Thursday, December 27, 2007

Interpretation of the Gospel According to St. John


During most of my life I have read and meditated on the Holy Scriptures; and each time I would revisit the Scriptures, I would gain a new and different understanding and insight of its message. I have a special bond with John the Apostle and a certain affinity to his writings. It may be because in his gospel he describes himself as the apostle whom Jesus loved the most, but also because John displayed the most affection for Jesus out of all the rest of the apostles. John is always talking about love and truth; and because of this I chose, since a very young age, to know Jesus, through the heart and eyes of John. This became so prevalent within my life that my Godfather chose to give me the name John at my confirmation. I have read the gospel of St. John dozens of times. I even took a class in Classical Greek in which we read the gospel of St. John my first year of college where I learned to appreciate the idiosyncrasies and subtle shades of meanings of words within the gospel. Because I have read the gospel of John so many times and have meditated with diligence upon its message, I have the right and privilege to expound on the subject of interpreting this gospel within the framework of my own experience and the authority of the Holy Catholic Church. Because of this experience, I have learned and would like to share here the following ideas: Initial Impressions, Authorship of the Gospel of John, Contrasting John with the Synoptic Gospels, Divinity and Humanity of Christ, The Holy Trinity, Jesus the Word of God, Jesus the Bread of Life, Jesus the Light of the World, The Commandment to Love, John the Apostle, and Final Thoughts with Practical Applications. As documentation, I have included four pictures of my bible turned to various pages marked with my underlines and notes of the gospel of St John.

Initial Impressions

As I read through the gospel of St. John, I cannot help but to notice that it is so intrinsically different from the synoptic gospels; and I often have wondered what its principal purpose is. I found my answer when John says that this gospel was written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Son of God. At what moment does the ancient Church realize the divinity of Christ? Years ago, as a young believer, I often struggled with such questions as: “If Jesus is the son of God, how can he be God at the same time?” Or still this question passed through my mind: “If Jesus is God, then is his mother Mary the mother of the human Jesus or is she the mother of God?” And “If she is the Mother of God, then how could she have been born after God who has always existed?” John recognizes the divinity of Christ from all eternity, His divine existence in the Godhead from all time. For me, this in turn sheds entirely new light on the works of Christ. Christ’s focus is thus much more than teaching us a catechism or teaching us to be more religious. By reading the writings of John about the life of Christ, I am inspired not only to have knowledge of Christ; rather, I am inspired to actually live a life of Christ. John has challenged me on many levels: philosophically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually; but most of all, he has inspired me to take virtues, such as love and humility, and take them out of the realm of some lofty ideal and put them into simple daily practices and expressions. For example, humility is not necessarily the possession of some lowly opinion of oneself, even to the point of it becoming false; rather, it is a healthy and wholesome realization of who we truly are in the eyes of God Almighty and the awesome responsibility set upon us for having that knowledge. When I was younger, I would play the piano. I loved classical piano music, and Beethoven was my favorite. Many would compliment me by saying that I was a good piano player. I would deny it and say that I was not. A better response probably would have been to say that I thank God for the inspiration and talent he has given me; and even though I have practiced much, it is only by His grace that I am able to play. In a like manner, love is not just some warm fuzzy feeling within us; rather, it requires us to put into deeds what our words would say. It is easy for me to greet my family and friends with an embrace and say often that I love them. But, it is even more difficult to take my last piece of bread and share it with someone else in need; this is true love. The interesting thing is that I can do this even with my enemies.
Another interesting point for me to discover is that John writes with literary excellence. He seems to be more than just another fisherman called to be a fisher of men . His words for me are those of a priest, a poet and a philosopher, those of a true prophet. Throughout the gospel of John, I noticed that John proclaims the truth about Jesus not only through his words, but also through his style of writing. John seems to be particularly fond of signs and symbols, meanings hidden within meanings, and contrasting opposites.

What attracts me most to John is that he is the disciple of love. Everything he says and does is for the love of Jesus. This is why I have sifted through the gospel of John and his other writings so many times. He always had a message of love. This is my own spirituality, to live a life of love of God and love of those around me. John was not afraid to express this, and he inspired me also not to be afraid of expressing love in my own spirituality.

Authorship of the Gospel of John

Who wrote the Gospel of John? I have read many opinions that the gospel of John may have been written by several people other than the Apostle John, the son of Zebedee. They cite the double ending of John and some discourses that seem to end and then continue through the next chapters. They also cite the fact that the writer is referred to as the Beloved Disciple, and some even refer to John the Presbyter.
John is considered to be the last gospel written, traditionally given a date between 90 A.D. and 100 A.D. Some modern scholars often suggest even a later date of 120 A.D. Many suppose that the Gospel of John may not have become widely known throughout all Christian communities until much later due to the fact that it was written to a smaller group within the Johannine community. I believe that this would explain the fact that Christian communities farther to the north in Asia, especially in Syria, did not initially include the writings of John in their canon. Initially, in my heart, I was disconcerted to find out that the authorship of John was disputed among scholars, Christian and non-Christian alike. My heart has always indicated to me that John the Apostle is the author of this Gospel. Yet, I have kept an open mind to know the truth; and the more I searched, the more I became convinced of my own conclusion, that John the Apostle is one with the Beloved Disciple and John the Presbyter. Many scholars site the fact that the Gospel of John is so intrinsically different from the Synoptic Gospels and that the nature of Jesus presented in John is so divergent from that presented in the Synoptic Gospels, that it is unlikely that the author could have been an eyewitness to the events. After comparing these differences and considering the fact that the Gospel of John was written so much later, I realized that John had so much more time to ponder the significance and meaning of the life of Jesus. This would obviously affect the subject matter and style of his writing as compared to the other Gospels. He would have been much more mature in mind and spirit after having grown in his faith. The other thing that I noticed is that John includes events that were not covered by the other gospels, and does not often repeat the events that were covered but assumes that the reader already has knowledge of these events, or at least has access to the other gospels. A good example of this is the omission of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, and the omission of the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.

There have been other scholars that lived during the era of critical scholarship of the works of John that deny that John was the author of Gospel that bears his name and state that John was solely a work of synthesis of thesis-antithesis, synthesis between the thesis of Judeo-Christianity (represented by Peter) and the antithesis of Gentile Christianity (represented by Paul). These same scholars go as far as to cite in the Epistles of John, a synthesis with the opposing dualist forces of Gnosticism and thus assigning the date of 170 A.D. to the Gospel. When I compare the thoughts of these scholars with the fact that the first certain witness to Johannine theology among the Fathers of the Church is in Ignatius of Antioch, whose Letter to the Philippians is founded on John and contains allusions to John , this indicates to me that the Gospel of John was known in Antioch before the death of Ignatius in 107 A.D. Thus the scholars who assign the later date of 170 A.D. are possibly mistaken by assuming this later date, a date at which time it is unlikely that John would have been alive. Attempting to go as far back in history as I possibly can, I find that Eusebius, in his History of the Church affirms that John the Apostle was the author of the Gospel of John. And within the very text of the Gospel of John, the author explicitly mentions that the Gospel was written by the “disciple whom Jesus loved”, so it becomes important to identify who this disciple is. Some have gone as far as to say that this disciple is Lazarus because there are passages in the Gospel of John that specifically state that Jesus “loved” him. When I ponder upon this idea of Lazarus being the “disciple whom Jesus loved”, I conclude that it is not likely, because if this were so, then one of the most important apostles that are mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels would be completely missing from the Gospel of John, namely John himself. While searching through other sources, I discovered that the earliest testimony, as to the author of the Gospel of John, is that of Papias and is quoted by Eusebius in his History of the Church who declares that John the Apostle is unequivocally the author of the Gospel of John.
After the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in Qumran, many of the hymns seemed to have come from the Essene community. It is interesting to note that John the Baptist belonged to the Essene community; and John the Apostle was originally a disciple of John the Baptist before he began to follow Jesus. It follows that John the Apostle would have been influenced by the themes of the Essenes which contemplated ideas of light and darkness, good and evil, truth and falsehood. Every morning I attend a Maronite Catholic liturgy which is of Aramaic roots. I find it fascinating that the hymns and liturgical prayers have this poetic nature to it and emphasize the opposing antithesis of light and darkness just as the Essenes and the Gospel of John.
From a personal perspective, I must consider some of the scholars’ comments that John the Apostle was a fisherman and was probably unlearned. I would reply to this fact by saying that John the Apostle was also the youngest of all the Apostles. We have already established that the Gospel of John was the last of the four Gospels to be written, towards the end of the first century. This would have given John ample time during his life to develop his scholastic abilities. But even more importantly is the fact that the scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit; and God proclaims the Truth through the humblest of souls in order to confound those who consider themselves wise. My personal opinion is that John may have had an assistant who would write for him, thus incorporating John’s thoughts, but using his (the assistant’s) own literary style. I am convinced through the searching through Scriptures, as well as external sources, that the author of the Gospel of John is the Apostle John, the son of Zebedee and that he is one and the same as the “Beloved Disciple”. As far as the addendum is concerned starting with chapter 21, I would take into consideration that there were no word processors to edit chunks of words or to make insertions or deletions. Any additional thought might have been added at the end. This does not mean that it was written by a different person. It just suggests that there were additional thoughts on the matter (possibly at a later time). And since John is seldom mentioned by name, this is also an indication that John the Apostle and the Beloved Disciple are one and the same.

Contrasting John with the Synoptic Gospels

There is something that impressed me from the very first time I read the Gospel of John, that it is so intrinsically different from the other Gospels. When I read the first three Gospels, of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, I find that they are similar in many passages, they relate the same acts, and often in the same order. For this reason they are called the Synoptic Gospels which means that we can put these three gospels side by side to compare the three ways of telling the same act. There are so many similarities as well as divergences that I have found it difficult to explain all of them. The Gospel of John, on the other hand, displays its originality from the very first words; and does not coincide with the other Gospels except occasionally. In order to understand how the Gospel of John differs from the Synoptic Gospels, we must start with an examination of the Synoptic Gospels.
The Gospel of Mark is the shortest of all of the Gospels. Many times when I want to share my faith with others, I refer them to the Gospel of Mark because it is a “no nonsense” Gospel which is straight forward and to the point. Mark makes his presentation of Christ through the telling of the acts and sayings of Christ; and he does so through the eyes of Peter (Mark being a disciple of Peter). It is interesting to note that almost everything contained in the Gospel of Mark is contained in the other two Synoptic Gospels which leads me to believe that either the Gospel of Mark was written first, or, if not, all three of the Synoptic Gospels have the same source. Mark wrote his gospel in Greek having as an audience those who were Greek speaking and non-Jewish. In my view, the Gospel of Mark does not include any embellishments of events, nor does he necessarily put them in chronological order, rather he relates what he has learned from Peter, taking care not to leave out a single idea that he has heard. Mark does not make an effort as to literary composition rather to the simplicity of truth. This is why I believe it to be the gospel of choice for someone who has never read the gospels; it is short and to the point.

Matthew, on the other hand, collected the sayings of Jesus in Hebrew, and each one translated the Hebrew to the best of his capacity. His audience seems to be one that is a mixture of Jewish and Greek Christians, but probably mainly consists of Jews from Palestine that were converted to Christ. While reading through the epistles of Paul, I realized that there was often friction between the two groups. Matthew, probably being aware of this friction, would have written his Gospel wanting to show how those who were not Jewish were equal heirs to the inheritance of the kingdom of God. Matthew did so by way of quoting scriptures from the Old Testament and showing how it applied to the church of Christ and not just for the Jews. The Old Testament scriptures find its fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ and the non-Jewish Christians should not worry if they are rejected by the Jewish people, because Christians will not lose their rights in the promises of Christ. Matthew expands his Gospel more so than Mark does by citing scripture from the Hebrew Bible to show that Christians are the true inheritors of the new covenant. Whereas Mark does not attempt to make any theological analysis other than that Jesus clearly manifested his divine power. Matthew on the other hand attempts to present a more detailed theological teaching. As I read through his gospel, I notice that Matthew favored alternating between the acts of Christ and the sayings of Christ. And is at difference with Mark, Matthew includes an introduction filled with images portraying some stories of the infancy of Jesus.

As far as coming to know the meaning of the Christmas story, Luke is my favorite on this one. He gives the most details as far as historical background including the Annunciation of the birth of both John the Baptist and Jesus along with other stories unique to the Gospel of Luke. As a matter of fact, Luke gives so much detail of the infancy of Jesus; I can only think that he must have interviewed Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Luke follows the example of Mark by focusing on a plan of relating the activities of Jesus in Galilee and his mission in Jerusalem before his passion. But between these two parts, he inserts the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem in which he presents the “sayings” of Jesus. Upon further examination I notice that Matthew also presents the “sayings” of Jesus, but throughout his entire Gospel. When comparing Luke with the other Synoptic Gospels, I discovered that he was probably writing for the non-Jewish Greeks, given that he omits much detail as far as the observances of Jewish religious law and customs, most of which the reader would not have understood.
It is so interesting to note that even though the Synoptic Gospels are so closely paralleled, they still all have their distinct flavor in their presentation of the acts and sayings of Jesus. Each one has his own theology, his own personal way of knowing Jesus, and his own expression. And it is in this profound vision that I can justify, through each one of the writers’ personal testimony, all of the differences that exist between them.

With all of this said, contrasting the Gospel of John with the Synoptic Gospels becomes a simpler task. The Gospel of John allows making out the fragments of an ancient text as simple as that of the Gospel of Mark. The actions of Jesus take up more space in the Gospel of John than does his teachings; and this fascinates me tremendously. John is more concerned about showing who Jesus is through his actions than his teachings, allowing those who follow him to learn by example. On a personal level, this is a more effective way of learning for me. And as it is said, actions speak louder than words.

The Gospel of John is written in Aramaic and was probably written for the Christian communities in Samaria. Based on this, John elaborates on the long discourses of Jesus in which he presents to us salvation: a transformation of man that renews all of creation. Throughout all of the Gospel of John, the manifestation of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit becomes evident in the intimate communion of God with man through the life of community and the sacraments of the Church.
While examining the Gospel of John and wanting to disclose how his Gospel is different from the others, I come across a verse near the end of the Gospel which states, “This has been written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Son of God.” John states plainly and simply the purpose of his Gospel. This is important to me in order to understand why John is so different from the other writers. As I meditate on this verse, I come to the conclusion that John must have carried his writings with him during the course of his whole life and redacted and corrected the Gospel as his understanding of his personal experience of Jesus deepened, now resurrected and present in the Church. John presents important testimony that contains more verifiable details than the other Gospels. John does not just depend on his memory of the life of Jesus, rather as he internalizes his reflection and his experience; he develops and constructs the discourses of Jesus that are directed towards us. This is an important realization for me, because I do the same in my personal life. Memorization is less important to me that the actual internalization of knowledge or an experience. I prefer to understand how a formula is developed than to memorize the actual formula.

John presents his Gospel with the pure and hard truth. The purer and harder the truth, the more difficult it is to hear. As far as the truth is concerned, for John there is no compromise. An example of this is where Jesus says that whoever eats his body and drinks his blood will have everlasting life and He will raise him up on the last day. As I attempt to place myself in the shoes of those who heard this message, I wonder, myself, if I would have been one of those to turn away, for the words used are hard and radical. But these same words of truth become clearer and more apparent to those of us who are rooted in the faith of Christ and understand them in the context of the Holy Eucharist.

Upon exploring through my bible, I notice that the Gospel of John is divided into two distinct parts. In the first part, Jesus makes himself known by his Signs. In this part, the Signs of Christ and his discourses announce the work that he was about to realize in the world and the corresponding glory after he is ascended into heaven. This part is preceded by a Prologue. The second part is Jesus fulfilling his mission. This part begins by telling us that the hour of Jesus has come. By this John wants his readers to know that the time has come for all things that were announced, to be fulfilled. This part begins with farewell discourses of Jesus after the last Passover meal; and this part is then succeeded by a Conclusion section.
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John complement each other and show us the true face of Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary. John includes the actions of Jesus before his baptism by John the Baptist, as the others do not; and he fills in the blanks and corrects misunderstandings that one may have had. Alternating the happenings in the life of Jesus with the exposition of his teachings, these Evangelists show us how Jesus, through his human behavior, manifested his divinity.

Divinity and Humanity of Christ

As I have mentioned before, and is worthy of elaboration, is that John proclaims that this gospel was written so that we might believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus actually came to transform the world and to make us true sons and daughters of God. What this means to me is that we possess the dignity of being brothers and sisters of Christ and therefore must have that same hope and confidence in the Father’s mercy and love. This gospel expounds upon seven signs. On pondering upon this, I wonder why John chose to use this number. It does not seem to be by accident. This number brings to my mind what the church teaches about the number seven being a perfect number and that it is often used in things of God. I would also like to give the following interpretation. The Scriptures say that God created the heaven and earth in six days and on the seventh day he rested. The Jews honor the seventh day as the day of Sabbath, a day of rest. I have observed through my own experience and by living in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood that the Jewish people will not perform anything considered work after sundown on Friday evening until the next evening. They will not drive or even turn on the heat to keep warm. And yet, Jesus performs miracles on the Sabbath to the consternation of the Jews. Jesus answers them saying that his Father keeps working on the Sabbath. When I compare the fact that John discloses in his gospel seven miracles and that God the Father never stops working, not even on the Sabbath, then what Jesus is saying is that he has the same obligation as his Father. He never stops doing the work of his Father. And seven being a perfect number, indicates to me that Jesus will always be doing the work of his Father, even on the Sabbath, making perfect every word and deed. And even though John does not proclaim so with the same words as Mark does in his gospel, John does so with the actions and attitude of Jesus, that Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. How have I applied this to my personal life? By observing the example of Christ in the gospel of John, I perceive that Jesus is not so much interested in religiosity as he is in doing the will of his Father. There are times when compassion takes precedence in my life over a religious rule. The gospel of John seeks the proclamation and fulfillment of the role of the Messiah through all of history in the telling of the miracles performed by Jesus.

The church tells us that John died in the year 95A.D. Therefore he had plenty of time to ponder, rethink, and reorganize his writing in this gospel. Before tackling the gospel of John, I chose to prepare myself through the reading of the First Letter of John. After careful investigation, I discovered that the First Letter of John is inseparable from the Gospel of John. It appears to be a type of introduction and prelude to the ideas presented in the gospel. By reading the First Letter of John beforehand, I was able to better comprehend the precepts presented by John in his gospel. John’s focus is that the way of Jesus is one of divinization. Jesus is one with his Father; we are one with Christ; therefore we are one with God. John in his first letter reiterates and enforces the idea that we have the Son of God who imparts the complete and entire truth. We walk in true love because we are in communion with God himself.

John himself makes us ask of ourselves if we are truly living and walking in the way of Christ. The Lord has united his divinity with our humanity and our mortality with his life, he has assumed what is ours, and given us what is his . This is what I would say is true divinization, becoming one with Christ Jesus, God incarnate.

The Holy Trinity

Having read the Gospel of John and meditated prayerfully, and rereading it and having internalized it, I have observed that there is a oneness among God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit; this is expressed in an intimate relationship with the community of believers. Pondering further upon this, I realize that we cannot just be Christians in our head and separate from one another; rather we must live the unity of Christ in our lives through the expression of love with one another. When Jesus comes to John the Baptist in order for John to baptize him, John the Baptist testifies that he saw the Spirit come down and rest upon Jesus as a dove from heaven. This is reported also in the other Gospels, but also with the voice of the Father saying “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.” The other Gospels also go on to state that Jesus is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. This is an example of how the Holy Trinity, being the expression of the Oneness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, shares the fullness of itself with the believers through becoming one with each one of us. The Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and through Jesus Christ comes and dwells within us so that we might share in the fullness and oneness of God. And yet this is completely necessary for us to enter into the Kingdom of God, for unless we are completely transformed in the Spirit, how can we come to know the intimacy of God?

The oneness, unity and love of the Holy Trinity is manifested within us as followers of Christ through his promise that he will ask the Father to send his Spirit upon us to be with us forever. As I contemplate this and compare it to other passages of the Gospel of John where he says to the Father, may they be one as You and I are one , I realize that we are united with Christ and the Father by this same Spirit. John expresses the idea of the Holy Trinity when Jesus explains to his disciples that he must return to the Father in order that he may send the Holy Spirit; thus allowing us to understand that there is an indwelling of three Persons, each enveloping the other, yet each being separate, being united as one God. When I couple this idea with the humanity and divinity of Christ, I conclude that our union with the humanity of Christ brings us to the fullness of his divinity, just as the Son dwells within the Father and the Spirit. This is how Jesus can say that when he is taken up to heaven and the Father sends the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Jesus will not leave us orphans, but will be with us until the end of time. Jesus is in the Father, and we are in him and he is us. The unity and oneness that we attain with God is that same unity and oneness that is within the Holy Trinity. This for me is mindboggling; the immensity, the eternity and the infinity of such a loving bond are indescribable. How can we answer the calling of being Christ to others in the world? It is through this union with Christ that he permeates our very being and makes us one with him in the truest sense.

Jesus the Word of God

Upon reading the very first words of the Gospel of John, I am awestruck with mystery and wonder as I hear the proclamation that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. For me, this is one of the most powerful statements of all the Gospel of John. The first time I actually read it with attention; I was about twelve years old. This one verse overwhelmed me in that besides being so powerful, it tends to be confusing in the eyes of one without faith. Through this verse, any doubts that I may have had, concerning how the apostles regarded Jesus, are squelched. In this verse, John clearly proclaims Jesus as being a completely different person from the Father, and yet being one with the Father, is God. John does not just speak of God, nor does he speak of God’s covenant with his people. Rather he speaks of the intimate relationship between the Father and the Son. John identifies Christ as the Word of God. He says that the Word was “with” God and in the same breath says that the Word “was” God. Taking a step backwards and divesting my own heart of its faith, one could easily have doubts and confusion about what John is expressing. Is John trying to express a relationship so intimate with the Father, possessed by Jesus, that it overshadows any other possible relationship? Or is John saying that Jesus “is” God. Before my own baptism at twelve years old, I recall the priest calling God the Father, “Lord”; and then in the next sentence he called Jesus, “Lord”. This confused me as a young boy and with the humblest of hearts I raised my hand during his sermon and asked the priest why do you call the Father, “Lord”, and also Jesus, “Lord”? I do not remember his answer, but I do remember getting a good scolding when I got home. But as Jesus once said, we should suffer the little children because the kingdom of God is made up of these. Jesus must have seen a simple wisdom and straightforward truthfulness that children possess, coupled with a trust that most adults have long since lost. But even as this searching little heart was confused by such a great mystery, even the greatest of scholars are still confused. For what John is proclaiming is a unique oneness of Jesus with his Father in heaven. What is manifested here is an eternal love, one that creates life, one that through its immense generosity begets itself, from itself and in itself. This is why “love” is eternal and is the greatest of all virtues and prompts St. Paul the Apostle to proclaim that “love never fails”.

There is a beautiful song in Spanish written by Ricardo Arjona that is called, Jesús es Verbo, no Sustantivo; Jesus is Verb, not Noun. This brings to life in me a better understanding of Jesus being the “Word of God”. Here, belief and action are combined and become inseparable. One must live his life according to his faith in Jesus Christ. One cannot and must not carry his conviction in his head without putting into action from the heart the deeds that must follow. If we were to do so, we would be nothing more than hypocrites. We must be the very reflection of the Father’s heart just as Jesus is the very expression of the Father. So, then my confusion as a boy, subsides in recognizing that Jesus is the image and splendor of the Father. He is not just a part of God, He is not another God, and He has nothing of Himself; rather He is the very reflection of God. He is God.

As I searched for truth throughout my life, especially during my youth, I confronted many doctrines that were foreign to Catholic doctrine. Some would proclaim that Jesus was only a man, a great prophet; others would say that he was only God and had the “appearance” of man. I have always believed that Jesus is fully God and fully man; but how could I defend my belief? Since my youth, I have always read the scriptures. And John was always my favorite apostle and evangelist. His first words in the Gospel of John were sufficient for me. “The word was God. ” And “The word became flesh and dwelt among us. ” This is an irrefutable statement of truth for every Christian and firm defense against any heresy claiming anything else, that Jesus Christ is the Word of God; He is God; and He became man in the truest and fullest sense. The assertion of John that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us provides me with enough evidence that John is not just stressing the divinity of Christ; rather, also he is putting equal emphasis on the humanity of Christ. Christ is true God and true man.

It is imperative to recognize God himself within the person of Christ, and not to forget to interiorize his complete humanity, his acts, his gestures, and his manner of being man. It was interesting for me to discover, as I was reading the First Letter of John, before tackling the Gospel of John, that he says in the very first verse, “that which existed from the beginning which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we have looked upon and our hands have touched regarding the Word that is Life.” John speaks of Christ being the Word of God, and being God himself. He also stresses that Christ came into the flesh. He makes the case of Christ being both God and man. This brings to my mind a song that I have often heard on the radio called: What if God were One of Us. It brings to heart the deep longing of mankind to touch God and to be one with him.

Jesus the Bread of Life

Jesus says, “I AM the Bread of Life, he who comes to me shall not hunger; he who believes in me shall not thirst, even if he dies, he shall live forever, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Ever since my youth, I have had the custom of going to daily mass and receiving communion. As I would approach the altar, I was always filled with such a great joy. I could not understand how so many people could possibly approach the Lord God of Hosts with such somber faces. As I received the very presence of the Lord, I could not contain my elation. I would run all the way home, jumping and leaping with excitement. This is because I knew that I carried Jesus within me. My body was no longer just an earthen vessel; it was now a tabernacle, an ark of the covenant, the temple of the Holy Spirit. One of my favorite passages in the Gospel of John is, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” In the village where my family lives in Mexico, it is interesting to see when the wheat is planted, how it grows and how it is harvested. During the harvest, some grains of wheat are missed by the harvesters; and the ones left behind are for the hungry and the poor to glean. This is the way it is with Jesus being the bread of life. He gives life and sustenance to those who receive him. Another interesting point about wheat is that it must be crushed underneath the weight of a heavy stone in order to become bread for others. Then it is broken and blessed to be shared. This is what happened to Jesus. He was crushed and broken underneath the weight of taking on the sins of the world, then dying on a cross, only to be shared as the bread of life for all believers. This is why Jesus says at the last supper, “Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘this is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me’”. Through receiving the Holy Eucharist we are made one with Christ; and outside of him there is no life. We must remain in Christ and he will remain in us; and the most effective way of doing this is through communion, receiving his body and blood. This is the only way to have life, and for man to fulfill his reason for being – that is becoming one with his Creator. This is life.

The passage of the grain of wheat falling to the ground, dying and producing much fruit has inspired within me a sense of self-sacrifice for the benefit of others, giving of myself to the point of dying to self in order to serve others in Christ. For if one dies completely to self, surrendering his will completely to Christ, he is then free to live for Christ. And this is a painful process. Just as wheat is thrashed, it is not done so forever; for it must be crushed and ground to become bread for others. What a tremendous and wonderful thought to know that we too can share in the spiritual works of Christ by becoming bread for others through him; and that our sufferings are not for naught, rather as we are part of the mystical body of Christ and through him all things are brought to completion.

Jesus the Light of the World

John quotes Jesus as saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” As I meditate on this saying, I wonder why Jesus would use the image of light. Upon pondering this idea further, I realized that where there is light, there can be no darkness – conclusion: light dispels darkness. Nothing is hidden from light; all is exposed. In complete light, there is no shadow or deviation. Christ lights our hearts and our minds, dispelling the darkness in our lives. And what is this darkness? Darkness is where fear, anguish and despair dwell. And all of these are the effects of sin. I recall that as a child I was terrified of the dark. I could not be in a dark room by myself, but there was something very comforting in having the light on. In the dark I would see all kinds of monsters and strange creatures, but with the light on, all of these figures vanished. And with the darkness, my fear vanished. Jesus lights the way for us. He is the light. And through this light we recognize our relationship with each other. We are one with each other and as I ponder on this idea of light even further, I apply it to my own life and for me, the darkness is sin. Jesus gives me hope and increases my faith by changing my outlook and priorities within my own life and I am humbled to see myself as God sees me. Many of us have impressions of ourselves that are false and erroneous. But Jesus being the light, allows us to see ourselves as we truly are. Many times we condone the things that we do and are blind to the effects of sin in our lives. We are urged toward humility by confessing our sins with great confidence in the Lord that he may forgive our offenses by the sacrificial blood of his son.

Jesus shows us the path we are to follow. Once, I went to Palm Springs and went on the Aerial Tram and hiked through the San Jacinto mountain trails. After the daylight waned, I realized that even though the paths were there to guide me back to the mountain station, I was unable to see them. There were many paths that lead back to safety; I just could not see them. This is what happens when sin descends upon our lives. We lose our way and stumble in the darkness. Light dispels darkness, exposing our sins and we cannot hide from the light. What is also interesting is that those who are hiding in darkness ready to pounce on us are also exposed. This is why Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Walking in the truth is a way of life of living authentic Christian faith and our actions must match our conviction. This has nothing to do with our doctrine of faith but has everything to do with living out our faith; and the true test is the love of our fellow human being.

The Commandment to Love

Love is not just a state of mind but something that must be performed. The claim and demand for truth, and having truth, is synonymous to living the truth. John says in his first epistle that the proof of love is the laying down of our lives for our brothers. And then again in his gospel, Jesus proclaims that no man has a greater love than to give his life for his friends. This is the most direct connection between the message of Christ and the way of living that is required of us as Christians. This means no lip service, but action; because loving God is inseparable from loving our neighbor. Throughout my entire life I have been influenced by this commandment to love. For me this is the essence of the entire message of Christ. I recall as a young boy always finding homeless people in the streets and taking them home for dinner. As I would walk through the front door, hand in hand with the stranger, I would see my mother still preparing the meal and say to her, “Mommy, look who is going to stay with us!” I remember my mother politely smiling at the stranger and saying to him that he was welcome to stay for dinner; and then she would turn to me and continue by saying, “but he cannot spend the night.” Nonetheless, Jesus has called each of us to demonstrate a true and sincere love for each other. It is not just a love of the mind; rather it is a love that permeates our very being through a love of the heart and the soul. No wonder Peter and Paul in many of the epistles conclude their words with “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” These words exhort us to show our love with tenderness and affection, and not just with words or an aloof idea of attending to just physical needs. Jesus himself says that they will know you are my disciples by your love. This is our greatest evangelization, to allow the world to know Christ through the love that we bear, for love that is freely given wants to freely be received.

John does not speak of miracles rather he speaks of simple truth – that God is with us. John uses words to describe God such as Life, Eternal Life, Light, Love, and Truth. And then he uses these same words to describe Jesus. As I have grown in the Lord and have learned to walk closely with him, I have come to realize that the more I know Jesus, the more I fall in love with him. I strive to hear him whispering in the crevices of my heart and then I long to obey him through my submission and surrendering to his will in my life. Knowledge of God affects our love for one another because these two are inseparable. A concrete Christian life is more important than doctrine and this is why John does not insist on theological argument rather he demands simple truth.

John portrays Jesus as loving to the extreme . And this has been the motto in my own life. When I hear the narration of how Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, I am overwhelmed because of the knowledge that our God Almighty also humbled himself to the extreme. What a tremendous sign of purification and love. He washed his disciples’ feet, like a parent would, with tenderness and love, yet he purified them through this same action. And by the same token, he left them with an example showing them that they also must do the same. Jesus highlights this when he says, “a new commandment I give to you, love each other as I have loved you.” An interesting question that I often ask myself is why John does not narrate the Eucharist? He found it more important to include the washing of the feet. Jesus did not ask for confession at that moment, only humility of accepting the washing of the feet by Jesus. He teaches his apostles to take the first step in granting pardon and purification to those around them. The only law of Christ is love. And Jesus demonstrated with his entire life giving examples of love. True love according to God is one that frees our neighbor and admonishes him to develop completely the gifts that God has given him. Christ’s love respects the mystery of the other and helps him to become what God wants him to be and passing from death into life, resurrected in him.

John the Apostle

There is something wonderful about John, his love and his closeness to our Lord is very pronounced, even more so than the other apostles. In his gospel, he refers to himself as the one whom Jesus loved. He was the one to lean on the breast of Christ and he was the one to whom Christ entrusted his mother. He was the youngest of all the apostles and he was the last apostle to die. I have always been drawn to John and consider him the apostle of love. I see Jesus through the eyes of John. I have always been expressive in my affection for those around me and have not been afraid to proclaim my love for Jesus. And I can only hope that maybe someone may be inspired through the love that I bear for Christ. Jesus showed us how to love through his example, and John lived his life according to the example of Christ.
John in his writings makes a clear declaration of the divinity and humanity of Christ. And he makes a connection between Christian moral conduct and Christian doctrine. Right believing means right living. This is absolutely something practical that all of us can apply to our lives. In simple words, we have to walk the talk. What does it benefit man to be able to expound on the mystery of the Holy Trinity if we offend the same Holy Trinity by not living a Christian life? I often see people at mass sit at arm’s lengths from each other, never acknowledging the presence of the other. During the sign of peace where we are commanded by scriptures to greet one another with a holy kiss, often we are lucky if we barely receive a glance. And if we are offered a handshake, the eyes are, for the most part, somewhere else. My point is that fellowship with each other is very important. We are all part of the body of Christ and if our mission is to bring others to Christ, then we all bear the responsibility and obligation of showing the same love to others that Jesus showed to those around him. John’s gospel can be summed up in just a few words, believe in the name of Jesus and love one another. We must recognize that our relationship with God is measured by our relationship with others, because authentic and genuine love is proof that God dwells in us, as well as proof of our salvation. And our love of God means we have knowledge of God, for our purpose in this life is to know and love God. And to possess the Son of God is not the acceptance of a doctrine, but a person who lives and provides life.

As I read through the gospel of John, I notice that John likes to use symbols for Jesus such as life, light, water, bread, shepherd, vine, the way and truth. And when John tells of Jesus’ signs, he follows up with elaborate discourses. But what really strikes me is the dualism in John’s writings and the fact that John has no middle ground. I have experienced this in my own life, for me there were only the extremes and no middle ground. In school, I excelled or I failed, I was never just average. In my relationships with others, either I loved to the extreme or I did not love at all. In retrospect, my life has been affected exceedingly by John’s writings. Even in the last book of the bible attributed to John, the Apocalypse, John expresses through the words of Jesus, “So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” This verse must have been pivotal in my personal life in forming my own dualistic philosophy.

Final Thoughts with Practical Applications

In conclusion and as a practical application of our faith, based on the precepts presented in John’s gospel, each one of us must recognize our dignity and responsibility as Christians, from the humblest to the most prominent. The poor in the sense that they must come together in Christian solidarity and strive for the Christian values left to us by Christ and to revolutionize the world, and the prominent and educated through ideology and influence to bring about change and social justice. This is a faith that is more than just lip service, but is faith in action in the true sense. John eloquently expressed in his gospel through example, the placing of more emphasis on the actions of Jesus than on his teachings. We too are called to follow this example by demonstrating our love for Jesus by showing our love for our neighbor. In the village where my family lives in Mexico, the people are simple, humble and poor. There was a time, in the not so distant past, in which we did not have lights, telephones, or even running water. Life seemed to be simple and pure. Nevertheless, there were some necessary conveniences that were lacking. My brother and I teamed up to confront the Mexican government offices with the request to install telephones and paved thruways. After years of requests, our small village now has these necessities and even more. We must not forget about our personal contributions of time and talent of actively participating in bringing about the kingdom of God, and not just donating to an organization to appease our conscience. Glorifying God is not constructing temples or singing glory to God. It is the giving up of our lives completely to him. We have to reflect him and be his image to others. I have always been one never to let go and to never give up, to give more than I could ever receive and to give my life and my all to a complete stranger, to live and to die and try to save every soul and never looking back and never letting go, wearing my heart on my sleeve so that others may live. We glorify God when we surpass the limits of selfishness and become completely docile and responsive to the Holy Spirit. Our spiritual life is to obey Jesus’ command of keeping his words. And by doing so anything we ask in the name of Christ will be granted to us. We must do the same as Christ, not by multiplying good works but by obedience even when our sacrifice seems to be done in vain.

We must produce fruits but Jesus does not indicate what those fruits are, but that they flow from the Holy Spirit and has a seal of its own. I have discovered that each person is unique and each one’s gifts are different. I do not have to strive to have the same gifts as others, because God has endowed me with my own special gifts. And even though I may not perceive them, I still possess them. So how do I utilize these gifts if I cannot recognize them? I utilize them by being uniquely me, being myself to the fullest in Christ.

Jesus says, in a little while longer, you will not see me. By this Jesus admonishes us that what is truly important is not that we feel his presence rather to persevere in his ways in order to arrive at faith that is fully and plainly developed. There have been times in my life where I have felt desolation and dryness in prayer, but then I recall the saints such as, St. John of the Cross, St. Theresa of Avila, and Mother Theresa, and I remember the spiritual trials that they experienced. And even so, they continued in their work and prayer life. At times we will have to pass through sufferings and sorrows but after a while consolation comes. Beware of those times we feel consolation and think ourselves better than those whom Christ has not apparently granted such favors. Soon we ourselves may fall and we pass through the night. I am often encouraged to hear the words of Christ saying, “Fear not for I have overcome the world.”

This is the truth, this is our faith. Faith has renewed our knowledge of God. We understand the love Jesus shows to the world and that there is no greater teacher than the cross. John affirms that having the son of God we have the total and complete truth, we walk in truth and in love and we are in communion with God himself. And lastly we are always to live in love and humility.