“Newness” in John’s Gospel and the Year 2021
We are in 2021. As the year begins, we have a lot of new hopes and aspirations. How do we understand the theme of “newness”? The Gospel of John introduces a list of new things in the early Christian context.
As John stands out as a rhetoric of difference, the story-teller magnifies certain aspects to transform the novice Christian community as a distinct group. We shall look at the following aspects of “newness” in John chaps. 1-6.
First, while the old Israel prepared tabernacle by the efforts of the community members and thus invited the glory of God among them (Exo 25-27; 36-39; 40; Num 9:15; Lev 8:10), in John, we notice that the Son of God tabernacled among humanity and made a new community that enjoyed the glory of God (1:14).
The arrival of Jesus marked the beginning of the eternal glory shining among humanity. While the old Tabernacle increased people’s nationalistic hope, the new Tabernacle through Jesus was a universalistic arrangement for human salvation.
Second, Jesus attends a wedding in Cana in Galilee alongside of his mother, brothers, and the disciples (2:1-12). The Jews considered ‘wine’ as a synonym for ‘joy.’ In a wedding place, when there is ‘no wine’, it gives the meaning that there is ‘no joy.’ In the context of the lack of wine, the family members and the invited guests experienced a situation of frustration.
Mary the mother of Jesus brings the concern before Jesus and He acts as per the hour of the heavenly Father. The Master of the wedding testifies the superior quality of the wine that Jesus provided. Jesus’ intervention was instrumental in bringing a ‘new’ and superior wine and the resultant joy. This incident led many people to believing in Jesus.
Third, Jesus visits the temple at Jerusalem. He makes a whip of cords to drive out those who were selling and buying in the temple premises (2:13-22). As a revolutionary, He overturns their tables and scatters the coins of the money changers. In the temple, Jesus proclaims: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
The hearers (including the disciples) misunderstand the double meaning statement of Jesus. They responded to him: “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple.” While speaking in the temple, Jesus was not stating about the literal Jerusalem temple; but the new temple [Jesus Himself] that is tabernacled among humanity.
Fourth, a dialogue is at view between Jesus (a teacher “from above”) and Nicodemus (a teacher “from below”) in 3:1-10. Jesus advises Nicodemus to be born “from above.” His concern here is attuning his interlocutor with the “from above” ideology.
Nicodemus’ misunderstanding is obvious through his statement “How can a man be born when he is old?” While Jesus speaks from a metaphorical sense to reveal a spiritual truth, Nicodemus takes Jesus’ speech in a literal sense. When Jesus invites Nicodemus to the experience of “new birth,” His concern was to attune his interlocutor to the spiritual and heavenly truths.
Fifth, there is a conversation develops between Jesus and a Samaritan woman on the theme of water (4:4-26). Jesus speaks to her who is racially, sexually, and morally at the margins. She comes to fetch water from a public well and is proud of the one who gave them the well (forefather Jacob). While she offers literal water to Jesus, Jesus in turn offers her “living water.”
Jesus finds a distinction between the water from Jacob’s well (literal water) and the water he provides (spiritual “living” water, 4:13-14), and thus affirms his superiority over Jacob. Jesus as the giver of living water (a “new water” that satisfies people eternally) transforms the life of the woman and her villagers and directs them to the heavenly realities.
Sixth, the story of the Royal official is dramatic with a lot of twists (4:46-54). The man comes to request Jesus to come down and heal his son. Jesus rebukes the man as he is a representative of conditional belief (4:48). The punchline statement of the story is emphasized in vv. 50a and 53b: “Your son will live.”
The event introduces a transformation in the family of the Royal official as his son was brought back to life, he came to a matured faith, and the whole family believed in Jesus. Though the story begins with a death-like situation, it ends with a spiritual transformation of the family. The theme of “new life” is at the core of the event here.
Seventh, John chap. 6 demonstrates some of the Exodus imageries. When Jesus says that he is “the bread of life,” it takes us back to the question of the disciples: “Could someone have brought him [Jesus] food?” (4:33). Jesus is introduced here as the provider of food (6:1-15), one who enjoys “spiritual food” through his works (4:34-38), and the “eternal bread” from heaven (6:35, 41, 48, 51).
As the “bread of life,” Jesus proved his superiority over Moses who gave the people of Israel Manna in the desert (6:49, 58). While those who ate Manna died in the desert, those who eat Jesus shall live forever.
As the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea and saved themselves from Pharaoh, Jesus crosses over the Sea of Galilee to bring transformation in human life (6:16-22). Thus, the motifs of “new bread,” “new Moses,” and “new Exodus” are put together here.
As we begin the year 2021, we need to renew our spiritual and moral commitments. Jesus as a new Tabernacle can encamp among us and protect us from all sorts of exploitation, dehumanization, and pandemics like Covid-19. As giver of renewed joy,
Jesus enables us to see a bright year ahead with a lot of possibilities and prospects. His presence as the “new temple” motivates us to enjoy the continuous blessings and divine fellowship from heaven.
As born “from above,” we are invited by Jesus to enjoy the heavenly realities. As the Samaritans drank from the well of God and recognized Jesus as “truly the Saviour of the world,” we are invited to drink from the eternal well of God.
Through his interaction with Jesus, the Royal official turned away from the valley of death to the eternal life experience. Those who cling on to Jesus shall eat the bread of God and be saved.
It is assured that a transformed, liberated, and eternal living is possible through Jesus. Let’s enjoy the “newness” of God on a day-to-day basis throughout the year 2021.
Rev Dr Johnson Thomaskutty serves as the Associate Professor of New Testament at Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India.
LUMO Photo contributed by FreeBibleimages.org
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