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Study for "Song of John"

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written by Constance Morgenstern

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The Apostle John, I like.  From a song-writer’s point of view, he records some of
the best metaphorical stuff that Christ had to say:  “I am the bread.”   “I am the
Good Shepherd.” . . .   Good material!

On a deeper level, I wonder how a man goes from being a “son of thunder” to
being “the disciple Jesus loved” and the very one whom Christ trusted with his
mother’s care.  For a “son of thunder,” this is a compelling shift.

When John first encounters Jesus, he and his brother James—the sons of
Zebedee—are fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, along with Simon Peter. 
Luke 5:1-11 tells how, at Christ’s command, Peter lets down his fishing nets
again, after not catching anything all night,  Suddenly, he’s caught so many fish
that the nets start to break and the boats start to sink—even with the help of
James and John who are urgently called over.  At Jesus’ offer that they now begin
to catch men, these first disciples leave their boats and nets to immediately
follow Jesus.

Among the disciples, John comes to have a top spot.  There are occasions—such
as Jesus’ prayerful time in the Garden of Gethsemane—where Jesus includes only
a few disciples.  John was one of those.  And, at the Last Supper, John is the one
next to Jesus, whom the other disciples put up to asking Jesus which one of them
will betray Him.

Jesus cared for John, no doubt.  But Jesus is also the one who named John and
James as “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17).  Did Christ mean that they were loud?
Forceful?  Scary? All air?  I agree with others in suspecting that they were
ambitious, attracted by the power of being close to Christ.

One time, John wants to stop another man driving out demons because the man
is not part of the disciples, or “one of them” (Luke 9:49-50).  Another time,
James and John want to call down a vengeful fire on a village that doesn’t
welcome them and Jesus.  (Luke 9:51-54).

The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record squabbles among the disciples
as to who would be the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven.  Mark 10:35-45 even
tells, specifically, how John and James want the places in Heaven at Jesus’ right
and left-hand!

The book of John, too, makes me think that John may have been especially
interested in power. 

While all the gospels tell the story of the feeding of the 5,000, only John’s telling
(John 6:1-15) adds how the satisfied crowd wanted to make Jesus their king--by force if necessary--and how Jesus quietly slipped away.  Someone interested in power would notice Jesus’ apparently peculiar response.

The foot-washing at the Last Supper (John 13:1-17) is also an incident that only
John records.  I believe that, for a man as interested in power as John was,
the experience of Jesus washing his feet was terribly, amazingly, humbling.

The book of John is interesting in other ways as well.  It is not so much a
chronological story of Jesus’ life and ministry, as it is descriptions of Jesus,
told through incidents and metaphors.  Christ is central!

Because John was there for many of the incidents, however, he must sometimes
write about himself--although he never uses the word “I”.   Instead, he refers
to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23) or in other ways. 
We know from the rest of the New Testament that John went on to be a leader in the early church, a lifelong evangelist for Christ and the power of love (see especially the letter of 1 John).  Perhaps, by the time he wrote his gospel, he felt that the most important thing about himself was, indeed, that Christ loved him.

As a writer, I know that the ending of a book is critically important.  And the
Gospel of John ends in a strange way (John 21). John tells how the Risen Christ appears to the disciples, unrecognized on the shore, as the disciples have gone back to fishing on the Sea of Galilee.  He calls to tell them to throw their nets on the
other side of the boat, and they catch so many fish they can’t fully bring up the
net.  John recognizes Christ through this, and when they excitedly meet Christ on
the shore, he feeds them all fish and bread for breakfast.

Now, another interesting thing happens:  Christ asks Peter three times over,
“Do you love me?” (strangely linked to Peter’s three denials of Christ “before the
cock crowed” on the morning of the crucifixion).  Then Christ says, “Follow me.”
Does this sound familiar?

It is as if the ministry is starting over again, fresh.  It is a tender moment of
forgiveness--for Peter, of course, but I think it is also for John, because he has
chosen this story to end his book.  John-- a flawed ambitious man, who finds
power not in thrones, but in the powerful love of Christ.

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