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The Power of God at Work

Paula O'Shaughnessy

Sunday 28th April, 2019

Today's gospel is from John, the fourth evangelist.  It is seen as different to the other three synoptic gospels, that see with one eye.  In the three year lectionary cycle of the church's calendar, John's gospel only appears sporadically, at Easter, Christmas and at a few other odd times.  The synoptic gospels are each designated to the bulk of one of the cycle years.  Currently, in year C we concentrate on Luke mainly.  But, here in Easter 2, we hear the good news from John.  As a result we may not be as familiar with the flow of the narrative of John's gospel.  With this in mind, I read John's gospel from beginning to end in a single sitting.  As I read it I tried to focus just on it, as if I didn't know the other gospels. 

 It is a singular account, very different from the synoptics.  Much of the gospel is Jesus speaking to his disciples, or to the Jews and their religious leaders (who are mainly described as hostile to Jesus, wanting his death from a relatively early stage – first mentioned in chapter 5.)  In chapter 11 is revealed the fears of the chief priests and pharisees:

 What are we to do?  This man is performing many signs.  If we let him go on like this, everyone will belive in him and the Romans will come and destory both our holy place and our nation.

 The exception to this hostility is the pharisee Nicodemus, who seeks advice from Jesus, defends his right to be heard and goes in secret to anoint Jesus body, after death.

 The gospel of John is frightening in places, where the Jews seek to kill Jesus more than once.  Jesus' voice is strong, presenting challenge to the Jews and their motives.  It is also comforting and hopeful, when for example he describes himself as the good shepherd, and entreating Peter to tend his sheep, after the resurrection.

 There is a definite power and emotion in John's gospel, making it mesmeric and a book which invites an isolated read.  One priest described John's gospel to me as a meditation gospel, implying that it can't really be read in isolation to the others.  I would be inclined to agree, which is why it may be the lectionary only brings it in sporadically.  The intensity of the narrative in John has power – Jesus himself weeps with Mary as she mourns the death of her brother Lazarus, before restoring Lazarus to life, but the heart aches for the joyful early narrative of Luke – and the parables which give a timeless quality to the teachings of Jesus, absent from John.

 John's gospel is as gospel of signs, of the revelation of the divinity of Jesus.  This is no soft message, and the journey of Jesus is divine – one of pain, persecution and death, but with resurrection and hope.

 Today's gospel passage, we share in the wonder of the apostle, Thomas – his doubt, his disbelief at the resurrection of Jesus, but then his incredulity, his restored faith.  A short poem from a commentary on John describes this:

         Night is not having been with the others

        a cold sleet of suspicion

        pelting down from the mind's bleak moor

         Dawn a steady glow of compassion

        seeping over the resentful horizon

         Day is sight of your red wounds

        the warmth of your body

        an invitation to touch

 This reflects the raw emotions which are displayed in John's gospel – the human, the physical.  Thomas needs to touch, not just to see that Jesus is alive.  It is not just the spirit, but also the body which matters.  Jesus is prepared to surrender his life, to act with courage and absolute conviction for God.  He overcomes his fear, and accepts the will of God. 

 Am I not to drink the cup that the father has given me?

 But, the body of Jesus is restored, within three days, as he himself foretold.

 The hope and truth of the gospel message has a power which cannot easily be described in words.  The cleansing of the temple, one of Jesus early acts of ministry is a release, an unblocking – redressing the spiritual balance in the world.  As Jesus tells Pilate at his trial, his kingdom is not of this world, otherwise there would be armies coming to his defence.

 Jesus' message to the people is that they can only come to the father through him.  His suffering puts him at one with all people, for he knows and has experienced suffering and death.  He invites us to come to him, to know him, to know God. 

 The resurrection is the power of God at work, where death and evil is vanquished and everlasting life is assured.  With prayer, faith, acts of mercy and love – the kingdom of Heaven is assured.

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