Thursday John 1:13, 10b, 11b he gave the right to become children of God children born not of...a husband’s will, but born of God...the world did not recognize him...his own did not receive him.
The final example of what life is NOT is ‘born...of... a husbands will.‘ Once again KJV comes to our rescue to help us understand what is going on. In the KJV this is translated,‘nor of the will of man.‘ Herb Newton makes a good case for understanding this, not as referring to the natural compulsion to procreate, but instead to patriarchy, or hierarchy. Rome divided society up into clear hierarchical classes. The emperor was at the top of this hierarchy, men were close to the top, women lower. Free men were higher than slaves, wealthy higher than working men. Romans higher than other ethnic groups and nations. And Rome put a great deal of time and energy into making sure that people staid in their classes in this hierarchy. This is what ‘patriarchy‘ is. We know enough of the gospels to know that Jesus did not abide by this clear distinction in classes. He spoke to women, interacted with wealthy and impoverished, visited Romans, Jews, and Samaritans. Called working Jews to be his disciples, instead of the young sons of wealthy patrons.
Even today, we do see hierarchy. We see it in the way that the impoverished are spoken of as ‘lazy.‘ We see it in the wages paid to women when compared to the wages paid to men. We see it in the schizophrenic relationship we have in this nation with workers from Latin America. We depend of them to do the jobs we don’t want, the jobs we don’t want to do, we don’t want to pay higher wages for. Yet we blame them for our economic woes. We see it in the number of African-American’s in our prison system. As much as the story of America tells us that there are no second class citizens, in actuality, we are divided by ‘class.‘ A life that built on this foundation is not life, the writer of the gospel proclaims to us.
What makes the prologue of the gospel of John so challenging is not simply that it begins to chip away at the foundation of life, a foundation that our lives are built upon, even though we may not realize it, but also, that it warns us that we may resist the new life Christ brings. ‘The world did not recognize him,’ the writer says. Historically I think we have focused too much on ‘his own did not receive him,’ which takes us off the hook. But it is the world that does recognize. Which to me suggests that we all have more to experience, to receive of the full life, true life, eternal life manifest in Christ. Which begins by allowing the gospel of John to chip away at the foundation of our lives that are built upon the three things we have discussed yesterday and today. How does it feel to have John suggest that we do not fully understand life? That our understanding of life needs to be corrected?
Wednesday John 1:12b-13 he gave the right to become children of God children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
There are no quick and easy answers to; the meaning of life, the meaning of Eternal life, the good life, the life that Christ brings, God creates. These answers are revealed as we continue through the gospel, and even then, they are not clearcut answers. But the writer of the Gospel of John does begin to reveal what Eternal Life, God-given life, is NOT, in today’s verses.
First, children of God are not born of ‘natural descent.‘ To really understand what the gospel writer is saying we need to look back at another translation, such as the KJV, which translates this ‘born not of blood.‘ Raymond Brown, in his commentary, points out that in the original greek, ‘blood‘ is plural, ‘bloods.‘ He goes on to explain that ‘bloods‘ is a Hebrew idiom for violence. In other words, children of God are not children born of violence. In the gospel writers world, which is controlled and defined by Rome, violence is at the heart of the empires existence. It was a violent civil war that brought Octavian (Caesar Augustus) to power. The wealth and prosperity of the empire, which was enjoyed in Ephesus where the gospel was written, was won through the work of the Roman Legions and maintained by the threat of their violent power. But John is telling us that children of God are NOT children of violence even though we lived in a world filled with and apparently dependent upon violence.
Second, we are not born of ‘human decision.‘ Once again we must go back to the King James to fully understand. In the King James this phrase is translated ‘the will of the flesh.‘ Bert Newton, in his book on the Gospel of John, makes a compelling case for understanding this phrase as referring to family/tribe/nation. When we are born as children of God, our familial, ethnic and national identities take back-seat to our identity as ‘children of God.’ This isn’t to suggest that our family, ethnic heritage or citizenship is erased, or no longer important. Instead, this reminds us that if our calling, as children of God is live life as Christ has shown us, the divisions that often arise between ethnic groups, nation-states, and even families, are no longer normative to us. We are called to create connections, to gather in ALL people to the family of Christ, not continue to abide by these divisions.
We will move on to the third redefinition of life tomorrow.
For today, let’s ponder the foundation, the center, of our lives. The writer of John suggests that both violence and ethnic heritage and national citizenship tell stories of where life comes from and what the good life is, in often harmful ways. would you agree or disagree?
John 1:4-5 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Most of the scholarship about the Gospel of John for the 20th century theorized that the reason for the gospel was that Jesus-believing Jews were expelled from the synagogue. The gospel of John is the writers response to the shock, pain, and anxiety of this traumatic exile forced upon Jesus-believers by their friends, family and community.
Warren Carter presents a different reading of John in his book ‘John & Empire.’ His theory, which I find convincing, but which I will not explain in detail, is that the Jesus-believing synagogue/community members felt that Judean synagogue leaders were far too enmeshed in and comfortable with Roman culture. (Note: Throughout the coming weeks and months it will vitally important for us to carefully use our own language. While we have been raised with the gospel of John and its many reference to ‘the Jews’ and the assumption that the writer means to refer to all members of a specific ethnic group this is not the case. John’s argument is not with everyday Jews, with ALL Jews. John’s argument is with Jewish leaders, wealthy elites. I will refer to the ethnic group as Jews, and the leading elite as Judean, so as to remind us that John’s problem is not with an entire ethnic group, but with a specific class within the ethnic group.) Returning to Carter, his theory is that John is not reacting to a forced expulsion, but instead is inciting distance, leading an exodus of Jesus-believers from synagogues lead by Judean elites, for they were far too influenced by Roman culture. John isn’t reacting to rejection, John is encouraging distance and rejection (again, not from an ethnic group, but from an institution created by and lead by wealthy elites tied to Roman power.
When we read, listen too, and study the Gospel of John, we are interacting with a story that at it’s core, is meant to encourage Jesus-believers to observe the culture that they live in from a distance and participate with caution. Why? Because as we discussed yesterday, Roman Imperial culture defined what the good life was and how to create and maintain it in a very different way than God, the creator of life, defined and maintained life. The writer of John strongly suggests that the church, the gathering of believers, should be an anti-society or a counter-culture. Bert Newton has said in regards to this idea; ‘Those who born of God constitute a new family, a new community, even a new nation... a transnational community of peace, truth, light, love and justice.
What biblical stories can you think of that define life, love, peace in ways that run counter to the culture in which we live?
This quote sounds good. And it may be. But it is not what the word of God teaches those of us who follow Christ. Our lives are not something that we create ourselves. Life is a gift we are given, and that we grow into as we follow Christ, who is Life and the life we are meant to live into. The center of our lives then, is not ourselves, but Christ.
Monday John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word and the word was with God and the Word was God
We are so accustomed to hearing this verse and those that follow it, which are called the prologue of John’s Gospel, that we tend to pass over them without considering how odd they are. Even the opening verse confuses and baffles if we are listening intently. Try this thought experiment. In the story is a man, the man had a boat, and the man was the boat. It doesn’t make sense does it? We tend to brush over the oddity of this phrase by assuming that it metaphorical or theological. I want to suggest that we not be so quick to sand down these rough edges.
Lets look at another example in this weeks verses; Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. Which sounds good except that children cannot be born without natural descent, human decision or will. The writer of John is talking to us about life in these verses, the life that the Word (Jesus) brings. But it is not a kind of life that we are familiar with, not the kind of life that we can control. The writer of John is using words that we know, but shifting their meaning, changing their use, trying to say something new.
In it’s historical context, the gospel is definitely challenging the ‘good life’ that the Roman Empire purports to create and maintain, a good life that they often called ‘the Golden Age.’ This Golden Age did produce aqueducts and paved roads grand colosseums and public baths, not to mention great wealth. What went unsaid in Rome’s story of itself was the fact that the peace of Rome was based on the threat of violence, that its grand architectural achievements were based on a tax system that forced the colonized peoples of Romes empire into poverty, and that the wealth only grew for 1-2% of the elites, leaving the rest of the population to struggle for subsistence.
At its most challenging, the Gospel of John will challenge us to listen carefully to the stories that our culture tells about the good life, what it is, and what our leaders tell us about where it comes from. The gospel of John challenges both the definition of life and the method of pursuing life in the Romand system. John’s Gospel, through it’s strange use of language also encourages us to carefully consider and prayerfully discern what life means for us. What are our values, our goals? How do we define and pursue the good life? Is the eternal life of Christ at the center of the story of our lives?
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.