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written by Constance Morgenstern
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Study for "Song of John"

I've always especially liked the Gospel of John.  From a song-writer’s point of view, John records some of the best metaphors about Christ: “I am the bread.”   “I am the Good Shepherd.” ... It's captivating and poetic.

There is also a subtle, personal intrigue: How does a man—
the disciple John himself—go from being a “son of thunder” (Mark 3:17) to being “the disciple Jesus loved” and the very one to whom Christ entrusts his mother’s future care? (See John 19:25-27.)

Before John encounters Jesus, he and his brother James—
along with their father Zebedee and Simon Peter—are fishermen on the Sea of Galilee.  Luke 5:1-11 tells how, at Christ’s command, Peter lets down his fishing nets, again, after repeated failures all night.  Suddenly, his nets are so full of fish that his nets are breaking! He calls for another boat of fishermen to help with this, but even then, the boats are overloaded. Overwhelmed, and hearing 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 becomes especially close to Christ.  There are occasions—such as Jesus’ prayerful time in the Garden of Gethsemane—where Jesus includes only a few of the twelve disciples.  John was one of the few.  And, at the Last Supper, John is the one next to Jesus, whom Peter puts up to asking Jesus which one of them will betray Him (John 13:21-30).

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

One time, John wants to stop another man from driving out demons because the man is not part of the disciples, not “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 wanted the prime places in Heaven at Jesus’ right and left-hand!

The Gospel of John itself 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’ remarkable move.

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 interested in power, the experience of Jesus washing his feet would be terribly, amazingly, humbling.

The Gospel of John is unique in other ways as well.  It is less of a reporting of Jesus’ life and ministry, and more a description of Jesus, told through incidents and metaphors.  It's as if John is saying, "Do you know who this IS?"

Because John was there for many of the incidents, however, he must sometimes write about himself—although he tries not to use the word “I."  Instead, he refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (as in 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 work 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, the Lord feeds them bread and freshly cooked fish for breakfast.

Now, another interesting thing happens: Christ asks Peter three times over, “Do you love me?”  (This seems linked to Peter’s three denials of Christ just before the crucifixion.)  Then Christ says both "Feed my sheep" and “Follow me.”  Does this sound familiar?

It is as if the ministry is starting over again, fresh.  It is a another life-changing moment—a moment of recommissioning for Peter, of course—but I think also for John, because he has chosen these details to end his book.  John—a formerly ambitious man, who now finds power not in thrones, but in the powerful love of Christ.


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