Saturday, May 22, 2010

Time and Sacrifice in the Gospel of St. John (Part 1)

Have you ever thought about the relationship between time and God? One morning it suddenly dawned on me (no pun intended) that God has complete control over time. Certainly, you say, everyone knows that, but I wonder if we have ever noticed this when reading scripture. I love all the gospels but my favorite is the Gospel of St. John. Here, the evangelist shows us this truth in the actions and life of the incarnation, Jesus Christ. In addition, the whole of the gospel is centered on Jesus’ sacrifice although the Last Supper is never mentioned. By weaving together communion imagery and time, though, John attempts to impress upon us the power and significance of the Sacrificial Word made Flesh.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning (John 1:1-2).

At the start of the gospel, the first thing the evangelist does is speak of Christ in relation to the history of the world. In the beginning was the Word. Of course, we can compare this line to Genesis 1:1. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Thus, when the heavens and the earth were being created, the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Jesus is seen from the onset as there in the beginning, before the world was created, before time had any significance. But, what makes this Word truly special is that He came into the world, and subjected himself to the limitations of this world. However, what John will go on to show us throughout his gospel is that time, as seen from a solely human perspective, never has a hold on Christ. Christ controls time because He was created before time; in fact, He created it with the Father and the Spirit.

At the start of Jesus’ ministry, he changed water into wine at a wedding. Here is the passage:

When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied, “My time has not yet come.” (John 2:3-4)

The wine that Jesus is speaking of is his blood that will be poured out for the sins of the world. Here, Jesus reminds his mother that it is not his time to die yet. He knows when the time is right, and at the wedding when his ministry has just started, there is much that he still needs to do before he is sacrificed. His time has not yet come.

Only in the gospel of John is the feeding of the five thousand shown to be almost sacramental in nature. Here, the people do not understand Jesus, and come back for perishable food, and not for the eternal food that Christ wants his people to consume. Once again, communion is shown to be central to Jesus’ message. Although, the Last Supper is not celebrated in this gospel, in chapter 6, after the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (6:48-51). Jesus, again, points to his death which will come. He desires to correct everyone’s erroneous beliefs that material goods are the only things necessary for survival. He corrects them by reminding them that eternal life is found only in God through His Son. As a result, of Jesus’ radical proclamation, followers are confused and angered. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus’ response to this angry outburst is even more enigmatic. So, everyone gets into an argument over the nature of this Jesus of Nazareth, and once again, John reminds us of time as seen through the eyes of God.

Who is this Christ anyway? Jesus replies, “Before Abraham was born, I am!”(8:58b). Jesus is not just a prophet or a good man; he is YHWH, the great I Am. Immediately, John writes, people “picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds” (8:59). I believe this is a clear indicator that Jesus' time has not yet come. Though people have surrounded him, and are trying to stone him to death, he escapes. Humanity wants to kill him, to control time, but Jesus has complete control. Jesus will die when he is ready, and not only when others want him to die.

At the end of chapter 10, Jesus continues to explain his identity, and again, people “tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp(10:39). His time has not yet come. 

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