).
God instructs us in his way when we listen to what others teach us; in daily life and within the Church we meet people living according to the Spirit, whereas others only pretend to be religious and upright persons.
How then do we distinguish between what is true and what is false? How do we recognize those who speak of God’s ways from personal experience? Jesus says that those who love the truth recognize those who speak the truth. Everyone values the testimony of an equal. To recognize the messengers of God, we must be the people who do not look for praise from one another, and thus are not enslaved by false values. Whoever seeks the truth and mercy will recognize a communication of the Glory of God in the words and actions of God’s more humble servants.
It pleases God when we recognize his witnesses. He desires everyone to honor the Son just as his Father does. By believing in his Son, we show ourselves worthy of his trust and thus become God’s children, open to his life.
• 7.19 At the end of chapter 5 we have placed the passage 7:19-24, which concludes the discourses but which, for some unknown reason, was placed after chapter 6.
• 6.1 See Mark 6:35.
• 22. In the following pages John expands Jesus’ pronouncements in the synagogue of Capernaum. Surely Jesus himself at that time did not develop so fully the doctrine on the Eucharist (vv. 48-58). There is no doubt, however, that Jesus expressed himself in a manner that scandalized his hearers. What did he say but to affirm clearly that we must go to him, for he is the true bread from whom we receive eternal life?
People struggle for adequate food, and their first preoccupation is to survive, because if they do not eat they will cease to live. We do not have life in ourselves and have to constantly depend on others for what is necessary to maintain life. In spite of everything, some day life escapes us because we have not encountered the lasting food (v. 27).
In fact, we need much more than bread: beyond eating and drinking, we seek something that permits us to no longer experience hunger or thirst. We will find this on the day of the Resurrection, in the assembly of all the Saints in Heaven, where there will be total and perfect peace and unity. That is precisely what the Work of the Son of Man (the Human One) is.
The discourse begins with a question from the Jews: Which are the works that God wants us to do? Jesus replies: The Work that God wants is that you believe. The Father does not demand “works,” that is, the practices of a religious law, but rather, faith. In the previous chapter, Jesus declared that his work is to raise people up. Here he indicates our work: to believe in the Messenger of the Father.
The key word of the discourse is bread (or loaves). That is why John repeats it seven times in each section of this chapter. The expression who has come down from heaven appears seven times in the chapter.
• 28. Here begins the first part of the discourse: Jesus becomes our bread when we believe in him.
In the past, when the Israelites wandered in the desert and lacked everything, God gave them a provisional meal, the manna. They had to give thanks to him for his gifts. But if God is only our benefactor and we go to him seeking favors, we end up concerned only for what God gives us; we will hardly thank him, and later will continue to ask and complain.
This was what happened with the Israelites who, after receiving the manna, rebelled against God and died in the desert. Material things, although they may come from heaven, do not make us better nor do they give us true life.
For this reason, God now proposes something new. The bread that comes down from heaven is not something, but someone, and that is Christ. That true bread communicates eternal life to us, but to receive it, it is necessary to take a step, that is, to believe in Christ and to make a personal commitment to him.
All that the Father gives me will come to me (v. 37). Not all those who take pride in belonging to the true religion come to Christ, but only those whom the Father knows. Though the church embraces many people of all descriptions, only those to whom the Father has given this grace will find their way to the controversial and humble Christ. While acknowledging the value of the sacraments and good works, we should not forget what Jesus taught: none of our own efforts can substitute for the grace of being chosen by the Father who calls us to know his Son in truth.
They shall all be taught by God (v. 45). Several texts from the prophets showed in what way Jewish religion should transcend itself. God’s covenant celebrated in Mount Sinai had given the laws through which the conscience of God’s people would be educated. Then should come new times when God would teach each of his believers as he did the great prophets (Is 54:13; Jer 31:34; Jl 3:1). Jesus recalls these promises and interprets them. It is not a matter of revelations given to everyone but of a mysterious call that directs us to Jesus. In Jesus, the perfect mirror of God, we discover the will of the Father for us. Jesus is the Word of God and from now on the most authentic revelations can only send us back to him.
This man is the son of Joseph (v. 42). Jesus’ listeners were Jews who believed in God and in the Scriptures. To believe in the prophets who were honored after their death was easy; but to recognize God’s contemporary and controversial messengers, especially when the messenger of God was a simple carpenter was another matter. This is equally true today, for we must overcome doubts and listen to God’s messengers who point out the mission of the Church in today’s world. There are many who believe in the Bible or in Christ but refuse to listen to the Church, especially when it speaks through Christians and religious belonging to the world of the poor and of workers.
Do not murmur (v. 43). The Bible uses the verb “to murmur” in Exodus and Numbers: the Israelites distrusted God and constantly criticized Moses’ decisions (Ex 15:24; 16:2; 17:3).
• 48. COMMUNION – THE SACRAMENTS
The second part of the discourse: Jesus becomes our bread when we eat his body in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
How can this man give us flesh to eat? (v. 52). Thus spoke the Israelites who distrusted God in the desert (Num 11:4 & 18). John plays on the same words and gives them a different meaning here: why would a messenger from heaven give flesh to the world, when what we need is something spiritual? Jesus answers in verse 63: this flesh to eat may sound like food for bodily sustenance, but it is really a sharing in the life of the risen Christ transformed by the Spirit. For that reason it gives life (6:63).
Through material means the believer participates in a heavenly reality and enters into communion with the risen Christ. The Church defines sacrament as something material that symbolizes and brings about a spiritual reality. When we faithfully participate in a sacrament, we encounter the living Christ in person renewing our lives. In the Supper of the Lord, that is, in the Mass, we really receive the body and blood of Christ, in what appears to be only bread and wine. The risen Christ becomes for us the food of eternal life.
Jesus acts as living bread in us. When we eat ordinary bread our body digests and assimilates it, but when we eat living bread (the body of Christ), this bread actively changes us. Christ transforms us; gives his life to us and unites us with himself: Whoever eats me will have life in me.
Flesh and blood. In Hebrew culture flesh and blood denotes the human being in his mortal condition. Jesus wants us to make our own his entire human being in its humble and mortal condition, and communicates to us his divinity. It is evident that communion only shows its full meaning if taken in the two species of bread and wine; even in the Latin Church there is no Eucharist if the celebrant at least does not communicate under the two species.
Regarding this means of Jesus’ life being transmitted to us, we are not easily convinced. We often wonder at Jesus’ words: he who eats my flesh has life, he who does not… We need to study the parables on the Kingdom of God more closely. The gift of God, whether it be his word or the Body of Christ, is a seed so small that it may be lost or may not bear fruit. It is fruitful only in those who believe and persevere.
The sacraments we receive help us mature in the life of God; they affect the very core of our being. Sometimes we feel discouraged about the many defects and prejudices we still have despite our reception of the sacraments. We do not understand that transformation is something deep and often not immediately evident.
• 60. This language is very hard. How could Jesus’ listeners believe that he, the “son of Joseph,” had come from God? And today how can we believe that we need the Eucharist? Jesus tells us why he came: The Son of God came down to us, so that later he would ascend to where he was before. He came from God to communicate to us the very life of God and then to bring us to the bosom of God (Jn 14:12).
The truth is that by Christ’s resurrection, our world has already started its renewal. For when the Son of Man entered the Glory of his Father, he carried on his shoulders the whole of creation that he wanted to renew and consecrate. Clothed in our humanity, the Son of God has ascended to where he was before: the first of our race has achieved full union with God.
Although, to all appearances, life goes on as before, we believe that the renewed world has been activated. The Spirit is at work within gigantic disturbances that continually agitate and shake the whole of humanity. Christ is invincibly consecrating this world. He enables humanity to arrive at maturity by means of innumerable crises and deaths that prepare for a resurrection.
Jesus’ listeners could not understand (6:61) the mystery of the Son of God and his humiliations. Jesus wanted to dispossess himself of his divine glory by becoming human and dying like a slave (see Jn 1:14 and Phil 2:6), so that later the Father would enable him to ascend to where he came from. It is likewise a test of our faith to believe that God continually works among us in our world. In spite of our unresponsiveness, God still loves us; the Church is so unworthy, yet God uses it to fulfill his plan; history is so destructive, yet it is preparing us for the fullness of the Kingdom.
The flesh cannot help (v. 63). Jesus spoke of giving us his flesh, but this should not be understood as a continuation of the Jewish religion, in which the meat of sacrificed animals was eaten. In Hebrew culture, flesh and blood denote “the world below,” where humankind moves and where one has no access to communication with God. The Eucharist is different. This is the body, or flesh, of the risen Christ transformed by the Spirit, which acts in us spiritually and brings us into communion with God.
Lord, to whom shall we go? (v. 68). Many of Jesus’ followers left but, in the name of those who remained, Peter pledged his fidelity (see also Mt 16:13).
• 7.1 Jesus moves people to question his identity. It is better to question than to belong to a group that does not question because they think they already know. The brothers of Jesus were like that.
Show yourself to the world (v. 4). These brothers of Jesus were the families and townspeople of Nazareth (see Mk 3:31). These people were to enter the Church after Jesus’ resurrection, and thought themselves important merely because of their former association with Jesus; but at that time they were still very far from understanding his mission. They wanted Jesus to be known for his miracles; but Jesus chose, rather, to reveal himself to those who could enter into the mystery of death that leads to glory.
My time has not yet come… Let us note here two types of persons: one type lives according to their plans, and the other type allow themselves to be guided by the Spirit. For the former, one time is as good as another; because they have no experience of the calling of God, they act impetuously and when they feel like it. Those who are guided by the Spirit wait for signs indicating that this is God’s time. Whatever is undertaken in God’s time will bring glory to God.
Like Jesus, John was a Jew. He was surrounded by Jews converted to the Christian faith. He consistently calls his unbelieving compatriots Jews. We would be mistaken if we thought he is designating here all the Jews. With this name of Jews he points out the religious, political and social ambiance that did not acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah.
Those Jews adhered to an established social order and to a certain manner of understanding life and religion that was common in their time. It was social and religious formalities that were important to them; they were interested in God only in the measure to which they had made him the defender of these things (Mt 23: 29).
• 25. SALVATION – SEEKING THE TRUTH
Who is Jesus? It is very important for us to know who Jesus is and from where he comes because, unlike the founders of other religions, he offers us the unheard of gift of sharing in God’s very life. If Jesus does not come from God, of what value is this promise?
We need to discover for ourselves who Jesus is, because it is only in this way that we will be saved.
As a person he attracts us, but his words shock us. When Jesus proclaims that the Kingdom is at hand, that we are sons and daughters of God, we think he uses figures of speech since the reality appears to be quite different. In time, with more experience and suffering, we modify our viewpoint and discover that the world and people are just as he describes them. We then acknowledge him as Savior. In another way, we are saved because we have acquired the capacity to see things as God does. Hence, when we wish to help others arrive at faith, it is better at times to refrain from discussions about religion. They must first enter into themselves to discover the wellspring of life. One cannot advance in the knowledge of Christ without advancing in knowledge of oneself.
We know where this man comes from (v. 27). So these Jews thought they knew who God was and what his plans were; but, in reality, they interpreted everything according to their own views and remained closed to the Truth. Standing before them, Jesus claimed to be the Envoy of God. In speaking like this he was not looking for a title to become credible, but wanted to emphasize his total dependence on the Father and his intimate knowledge of him.
You will look for me and you will not find me (v. 34). This is the same warning God gave through earlier prophets (Jer 13:16). Once again, Jesus applies to himself scriptural words and prerogatives reserved for God.
• 37. THE COMMUNICATION OF THE SPIRIT
Spirit had not yet been given. In Wisdom 1:7, however, we read, “the Spirit of God fills the universe.” Actually God never ceased communicating himself. His Spirit enters into a person’s spirit whom he awakens, animates and impels. At all times he has been active in the artists, thinkers and heroes, and is also present in the spirit of people of upright heart.
The Spirit is not poured out like water. The Spirit of God becomes one with the spirit of the one who receives him. As long as we do not know God in truth, the Spirit comes “over” us, as occurred with the liberators of Israel, who did not necessarily become better for having been an instrument of God (Jdg 11:29). Only after Jesus had entered into his Glory could he give his Spirit to those who would be united with him.
Spirit had not been given. Many manuscripts read: There was no Spirit. In fact the meaning is the same. In this second way of speaking spirit refers to the manifold communications of God’s Spirit.
This ambiguity sounds strange to believers, who consider the Spirit to be a divine Person. Of course, the Spirit is as much person and as much God as the Father and the Son are, but the Spirit’s manner of being God and person and One is not the same. The Spirit is “communication of God dispensed” to all creatures through all times. He is somehow able to distribute himself, dwelling in each creature with different gifts; then he brings them back to unity in God. Because of this, Scripture sometimes says: “the Spirit,” at other times: “spirit” (Lk 1:15; Acts 6:3), or even: “the spirits” (Rev 1:4; 3:1).
Out of him shall flow rivers of living water. Compare 4:10. Bread and water: the Body of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit. In 7:38 we read: Out of him shall flow rivers of living water.
• 8.1 The selection 8:1-11 is not found in most ancient manuscripts of John’s Gospel. Many think that this selection is from other sources. Perhaps it did belong to the gospel of Luke (compare 8:2 and Lk 21:38) and was later inserted in John’s text.
If Jesus showed such respect to the sinner and refused to condemn her, as humans would, was it because he did not consider her fault grave? No, it was because God uses different ways than people do to bring sinners to repentance and to purify them through suffering.
There is a big difference between telling a person his ideas or deeds are wrong or sinful, and condemning him. We usually condemn the person; we do not make room for change and mercy. In this Gospel episode Jesus is both demanding and merciful towards the woman.
It seems that certain pages in John’s Gospel have shifted. We already remarked that the selection 7:19-24 is really a continuation of chapter 5.
Also, the discourse 8:12-29 seems to be a continuation of the miracle story related in chapter 9. After healing the blind man and proving the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees, Jesus declares: I am the light. Jesus’ pronouncement: hence I have just told you that you will die in your sins (8:24), reminds us of the saying in 9:41.
• 12. THE LIGHT
Jesus is the light for all people of all times. God guided the Hebrews in the desert by means of a luminous cloud. He guides us through his Son; whoever follows Jesus will not walk in darkness.
Light means many good things: the welcome light of dawn after a night of darkness; the electric lights which illumine our homes while darkness reigns outside; the street lights which shine for everyone, poor and rich alike; the light that triumphs over the dark forces of evil and ignorance. Christ is all that and more for whoever follows him. He is the light by which we live with wholeness and integrity, and through whom we learn to attribute to material things and human activities their proper value.
By the light of Christ a person triumphs over all inner darkness. We are conscious of only a small part of our inner self; we often obey impulses not under our control that come from our nature. Good intentions animate us, and we have a clean heart (so we think), but we do not realize that actually we often obey the call “of flesh and blood,” as the Bible puts it. If we live in the light, the light will gradually illumine our innermost being.
Part of the human condition aggravated by sin is the absence of light for seeking and discerning what is good. Therefore, in serious matters, it is not wise to simply follow our first impulse. We need to be continuously enlightened through prayer, listening to the word of God, studying the teaching of the Church, and accepting the good advice of our brothers and sisters. By these means Jesus enlightens our conscience.
In this discourse Jesus gives witness to his own divinity. He makes us understand that in him there is a mysterious secret regarding his origin. On this page we read the expression I am seven times. John wishes us to understand that this is the key word of the discourse. I AM. It was thus God designated himself, speaking to Moses. We know that the Jews called God, Yahweh, that is, He who is. Jesus declares: “I am,” thus claiming for himself the Name that should not be given to any creature, no matter how prominent the person might be. There are Christians (e.g. the Witnesses of Jehovah) who would make Christ less than he is. They argue that since God is only one, how can the fullness of divine life be shared among three persons. While they call Christ the Son of God, they deny that he is God born of God. Yet Jesus IS as much as the Father, and must not be confused with the Father, hence he says: The Father sent me, and also: The testimony of two persons is worthy (in the Jewish Law code).
You will die in your sin (vv. 21 & 24). Sin is not just doing something bad. Sin is, also, to enclose ourselves in our own petty problems and rely only on human wisdom, without opening ourselves to the horizons of God. This eventually leads to death, for a life closed to God is no real life. The Bible divides people into two groups: those from above, who seek God’s ways, and those from below, who seek limited human goals. Sin is to refuse to allow oneself to be born again from above, as Jesus told Nicodemus (3:3). These Jews did not believe in Jesus, because his way of life and his message reflected a world of transcendent values – beyond this world – that did not attract them. Jesus would have wasted his time with them; the wisdom of God would be better revealed in his death on the cross (v. 28).
• 30. THE TRUTH – FREEDOM – SIN
Jesus spoke to the Jews who believed in him. Those Jews believed in Jesus according to their own view of him, very much like the Jews whom Paul would oppose in Galatians 3-4 did. From Jesus’ discussions with those who claimed to have the true religion, we can surmise how Jesus would confront us were he to pass among us today.
Jesus would not reproach us so much for our sins, as for our continuing to live in sin. Sins are evil deeds that at times may be excusable; often we repent of them as soon as we have committed them. To be in sin, on the other hand, is to live in falsehood; it is to persist stubbornly in a certain pride, an attachment to our own judgments. This attitude prevents us from entering into the ways of God, even though to all appearances we live an upright life and proclaim our faith.
Jesus is not a banner for every social group, whether known as Catholic or by some other name, with which we go to fight other groups. He has come as a king of the kingdom of truth. Those who seek the truth are his, whatever their ideas may be. Rather, those who live in truth are his.
For those Jews the world was divided into two groups: the sons of Abraham, that is themselves, and the rest. They boasted of their ancestry and forgot that in God’s eyes, each one is what he is.
Jesus comes to them as a witness to the truth; and his presence alone obliges all to examine themselves. The truth Jesus speaks of is not a doctrine that his followers should impose by force. Propagandists with arguments and biblical quotations are not needed, but witnesses who speak from their experience. Jesus says: The truth will make you free, and: the Son will make you free (vv. 32 & 36). Our truth consists in living in accordance with our vocation as children of God.
The believer who knows he is loved by God and consequently endeavors to be authentic is already in the truth, even if he retains some prejudices common to his milieu, or is unconsciously guided by some lies or illusions in his way of living.
Jesus also speaks of freedom. Truth and freedom go together. Many individuals and peoples have not spared themselves in an effort to break their chains. Once liberated they quickly fall into other forms of subjugation, because the root of all slavery lies within everyone.
By doing evil one becomes an accomplice of the Devil and, even without wanting to do so, falls into a trap. He will then be unable to resist the illusions and harmful influences by which the Father of Lies brings the world under his power (v. 44).
As long as we continue to be unconcerned about our true condition and are either agitated or idle, we are no more than slaves, even though we may excel in wealth, knowledge or status. We thus add to the population of the world of below (v. 23), which is unstable. Generations of slaves will follow like the waves of the sea: slaves are people who are for a time in the house (v. 35). Christ enables us to enter yet another world, the world above in which the sons and daughters stay forever (v. 35). From the time we become children of God, everything we do bears fruit for eternity.
• 9.1 TO BELIEVE IS TO SEE
Jesus is the light: the blind man sees the light of day. Jesus is the light, but people are divided about him. Some are open to the light, that is, to faith; others remain blind, that is to say, they keep their own ideas and “their own” belief and refuse to believe in the messenger of God.
One way of deepening our understanding of this chapter would be to observe the Jewish people’s reactions to the miracle. Some open themselves to the light, that is, to faith; while others prefer to follow their own lights. This Gospel story shows us the blind man who immediately understands the significance of the cure, the fearful and pragmatic parents, and the Pharisees who do nothing but judge and are unaware that they condemn themselves as they judge.
The Gospel opens up to us another way of interpreting the miracle: the one who begins to see is the believer (see vv. 4, 39-41).
Master, was it a sin of his or his parents? (v. 2). Jesus refuses to consider every misfortune as God’s punishment. The healing of the blind man was performed on the Sabbath. So people wonder if God will side with the law forbidding work on that day, or with the man who performed such a good work. The Pharisees defend the Law, as is to be expected from people who are closer to the written word and more distant from human needs.
You don’t know where the man comes from? Who live in such a way that they are able to receive the truth? It is quite understandable that the Pharisees cast out the blind man, because faith in Christ necessarily separates the believer from those who do not recognize the way God is working.
Many people think that faith is an illusion. They think faith is a cover-up of reality and that what is real is limited to material things, only that which is seen, touched, counted or measured.
Truth is different. The believer sees the same things that others see and know; but besides that, she captures something that escapes those who lack faith. A special sense is needed to see beyond the material world.
Christian faith is more than belief in a God higher than us. Faith is an ability to know by the light of Christ everything that is true, either in the goals or the means people use. The faithful one sees whatever other people see, but also perceives something that is out of their reach. We should not think that to believe or not to believe is a matter of minor importance in the struggles of life. Even when fighting together with non-Christians for concrete goals, we will hardly agree on what is more important.
With the coming of Christ a sentence, or judgment, is carried out (9:39). This means that humanity begins to be divided, because all must take a position in respect to him. Jesus judges people, or rather, we are those who judge ourselves when we accept or reject him.
• 10.1 COUNTRY WITHOUT FRONTIERS
Thanks to the parable of Jesus, we can imagine one of those sheepfolds in which the flocks of various shepherds are gathered together for the night under the vigilance of one caretaker. At dawn, each calls his sheep and leads them out.
The Bible foretold the day in which God would come to gather together the dispersed sheep of his people, so that they would live in their land. Jesus is the Shepherd and he has come to accomplish what was announced, but he will not do it in the expected way. The Jews thought that the Shepherd would revive their former prosperity: they would again be a privileged nation among other nations.
Jesus says clearly that his people are not to be thought of as identical to the Jewish nation. Those who believe, and only they, are his. He will take from among the Jews those who are his; likewise, he will take sheep from other folds as well (v. 16), that is, from among nations other than the Jewish nation. Therefore, he will lead them all and will guide this flock – which is not a nation with land boundaries – to where he knows. The only flock (not the only “fold”, as people say), that is, the only Church, moves freely through history, not confined to any one nation or era of civilization.
The shepherds of the Jewish people thought they could achieve unity by promoting national pride, by maintaining the privileges of the “higher” castes, and by discriminating against non-Jews. Jesus unites his people solely by attracting them to himself, by letting people experience who he is. All who are attracted to him, recognize his voice and believe his word are his.
People willingly gather around great figures, whether they be leaders or saints. When a people have neither frontiers, arms, language, nor laws to defend themselves against external and internal dissension, the presence of a Shepherd or leader is even more essential. Faith in Christ unites us far better than does fidelity to traditions of the past or solidarity with co-religionists. Christ’s people are not a mass; it is nor Humanity with a capital H. They are composed of persons who have begun an adventure with Jesus of mutual trust and love. I know them and they will hear my voice (vv. 14 & 16).
When the Bible speaks of the Shepherd, it usually refers to God himself, the only king of Israel, but sometimes means the King-Messiah sent by God. Jesus spoke of only one shepherd. Though distinct from the Father, he is one with him (v. 30).
In the Bible angels are sometimes called sons of God, and Jesus remarks that the rulers are called gods. Because of this, Jesus did not like to be proclaimed Son of God. He speaks forcefully in saying: the Father is in me and I in the Father: equal to equal (v. 38). At the same time that he stresses his divine power (vv. 15, 18, 29, 38), he also affirms his total dependence on the Father. In this we recognize God the Son.
• 11.1 This is the seventh and last miracle of Jesus recorded in John’s Gospel. Intentionally, the first words are designed to present the sick man: Lazarus personifies the person wounded by sin, who is in process of dying unless Christ calls him to life.
Lazarus came back to life! Let us not be astounded that Lazarus had the good fortune to live for a few more years and the misfortune of having to die again. This noticeable miracle only foretells the true resurrection that does not just prolong life but transforms our entire being. The resurrection is spiritual. It begins when faith moves a person to give up wrong ways of living and become open to receiving God’s life.
The Jews believed in the resurrection of the dead on the last day, as Martha mentioned (v. 24). They thought a divine force would come to shake the universe and open the tombs so the dead could come out. In reality, the resurrection of the dead comes about through someone, the Son of God, who has in himself all the power needed to raise people to life and to transform creation. One who lives in submission to Christ has already passed from death to life (5:24) and, because of this, will never die (v. 26).
All the persons mentioned here called Jesus “Master,” but John has them say Lord. In this way he teaches us that this miracle of Lazarus recalled to life is an image of the glorious resurrection of Jesus, the Lord. (Regarding this term “the Lord” which is one of the strongest proofs of the faith of the early Church in the divinity of Jesus, see the commentary in Acts 2:36.)
The Jews wanted to kill Jesus (v. 8), but it was legally difficult for them to take Jesus prisoner. They could do this only in the province of Jerusalem, where their religious communities and political organization were strong. As long as Jesus remained on the other side of the Jordan, he was secure. The resurrection of Lazarus hastened the time of Jesus’ death and glorification.
The twelve hours (v. 9). Jesus will complete the twelve hours of his journey, that is, of his mission, without fear of the risks involved. Those who, like him, walk by day, that is, in accordance with the divine plan, will not stumble; Christ will be for them the light of the world.
I have come to believe that you are the Christ (v. 27). What more extraordinary profession of faith is there than Martha’s! It is like Peter’s (Mt 16:16), and in a short while it will be Mary who will tell about the resurrection to the same apostles. Truly the Gospel is not male chauvinist, nor does it enthrone ecclesiastical hierarchy.
Father, I thank you … (v. 41). This act of thanksgiving is the only one we read in John, aside from the long prayer in chapter 17 that is full of praise for the Father. We read another such prayer in Luke 10:21. These recorded acts of thanksgiving may seem very few, considering that thanksgiving is an essential attitude of a Christian, but Jesus expressed his act of thanksgiving in all he did. In his mortal existence, he dispossessed himself of his own will and power so that the Father could use him for his greater glory (Jn 12:27-28).
Untie him (v. 44). For burial the Jews bound their dead with linen. This word “to untie” means something more, it was the expression used by the primitive Church in referring to forgiveness of sins. Like Lazarus, one who receives pardon returns to life.
• 45. THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
Caiaphas’ words were fulfilled but not in the sense he intended. Jesus was going to die to gather into one the scattered children of God (v. 52).
The worldwide effect of Christ’s resurrection is to unite all of humanity in renewed creation – as Jesus himself put it, “when I’m lifted up from earth I shall draw all to myself” (Jn 12:32). That is to say, the cross and resurrection are the source of communion and fraternity.
The Church reunites believers of all races and cultures: we call it “Catholic,” that is, universal. This Church, however, is but a beginning and a sign of that which will be attained at the end of time, when the whole of humanity will be reunited in Christ (Rev 7).
In our world, preventing people from grouping together to discuss and understand their situation perpetuates the oppression of rural and urban masses. This hidden violence opposes unity. Some current ideologies promote a struggle for liberation that attempts to unite people by targeting adversaries and continually deciding on whom to expel. There, too, the seed of violence (for both murder and exclusion are violence) gives birth to more oppressive societies.
Christians should be the first to notice we are living in an exceptional century in which, for the first time, all peoples share the same history and must accept a common destiny, either willingly or by force. This awareness enables them to see and to indicate the goals of human effort. They must ponder all of human reality, and even international relationships, in the light of the Gospel and not waste all their energy in projects of aid for the poor.
• 12.1 Matthew and Mark also relate the incident at a supper when Mary showed her passionate love for Jesus. She loved him with all her strength, and her love, far from blinding her, made her sense and respect the mysterious personality of Jesus.
Not all the apostles understood her gesture, because they still had much to learn about loving Christ.
Like Judas we often speak of giving to the poor. Yet the Lord’s command is not to give but to love. To love the poor is to reveal to them their call from God, and to help them grow as persons by overcoming their weaknesses and divisions and by fulfilling the mission God entrusted to them. The poor will live the Gospel and witness to it in the world. If we are not among them, we need conversion and true poverty to discover with them the Kingdom. How can we really love the poor unless we have passionate love for Jesus? When we do not, we prefer to speak only of giving to the poor.
Six days before the Passover. Mark and Matthew give the impression that this supper happened two days before the Passover, not six (Mt 26:2; Mk 14:1). The evangelists also disagree regarding the date of the Passover. While John declares that Jesus died on the eve of the Passover (Jn 19:14), the other three say that the Last Supper took place on the same day that the Jews celebrated the Passover. According to a very ancient tradition that various Oriental churches still maintain, Jesus could have celebrated the Last Supper, not on Thursday, but on Tuesday. His trial would then have lasted two days: Wednesday and Thursday. (That seems much more probable than having all the sessions of the double trial of Jesus in the one morning of Friday). He would die on Friday, as all the texts affirm.
A possible explanation for these disagreements might be the following: The Passover is celebrated in accordance with the new moon which is not a fixed date, nor is it determined according to the same criteria by everyone. Hence, in certain years some religious groups celebrated it three days before others. Jesus could have celebrated the Passover on the eve of Wednesday, while the majority of the people celebrated on the eve of Saturday.
Three hundred dinarii would be nearly a year’s salary for a laborer.
• 20. Several foreigners (called Greeks because of their language) were converted to the faith of the Jews. Though they did not observe the Jewish laws, they were accepted in the Temple of Jerusalem where a courtyard, (separate from that of the Jews) was reserved for them. The question from those Greeks offers Jesus the opportunity to announce that his kingdom will be extended through the whole earth, when he will have been raised on the cross.
Unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies (v. 24). Jesus will die and the universal Church will be born. Jesus allows his lifeless body to be laid in the earth; on rising from the tomb, his same body, now glorified, will also embrace the believers united to him. The life that is now his will be communicated to all the children of God.
Unless the grain dies. This is the law for all life that will be fruitful (Mk 8:34). The first believers were already saying: “The blood of the martyrs is a seed.”
• 27. This page of John’s Gospel records both Jesus’ transfiguration (Mk 9:2) and agony in Gethsemane (Mk 14:32).
Then a voice came (v. 28). While Jesus was in the midst of the noisy crowd a noise erupted: a message from heaven or simply a noise? This event, insignificant perhaps for the historian, was like the fleeting presence of reality breaking through the illusory scene in which most people are caught up. The fact that the people misunderstood his message, and that later they would deliver him up to their rulers, has become of minor importance to Jesus. He looks beyond all that. Jesus knows that he cannot save the nation from historical failure, but he understands that his death will change the course of world events: he will conquer where the destiny of humankind is to be played out.
From the beginnings of our history, the ruler of this world, the Spirit of Evil, has obscured in humankind the capacity to recognize God. God has directed the whole of creation towards a progressive growth in maturity until the birth of the New Creature. Because of sin this birth comes about in a world characterized by suffering, indifference and slavery.
The only way to salvation is to return to obedience, not “to God,” but to the Father. And Christ had to open the way through his sacrifice: I have come to this hour to face all this (v. 27).
We easily forget that the purpose of our life is to glorify God. We do not glorify God principally by constructing temples or by singing: “Glory to God!” but by making ourselves pleasing and living sacrifices to God. A bishop and martyr of the primitive Church, St. Irenaeus, wrote: “God is glorified when people are fully alive: but for a person to be fully alive is to see God.”
A sacrifice is a surrender of something for the sake of something or someone else. Our sacrifice is to allow God to be our life, to make us like him and to prepare us to reflect his own Glory. This indeed requires sacrifice because God makes us pass through a death to attain this life. Through obedience to God’s will, we are freed of our selfishness and the limits of our present condition, and we are prepared for another and everlasting state. God is glorified when his children attain glory, that is to say, attain his own perfection and are transformed through fire and the Holy Spirit.
• 37. AN IRREPARABLE CHOICE
Jesus’ life of preaching is coming to an end. John later finds it difficult to understand how God’s chosen people could remain so blind regarding their Messiah. John tries to search out the meaning of this refusal by using two texts from the prophets:
The first is a long poem dedicated to the Servant of Yahweh, a voluntary victim for the sake of his people (Is 53:1). It shows us that people do not willingly accept a humiliated Savior.
The second text shows how the rejection of Christ could have been foreseen. Indeed, the ancient prophets were also ignored while they were living, thus fulfilling a mysterious plan of God.
John stresses the sin of the majority who were not committed to Christ, although within themselves they secretly respected him. Somehow the Jewish people suspected that Jesus came from God, but to believe in what he claimed and asked was another matter.
For us, too, to believe in the Gospel is to take a stand; we cannot pass by the Church Jesus founded even though it may not be totally transparent. His word comes to us amidst numerous preoccupations, and most often we feel inclined to respond: “I’ll see later!” When we neglect his word, we often think it not grave. Actually it is God and his truth that we reject and we may not have another occasion to receive it. All eternity is decided today.
There is absolutely nothing in the Bible to support the belief that we will have other lives in order to repair our errors of today. If so many people of our time have grasped this belief in a succession of lives, it is above all because it encourages them to delay making real decisions; the devil takes charge of spreading this belief.
• 13.1 Here begins the second half of John’s Gospel.
In the first half, through signs and discourses Jesus foretold the work he was going to accomplish in the world and the glory that would be given him after he would be “raised on high.” Now Jesus’ hour has come, in which he will realize all that was announced.
The second half begins with the farewell discourses of Jesus at the Last Supper.
Just as in the previous chapters each of Jesus’ discourses begins with a miracle, the farewell discourses narrated in chapters 14-17 have, as a point of departure, the extraordinary act of the “washing of the feet.” This gesture contains two lessons:
– the need to purify ourselves before participating in the Supper of the Lord.
– how the commitment of love is to be put into practice.
• 2. THE PENITENTIAL RITE
John does not narrate the institution of the Eucharist, but the Washing of the Feet and what follows (vv. 26-30) may be seen as an obscure allusion to the Eucharist.
He began to wash their feet. The poor among the Jews walked barefoot while the rest wore sandals. A traditional gesture of welcome was to order a servant to wash the feet of the traveler (see Gen 18:4). The apostles did not have servants, but that night Jesus chose to be their servant.
Jesus did not intend merely to make the apostles clean and comfortable. His washing of their feet was a sacred act that symbolized purifying them just as baptism does. The apostles were already in the grace of God: the word of Jesus that they received with faith had purified them (15:3). They needed more preparation, however, before sharing the bread of life at the table of their Lord. All religions observe some preparatory or purification rites before offering sacred things to their members. Jews, for example, observed purification rites before participating in the Passover meal.
Jesus was no less demanding: he himself washed the feet of his apostles. He did not ask them to confess their sins; all he wanted was that they would humbly allow him, their Lord, to wash their feet.
This act reminds us at once of the sacraments of Baptism and Penance. There, bonds of humility and mercy are forged both for the one who purifies and for those purified. Henceforth the apostles will do what their Lord did before them, since he will send them in his name to forgive sins. They are not to act as hierarchical officials or judges granting pardon to sinners but to take the first step in humility and mercy, in order to likewise purify those who approach the Supper of the Lord.
The word Lord appears seven times in this chapter. With this in mind we understand that by washing the feet of his apostles Jesus performed a significant act which shows us, in a most surprising way, who our Lord and God is, and how he acts.
• 33. CHRISTIAN LOVE
I give you a new commandment. That is to say, a commandment appropriate for the advent of a new era. The Old Testament spoke of interior fidelity to God and love of neighbor, but this message often remained hidden among the complexities of the Law. Besides, there are many ways of loving: even a fanatically religious person can claim to be loving God. In the New Testament Jesus says that love of God is the highest law. The example given by the Lord during his earthly life reminds us of the way to love.
Love that is like God’s aims at liberating our neighbor and enabling her to fully develop her God-given gifts. Love like the Lord’s helps the neighbor become what God wishes her to be, by passing through death to resurrection.
Moreover, when we go deeper into the mystery of divine love revealed to us through Jesus, our love becomes merged with the eternal love of God that alone, in the end, shall permeate all we do. True love comes from God and makes us return to unity within God.
Time and again, Jesus points out the unique importance of Christian love. Later, his Apostles (e.g., 1 Jn 4:7 ff.) and the Church would sum up his teaching on love: Love of God is shown through love of our neighbor, love of our neighbor depends on love of God. What is it really to love God? The great saints and mystics of the Church tell us that love of God is not “to feel God,” to feel devotion or affection for God. Christian love lies not in sentiment or feelings (though on some occasions we might feel affection or devotion, which is helpful); to love God is to be determined to do what God wishes at each moment of our lives. What God wishes of us regarding our neighbor is that we render loving service and forgiveness.
• 14.1 THE SPIRITUAL LIFE
After the washing of the feet, John continues with Jesus’ three farewell discourses to his apostles. Those who had lived intimately with him for several months, would soon need to discover another way of living with the risen and present, though invisible, Christ. “I was with you,” says Jesus (vv. 9 and 25); henceforth, “I will be in you.” The first of these discourses is found in chapter 14.
Jesus’ ascension to the Father was not just an individual achievement, but opened for all of us a way to our House, not situated high above us, but in God. There are many mansions (v. 2), that means that there is also a place for us: not just one mansion for everybody, but a place for each one, because Heaven is not like a performance which is the same for everyone in the audience. God’s radiance will draw from each one the resonance only he can bring forth. Each one will be in his own mansion, being in communion with all.
Now, knowing what is the goal, we should walk towards this definitive communion. “I am the way,” says Jesus. He became human precisely so that we might see the Father in him. He followed his way, so disconcerting for us, so that, meditating on his actions, we would progress towards the truth. Although in the beginning we may not understand him well, with time, we will discover the Lord and understand that his way is ours. Passing through the cross and death, we will achieve our own truth and arrive at life.
I am in the Father, and the Father is in me, and you in me (vv. 11 and 20). Christ makes us enter into the divine family. Thus, we no longer speak of approaching God as if he were far from us. We no longer feel as if God were a single person in front of us. We enter “into” the mysterious life of the divine Persons who share everything and who are the one and only God. Material things cannot penetrate each other; but in the world of the spirit such is possible. Christ is in the Father and the Father in him. They make their home within us (v. 23).
In the introduction to the Gospel, John explained that all of God’s actions in the world should be understood in the light of the intimate relationship between the Father and the Son. Now he adds that the presence of God in us is due to another person, the Holy Spirit. Neither the Father alone, whom no one has seen, nor the Son, who made himself known, can enter into communion with people. They can, however, do so by means of the Spirit, whom we should call: God who is communicated. Hence we call spiritual life everything that refers to our relationship with God.
The spiritual life includes three elements:
– keeping the words of Jesus: meditating on them, putting them into practice and letting them take root in our soul.
– then, instructed by the Spirit regarding what we should ask in Jesus’ name, let us ask, with all confidence, for those things that he himself desires.
– finally, let us do the same things he did. He did not multiply good works, but completed that which his Father asked him to do, even when his obedience would seem to us a vain sacrifice.
I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper (v. 16). Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit whom he calls the Paraclete. This Greek word has several meanings. Here we use Helper. The Spirit helps the believers and inspires their prayer so that it may be heard (Rom 8:26).
The Helper (or Interpreter) will teach you (v. 26). The Spirit enables us to understand and interpret Jesus’ words throughout all time.
Lord, how can it be that you will show yourself clearly to us and not to the world? (v. 22). Judas thought that Jesus meant he would summon them for secret meetings, but Jesus really meant he would make himself known to them through interior teaching and by letting them experience peace.
For the Father is greater than I (v. 28). This does not contradict what John teaches throughout the whole Gospel about Jesus’ divinity. This is to be read together with 5:18; 10:30; 16:15, if we want to know something of the mystery of Christ, “true God,” as spoken of in Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13; and 1 John 5:20.
As early as the fourth century Saint Hilary, the great bishop and defender of the faith, wrote: “The Father is greater because of being the one who gives. As he gives the Son all that he himself is, yet the Son is not inferior to the Father.”
Moreover, it is characteristic of the Son to deny himself so that he may give glory to the Father, until the Father gives him back “the Glory he had before” as said in 17:5 and 6:62. Because of this the apostles, who have seen him as a man among humans in the time of his humiliation, should now rejoice.
The Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name (v. 26). Compare with 15:26. The Holy Spirit proceeds as much from the Father as from the Son being, with them, only one God.
• 15.1 In this second farewell discourse, Jesus invites us to remain steadfast in the midst of the world. The discourse is divided into four parts:
– the parable of the vine: I have sent you to produce fruits.
– the world will hate you.
– the work of the Holy Spirit.
– in a little while you will see me again.
First, the parable of the vine. Jesus uses an image from the Bible, but he changes the original meaning, as he did before when speaking of the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:1). The vine represents the people of Israel. Planted from selected stock, cared for by the Lord, it should have produced fruits of justice (Mk 12:1).
Now the true Vine has taken root. Christ is the trunk from which the branches sprout, that is to say, all of us who live by him. He is also the entire plant, trunk and branches together: the Christians are really the body of Christ.
The vine was the people of Israel, and what mattered more to them was the collective conduct of the community as one body. What mattered was not the individuals but Israel. Now Jesus does not say: The Christian community is the vine, but: I am the vine. So each of us has to consider how he is joined with Jesus through faith, prayer, and keeping his word. Each one has to bear fruit. Jesus does not specify what these fruits should be: whether service, understanding, action for social justice, or a life silently offered to God. Rather he insists that these fruits should come from the Spirit and bear his proper seal. The success of the Church is not measured by its achievements, but by the progress of those who interiorize Christ’s mystery and share in his cross and resurrection.
After making it clear that we depend totally on him, Jesus repeats his commandment of love. There is a necessary order in building the Christian life.
If from the start we say: We should love our neighbor because this is the only commandment, we will achieve nothing; because each one understands love in his own way, while not having as yet interiorized the thinking of Christ. Moreover, we need to receive from the source of all love the ability to love selflessly. Christ asks us to first share his thinking: that is what the expression, keep my commandments means. Thus we become his friends, knowing him as a person who loves us and acts in us. Later we will produce the authentic fruit of love, whose source is Christ.
• 18. In spite of Jesus’ having returned to his Father to initiate a more effective and universal presence among humankind, Satan continues to act with the power he has usurped. The hatred of those who belong to Satan is directed against the believers and the Church. Such helpers of Satan are called in John’s Gospel: the world.
Believers are destined to be hated by the world. It often happens that when a person begins to live in a more Christian and responsible way, she meets with opposition and hatred from her own family. No one knows what has aroused the hatred, but the devil does, who moves everything to discourage us.
Even in the Church we find those who are of the world and believe that they are serving God (16:2) when they persecute the true disciples of Christ. Some who identify themselves with what they consider “the interests of the Church” can even persecute, and at times with malice, those who are Gospel-minded. In reality they know neither Jesus nor his Father.
When our hope does not come from God, trials discourage us; but when our hope is rooted in God, we are strengthened and remain steadfast. In the parable of the vine, Jesus said: “My father prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it will bear more fruit.”
• 26. THE FATHER, THE SON AND THE HOLY SPIRIT
In making us children of his Father, Jesus enables us to discover the intimate mystery of God. In God there is communion among the three persons: the Father, the Son and their common Spirit.
We speak of their common Spirit, because Jesus said both: The Father will give you another Helper (14:16) and: The Helper which I will send you (15:26). Now he says: He will take what is mine and tell it to you: everything that the Father has is also mine (16:15).
“The Spirit” is not a poetic figure: it is Someone. This has already been commented on (Jn 7:37; 14:1).
Starting from the day of Pentecost, the Spirit began to act in the Church, thus showing that he was the Spirit of Christ. The unbelieving Jews thought that God was with them, but in reality his Spirit did not act among them. So it was clear that they had sinned (v. 16:9) for not believing in Christ.
What is the way of righteousness (v. 8). The righteous One is Christ and the righteous persons are those who believe in him without seeing him (v. 10).
The Acts of the Apostles records how the Spirit worked in the first disciples of Jesus. Before granting miraculous powers, the Spirit gave them joy, peace and mutual love, as well as inner certainty that Jesus had risen and was among them.
The Spirit guides missionaries; he gives them the power to perform miracles; he gives to believers the knowledge of God, new capacities for working, healing, serving and shaking up a sinful world. Throughout history the Spirit would raise up people of faith, martyrs, prophets, and through them transform the world. In this way the Savior, seemingly defeated, would be justified; and it becomes evident that the loser is Satan, who already has been condemned (v. 11). The evil spirit, great director of the worldly show, is displaced and his influence limited. A new force, which is the Spirit, orients history and guides us towards the total truth.
• 16.16 JESUS IN OUR MIDST
Jesus is in our midst, but to be aware of his presence requires faith. He himself said: “You will see me because you live and I also live (14:19).” It is not important that we feel his presence, what matters is to persevere in his ways. In order to attain mature faith, it is necessary that we be deprived of the consolation of his presence for more or less prolonged periods: a little while and you will not see me.
For his disciples this happened for the first time at the moment of his death; later they saw him risen from the dead. This will come true for us at the end of time, when we discover the glorious Christ whom we have awaited in faith. No one should feel overconfident about feeling his presence, for example, after a conversion. When everything seems easy, we should not look down on those who find it hard to believe or who have never felt the presence of God. In a little while, perhaps, the Lord will leave us in darkness.
After Jesus rose from the dead, a real companionship would be established between him and his disciples: he would speak to them clearly of the Father; they would ask in his name.
I will tell you plainly… The naive response of the apostles in verse 29 underlines by contrast what Jesus expressed in verse 25. Jesus did not mean that he would return in visible form to teach, not in parables, but more clearly; Jesus referred rather to the spiritual knowledge of himself and his words that the disciples were to receive from the Spirit.
You will ask in my Name (v. 26). Through a spiritual knowledge of Jesus, the believers will know what they should ask of him and he will give it to them. In the same manner, they will know the things that God does not want to give, and because of that they will neither desire nor ask for them.
• 17.1 ONE AND HOLY
Priestly Prayer is the name many give to that prayer in which Christ, before he died, offered to sacrifice his own life, as both priest and victim (v. 19). The word to consecrate applied to two things: the priest was consecrated, that is, was made worthy to offer the sacrifice, and he also consecrated (made holy) the victim on sacrificing it.
Jesus put an end to the Old Testament form of worship that the Jews rendered to God in the Temple for centuries. The Israelites were holy; that is to say, their mission among all the nations was to serve the Holy God, whom they knew by a special privilege.
Jesus prays for his own so that they may become the new people (Ps 102:19), consecrated to God, this time according to the truth (v. 17). He will pour over them the Spirit of Truth, who has been promised to Israel and will instruct us interiorly.
Keep them in your Name (v. 11). In other words: keep them in the radiance of your own sanctity, with which you embrace your Son. At that moment Jesus prayed for his Church, to whom he entrusted his own mission. The principal duty of the Church is to know God. (The word to know is repeated seven times, clearly showing that it expresses the essence of the discourse). Whatever the situation of the Church might be, its proper and indispensable mission will be to keep and proclaim the true knowledge of God and the commandment of his Son.
Jesus wants each of his own to know God. This knowledge comes to us when we interiorize the word of God, persevere in prayer and join community celebrations. In this we will have the help of the Holy Spirit, from whom come the gifts of knowledge and wisdom (Col 1:9). From knowledge will spring good works and love; this is the beginning of eternal life (v. 3) in which we will see God as he is (1 Jn 2:3).
Jesus prayed that his Church might be one, that is to say, that it might be the sign of unity in a divided world. It is not enough that Christ is preached; it is also necessary for the world to see in its midst the Church, one and united.
Catholic Church, means, universal. In the Church no one is a stranger. One Church, through one same spirit, and through the visible unity of its members.
The history of the Church seems to run counter to the prayer of Christ. Jesus desired unity; the evangelists relate how he named Peter as visible head of the apostolic group and the entire Church. However, to maintain unity among people of different temperaments and various cultures requires much love and understanding.
From the beginning some began to reject the faith as taught by the apostles, and several groups or sects appeared.
For historical reasons, the countries of the Roman world were divided into two main empires: one of the Orient, with the patterns of Greek culture and that of the Occident (Europe), where the medieval culture developed. After the invasions of the barbaric peoples, contact between the Christians of these two parts became very difficult. Because they lived the same faith with different traditions and religious practices, they began to consider themselves as having different religions. That was how the Oriental churches, that is, the Orthodox, separated from the Roman Church.
Much later the negligence of the hierarchy in not ending the abuses and useless human traditions led the Protestants or Evangelicals to found new churches, which they called reformed churches. This separation, however, had deeper political, social and economic roots. It was part of a cultural crisis that obliged Christians to revise their views regarding the Bible, philosophy and politics. According to whatever stand one took concerning these issues, one joined the Protestants or stayed with the Catholic Church.
In our times, we have a better understanding of these past difficulties. Many Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants are attempting to unite as believers. At the same time, however, new problems have arisen within each Church. Today Christians disagree and are split, not only in their political options, but also in their understanding of Christ and their views on how his message is best delivered in our time.
Ecumenism, that is, efforts to reconcile in truth and bring the Churches together, demands that we overcome the new dissensions that threaten the internal unity of the Church. All of us must work so that the unity of all Christians may be realized as Christ desires, and by the means he wants. In any case, nothing can be done without obeying the truth and doing the truth. In no way can we disregard Peter’s charism of unity that is granted to Peter’s successors.
• 18.28 CHRIST THE KING
My Kingship does not come from this world. It is important to remember what was said regarding Luke 8:9. In the Gospel the same word means: The Kingdom, that is, the country that the king governs; the reign, that is the government of the king; the Kingship, that is, the dignity and power of the king.
In Jesus’ response to Pilate the meaning to be given to the word is not kingdom, but rather kingship, which is the power of the king.
In any case, it would be an error to understand Jesus’ words as follows: “My Kingdom is in another world, therefore, the social and political problems of this world do not concern me,” and think that Jesus came to give spiritual salvation, individually, to believing souls.
Likewise, it would be an error to understand the word: You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above as affirming that the authorities receive their power directly from God and that no one should take steps to replace them with others less corrupt, or less unjust, or more capable. See commentary on Romans 13:1.
Jesus with hands bound, behaves like a king before the governor, Pilate, who is captive of his office and his own ambitions. Jesus is not a king like those of this world, because he does not exert the kind of power that people are used to obeying. Jesus, king of the Jews, did not come to revive the independent Jewish kingdom, but to establish the Kingdom of Truth, which God promised them for centuries.
Yet truth does not win with arms, but thanks to the testimony of those who live according to the truth. Witnesses of the truth are often persecuted, but they themselves do not persecute others.
My kingship does not come from this world. Jesus is unlike other authorities that have gained their positions through force or have won in an election. He has been sent and anointed by the Father.
Pilate, on the other hand, had been appointed by the Emperor of Rome and owed his career as much to his own ambition as to several protectors. How could such a man have power over the Son of God and have him crucified for fear of the people, if it were not to fulfill a decree from on High? Indeed, not even a sparrow falls to the ground without the Father allowing it.
God would not permit human creatures to destroy the destiny of his Son. He cares for each one of us in such a way that even the injustice committed against us serves his plans for our good. Because our fate depends at the same time on the Father and on human authorities, we should believe that he takes advantage of their decisions to carry out his own purposes, even when their power is of this world, that is to say, of a very questionable legitimacy.
Pilate condemned Jesus unwillingly. Having oppressed and shamelessly exploited the Jews, he feared the denunciations that they might make to Caesar against him. The condemnation of Jesus, however, meant for him nothing more than the death of one more Jew: he did not bear the whole guilt, since that type of justice was the result of the Roman colonial system.
Caiaphas, instead, the anointed High Priest of God, could not condemn Jesus without knowingly slandering his deeds and his word. So he was more guilty (19:11).
We have no king but Caesar (19:15). Thus shouted the crowd impelled by the leaders, although they hated the Romans and their emperor. In fact, several years later the Jews would have no other king but Caesar, and this king would destroy them. Pilate wanted to save the life of his prisoner when he presented him in his disfigured condition. Instead he wounded the pride of the Jewish people: a Christ the King humiliated – they could not accept this offense.
THE MOTHER OF THE BELIEVERS
• 19.25 At the moment of Man’s fall, Eve was with Adam. Now, at the moment of restoration, that is, the second creation, another woman is with the Son of Man (the Human One), the second Adam. Mary has neither spouse nor son who can receive her and, for the Jews, a woman who remains alone would be considered cursed. Jesus entrusts Mary to John and, also, John to Mary. John testifies having heard both phrases. Notice that he writes: Jesus said to the Mother, and not, to his mother. This is a new symbolic gesture of Jesus. Mary will be the Mother of believers.
Through this last deed of Jesus, the Church discovered something about the mystery of the Christian life. The believer is a member of a spiritual family. As a child needs a father and a mother to grow normally so, too, does the believer need Mary and the heavenly Father. This is an unchanging doctrine of the Church, which in no way attempts to make the creature equal with the Creator.
Not without reason has God given us a mother: if it is a misfortune for a child not to have known a mother, it is also a misfortune for a believer when his religion only expresses itself in masculine terms. The believer who welcomes Mary to his home as did John is neither a fanatic nor a quibbler regarding faith. There exists a form of humility, joy, interior peace and simple piety characteristic of those Catholics who have known how to open their doors to Mary without throwing out their Savior.
• 28. I am thirsty. Jesus is tortured by thirst. He also thirsts that the Kingdom of his Father be realized in the world. He thirsts for selfless love from those who may share his deepest thoughts and be willing to follow him until Calvary.
It is accomplished. Jesus drank the cup of sorrow and humiliation to the last drop. The Father had placed it in his hands as the means for becoming the Savior we need. The Work of the Son of God made flesh, which should be nothing less than a new creation of the world, is accomplished. The earthly existence of the Son of God comes to an end, and from the seed planted in the earth will come forth the New Creature.
The preparatory times of the Jewish religion, in which the Law occupied first place and the fear due to unforgiven sins was never lost, are finished. A stage of history has ended, in which the rest of humanity had been dragged by its fears and acceptance of its deadly fate, which was a form of its slavery to the Evil Spirit.
Now begins a new era in history, the era of the New Covenant of God with humanity. The Spirit will be communicated to the Church. John said: Jesus gave up the spirit; a word that also indicated that he was giving his Spirit to us.
• 31. THE SACRED HEART
In Jesus’ death as in his life, there are many details that enable us to understand his sacrifice better, if we see them in the light of the Old Testament.
In the piercing of Jesus’ heart the words of the prophet Zechariah: They shall look on him whom they pierced (Zec 12:10) were literally fulfilled. The wounds of Jesus are seen by people of any religion as the distinctive mark of Christian faith. Without needing words, they tell a way of self-sacrifice in which God made himself a model. God said through Zechariah that this is the moment in which sinners are converted.
John also records a prescription of the Law regarding the Passover Lamb: Not one of his bones shall be broken (Ex 12:46). This occurred at the death of Jesus, the true victim who took the place of the Passover Lamb.
Blood and water came out. The Jews believed that only through the blood of their victims could they obtain God’s pardon. Speaking poetically, first John, then later the Church, said that from the open breast of Christ came forth the sacrament of Baptism and the Eucharist, water and blood. From the cross, forgiveness and new life have sprung forth for us.
The open heart of Jesus invites us to discover the powerful, hidden and mysterious love that inspired his life. The disciples of Jesus, who had lived with him, would find that their memories and emotions would be diluted and disappear with time; they would discover, on the other hand, that there had been no word, or deed or even silence of Jesus that had not been an expression of his love for God. From his open heart on the cross originates our devotion to the Heart of Jesus. Let us not get distracted by intellectual ideas in an attempt to explain or interpret faith; rather, let us contemplate God’s love and allow it to transform us, making us like unto him.
• 38. Jesus has just died and it is two Pharisees who took care of giving him a decent burial. Joseph of Arimathea approached Pilate: because the disciples had no means of approaching the Roman governor. Joseph and Nicodemus were disciples in “secret.” Because Jesus identified himself with the common people, it was difficult for those in better social positions to integrate themselves into his group. Here we have an example of the inevitable consequences of a preferential option for the poor.
Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Lazarus and the women mentioned in Luke 8:2 were people of upper or middle class. This fact was enough for some scholars to hastily conclude that Jesus did not live among the poor: seemingly forgetting all the rest of the Gospel’s evidence. Let us remark that, even now, wherever an apostolic person lives as a poor person among the poor, there are always people, who are better off financially, who recognize him and give him support. By being truly committed to the poor, Jesus saved the rich and won the admiration and friendship of some of them.
There was a garden. The place for the executions was an abandoned quarry near the walls of Jerusalem. Tombs were dug along the sides while the bottom was filled and passed as gardens. A rock projected, about four meters high, from the middle of the area. This rock was called Calvary and on it were raised the crosses.
• 20.1 On the second day after the burial it appeared that Jesus was alive and had gone from the tomb. The resurrection took place on the first day of the week, which henceforth would be called the Day of the Lord, that is, Sunday.
In Luke’s Gospel, after Jesus’ resurrection he helps his disciples revive their faith and hope. Here instead we see the believers silently contemplating the risen Lord. Christ appears to Mary, who does not recognize him. When he stands in the midst of his disciples, he has to show his wounds to prove that it is he himself, he who had died. Jesus is among them, but his appearance is that of a stranger, and his spiritually transformed body radiates the victory over sin and death.
Then Peter arrived. Several texts record that Peter was both a witness to the empty tomb and of Jesus risen from the dead (Lk 24:12 and 24:24; 1 Cor 15:5). Our faith is supported primarily by the testimony of the apostles, and especially by the testimony of the head of the apostles.
He saw the linen cloths lying flat. The linens designate the sheet, about 4 meters long, spread under the body from the feet to the head and then, above the body, from the head to the feet; they also refer to the bands that tied the two ends of the sheet. The dead person’s face was wrapped with a separate cloth, the napkin that was tied under the chin and over the head.
The sheet and the bands were lying where the body had been but were flat, for the body inside them had dematerialized. The napkin, which was rolled in the other direction, stayed as it was.
Jesus had not returned to life with his earthly body. This had dematerialized, so when we speak of the risen body of Jesus, we refer to something we have never experienced on earth. Those who have had dreams and visions of Jesus have only seen images of him, but have not actually seen him, except for a few of the most eminent saints.
• 11. Do not cling to me, you see I have not yet ascended to the Father (v. 17). Before his death, Jesus did not disapprove of the passionate feelings and actions of Mary. Now this familiar gesture to take possession of her loved Master is no longer appropriate.
He is now the Risen One, and though he lets himself be seen by his disciples for a few days, he is in the Glory of the Father. His disciples must relinquish the physical presence of Jesus with which they felt so much at ease. From now on the followers or the brothers and lovers of Jesus will embrace him in a secret and marvelous way, when they are given gifts of prayer and faith. It is then that the contemplative spirit, who is represented by Mary, may enjoy the whole of Christ (see Song 3:4)
I have not yet ascended to the Father. Jesus is revealing the great desire that filled his life. He came from God and must return to the Father. This is “the greatest love in the world.” All the love that Jesus has for us is but a manifestation of that other love, because God the Father is the fountain and the goal of all love. See the commentary on Matthew 19:16 in this regard.
It is not by chance that the word Lord is again repeated seven times, the last time by Thomas: “You are my Lord and my God.” This expresses the faith of the Church.
Let us remark that the persons concerned in this event did in fact call Jesus, “the Master.” However, John puts on their lips the word Lord. Why? From the first days of the Church, the believers had to find words to express their faith in Jesus, Son of God. Being the Son, he was not the same person as God, but he was one with him. How to express this divine condition?
In the Bible two names were given to God: God and Yahweh. At that time the Jews no longer pronounced the name of Yahweh and instead said: “the Lord.” Moreover, in the Greek bible used by the apostles and the Church, Yahweh was also translated as “the Lord.” So the apostles decided very soon to retain the term God when speaking of God the Father, and to call Jesus “the Lord,” by this affirming that he was not inferior to the Father.
The risen Jesus’ apparitions to his disciples, besides fostering their hope and making them qualified witnesses of his resurrection, were necessary for their spiritual formation. The disciples had to learn to recognize Jesus no longer through their senses but through faith. Likewise, we have to learn to recognize and follow Jesus in the dim light of faith, in desolation as well as in consolation, thus we too will be among those whom Jesus blesses: Happy are those who believe without seeing me (v. 29).
• 19. Just as in the first creation God infused life into Adam, so, too, Jesus’ breath communicates life to the new spiritual creation. Christ, who died to take away the sin of the world, now leaves to his own the power to forgive.
Thus the hope of the Biblical people has been realized. God led them in such a way that they felt the universal presence of sin, and so they offered animals in the Temple uninterruptedly to appease God. That river of blood failed to destroy sin, and the priests themselves offered sacrifices for their own sins before praying to God for the others. Ceremonies and rites had no power to purify the heart or to give the Holy Spirit.
Now, in the person of Jesus risen from the dead, a new world has begun. Although humanity may continue to sin, already the first of its sons and daughters, the “eldest brother of them all” is sharing fully the holy life of God.
Those who strive for the spiritual life, suffer above all from a keen awareness of the universal presence of sin. They grieve deeply at not yet having attained total liberation from sin. Hence they recognize the forgiveness of sin as the greatest gift given to the Church.
The capacity to forgive is the only power able to release the great tensions within humankind. Although it does not easily conquer hearts, it is an invaluable secret and the Church should consider it as its own particular treasure.
One who does not know how to forgive does not know how to love. On making us aware of sin and purifying us from it, the Church helps us demonstrate a more authentic love for the neighbor.
• 21.1 Jesus appears this time near Lake Tiberias. This delightful story is filled with divine presence as Christ stands on the lonely lakeshore in the light of dawn. The apostles see a stranger but John, the prophet, recognizes Christ.
The apostles pulled in a net full of 153 big fish. This number had a symbolic value; it expressed plentitude and universality. Such will be the apostolic work: all nations of the earth will be brought to Christ.
The triple questioning of Peter by Jesus may be thought of as the undoing of the triple denial during Jesus’ passion. Peter, too, being the shepherd of the shepherds, is a forgiven sinner. Jesus entrusts the whole Church to him: the same as in Matthew 16:18. Do you love me? This is the first condition to be fulfilled by a shepherd in the Church.
This dialogue between Jesus and Peter expresses what being a Christian is all about. Jesus asks us every day if we love him in a special and exclusive way: Do you love me more than these? We answer, “Yes,” despite our miseries, as Peter did; Jesus then invites us to follow him anew, out of love (v. 22), and to share with him the responsibility of caring for the people of God. There is no better way of following Jesus than by giving up our lives for his mission.
Jesus orders Peter to care for the Church and, with this, orders us to obey. We obey freely and conscientiously, not because the shepherds are always capable and infallible, but rather because they perform a necessary function of authority. We believe that historically they are the successors of the apostles, and for that reason have received their mission from God.
The Gospel ends with a prediction of the different fates that will be Peter’s and John’s. Peter died a martyr’s death in Rome in the year 66 or 67; John was still living in the year 90. He was the last of the witnesses of Christ and many thought he would not die until the Lord would come again: hence, the Gospel insists that Jesus had not made such a promise.
The last paragraph was placed there by those associated with John at the time of his death.