The Intimacy of Faith

The Gospel of John is often regarded as a very “spiritual” text, perhaps even an abstract, theological text.  Some think it was included in the canon largely because it made claims about Jesus that other Gospels did not, claims that had become important to the Church, such as Jesus being God and stuff.  This, in turn, creates the possibility of a counter-claim in a culture obsessed with facts over meaning, that John was the latest Gospel, a literary construction produced long after the lived reality of Jesus.  As such, it sometimes gets dismissed.  It is as though the other Gospels tell us about the real Jesus and John is just a cherry tree from which we pick tasty quotes that bolster our theological positions.  This is not fair to the Fourth Gospel, nor is it fair to what our faith might be.

First, the historical reality.  It is probably true that portions of John were written later than other Gospels.  However, it is also probably true that much of the content of John comes from sources contemporary with Jesus.  As with most Scripture, there are layers to the text.  The first layer is the direct witness of the Beloved Disciple who, perhaps along with others, such as the Samaritan woman, Lazarus, and Mary Magdalene, was a part of the Johannine community and contributed an oral, liturgical, and pastoral tradition for that community.  The second layer is the evangelist, who committed this tradition to writing, probably before the Beloved Disciple’s death.  Finally, the text underwent many years of redaction, editing, and amendment to produce the text we have received.  Thus, the Gospel of John is every bit as “historical” as the other Gospels.  More importantly, it includes the direct witness of someone who knew Jesus well and is therefore not merely an abstraction.  Admittedly, this is all nerd stuff, but let’s see where this leads.  (Full disclosure: I know where this leads.)

When we read the spiritualized elements of John, we must never forget that these airy contemplations gain their meaning from the lived reality from which they arise.  In the moment when Jesus is saying his farewell and feeling the weight of betrayal and loss and duty, here is the Beloved Disciple, reclining in Jesus’ bosom (13:23), just as Christ rested in God’s bosom before the creation of the world (1:18).  So it should be no surprise in our text this week (20:19-31) when Jesus appears to the disciples in a resurrected body and that the encounter is nothing but intimate.

Thomas gets a bad rap: the Doubter.  However, his instincts are not that different from the others: he wants to see the man he followed, touch the man he loves.  Mary Magdalene was no different.  When the body was missing from the tomb, she asked “the gardener” where the body was.  In the presence of angels, she wants to be with Jesus, physically.  When she finds him, she immediately tries to touch him.  When the disciples meet Jesus in Thomas’ absence, Jesus shows his wounds and breathes on them the Holy Spirit.  Thomas simply wanted the same experience.  It is not so much about knowing that Jesus lives as knowing the living Jesus.  It is not so much believing that Jesus lives as being faithful in the life of Jesus that we share.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we discuss Doubting Thomas, the intimacy of faith, and our continuing authorship of the Good News.  Bring your questions, joys, concerns, and, above all, love.

Grace & Peace,

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