Introduction and Summary of St. John’s Gospel
There is just something special about the Gospel of John that everyone senses from the very first verse: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Somehow the Holy Spirit inspired St. John to tell us about the real life of Jesus, while using imagery that helps us catch a glimpse of the eternal mystery of God the Son. To me it is a theological treatise, an inspirational love story, and a call to God’s grace at one and the same time. A little historical perspective and structural comparison has helped me understand and relate to this “Good News” even more. I highly encourage you to download the Ignatius + Lighthouse Catholic Study Bible app to listen to a dramatic reading of St. John’s Gospel.
The Gospel of John was the last to be written, sometime between 90-100 AD, by the apostle John son of Zebedee. John’s purpose was to convince his readers that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and it was written while he was in Ephesus either before or after his banishment to the island of Patmos. Most scholars agree that Matthew was first to be written, in Aramaic, between 40-50 AD. Mark was the second Gospel, written between 53-63 AD while he was with St. Peter in Rome, and Luke was third in 62 AD. While all four evangelists were compelled to transform the oral traditions about the life of Jesus into a written account, they are all distinctive in the way they share the “Gospel Truth” as they considered the timeless needs of their individual readers. The JB Phillips website is an excellent resource on the New Testament and can be found at http://www.ccel.org/bible/phillips/JBPhillips.htm for more information.
The general structure and flow of the Gospel is: A) Prologue (1:1-18), B) The Book of Signs (chapters 1-12), C) The Book of Glory (chapters 13-20), and D) Jesus’ Final Appearance (chapter 21). John’s prologue reminds us of Genesis, but sends us back even further to the very being of God. The first 18 verses are really the conceptual center of the Gospel rather than just an introduction. Next, John uses the word “Sign” to help his readers understand that the purpose of Jesus’ miracles is to literally point out that Jesus is God so that “through believing you may have eternal life in his name.” The “Sign” of raising Lazarus from the dead ushers us into the Book of Glory, where the Pharisees commit themselves to killing Jesus, ironically, to save their world. Through the passion John’s Gospel proclaims that the death of Jesus as an act of total self-donation, the ultimate revelation of God’s love for the world. This act “Glorifies’ God and defeats the powers of darkness and death for all time. This forever gives new meaning to the Christian encounter with death, reveals the meaning of faith and the cost of discipleship, and leads us back to His command to “love one another; even as I have loved you” (John 13:34). The final chapter almost seems like an appendix, but is instead the launch point that reconciles Peter to Jesus three times in amends for his three denials, and reveals the ultimate cost of Peter’s apostolic mission as the new Shepherd of the Church.
John’s use of symbolism throughout his Gospel is both subtle and powerful. His description of Jesus going “up” to Jerusalem and “down” to Galilee not only plays on the physical change in altitude, but represents Jesus going up to heaven and returning to earth. His description of “light and darkness” reveals both a change in day and night, and good and evil. His use of sight and blindness are particularly compelling when the Pharisees show that they are truly blind when they refuse to “see” that Jesus is God even after they witness His curing of the man blind from birth. The final “Sign” in John 21:11 where Jesus tells Peter and four apostles to lower their nets again after a fruitless night of fishing exudes symbolism. When they count the catch in the straining nets they find a hundred and fifty-three fish, the total number of fish species known at that time. This represented the mission of the apostles to gather believers from every nation into the Church.
Between now and the end of May 2016 we will be posting six PowerPoint shows that expand on The Gospel of St. John from our Sunday readings. All sources will be cited for future reference by all interested readers.