Interpreting the gospel of John from the tone of his relationship with Jesus!
(interpreting scriptures through the personal spiritualities of it’s writers)
One of my personal keys to true interpretation of scriptures is to dwell on the personal spiritualities of the writers of the book. Not just what they wrote, but where in their relationship with God, did they write it from! What was their personal relationship with God really like—what was the tone of their relationship with Him, and how does this reflect the particular parts of God they revealed in the expression of their writings. Daniel, in the Old Testament, for instance, had a mystic vision, dream life, and study based encounter and relationship with God; he “fixed his gaze to understand” how God works through study and prayer, and mystical experience. He combined dream, study, and practical rulership or management into a unique spirituality of service.
So we overhear Daniel, confessing and praying, and we have many of his visions recorded, and encounters with angels in dreams and trances. He also often focused his interest on the nations, and the timings of the rise and fall of empires and rulers. He was interested in how God interfaced with the rise and fall of empires and nations-the timings of the governments of earth. But was also most concerned with his own sacred people group and their future. He was also interested in the wise men, the sub-culture, placed under his care, after he saved their lives. He was a unique prophetic ruler in many ways.
He read Jeremiah to determine the days of captivity, and met God in study of books. He became a ruler over his subculture of wise men and mystics. He was given a unique position, and one of his first great stunts was to save all the wise men, by telling the king not only the interpretation of his dream, but actually what the king had dreamed—this is one of the best spirit-stunts ever! He was something like a mystic scholar/king. Very unique in Jewish history in that he was prophetic but also a ruler and counselor with a foreign king. Not unlike Joseph.
He reveals to us through his personal story and relationship with God, how God is sovereign over all nations and empires and works directly to bring about His Will, and will continue to work in this way until the end.
Now, when I turn to the gospel of John, in the New Testament, I see a spirituality of friendship that crossed the realms between down here and up there. A sort of mystic friendship that was at the same time very practical and real.
About this version of the gospel of Jesus, which John wrote:
First the tone of the gospel of John reflects, and is centered in his friendship with Jesus while on earth!
Unlike the other gospels which give you more of the facts, the history, the progression of the life and times of Jesus, John gives you the Reality—the signs, the wonders and all the good eternally practical stuff. Then walks you out into where it is actually happening. Gotta love mystical writers—i.e. those who spend lots of time in the spiritual realm in order to interpret and give meaning to the natural realm.
John had that balance.
While Peter focuses us on the spiritual continuum of living hope, which the prophets learned and lean into, based in Jesus future actions on our behalf, John takes us into what He is doing now, and in the past, and in the future, so we can encounter a true context for purpose and meaning daily down here. In this sense, it is the most practical of the gospels. But in an unusual way.
His friendship with Jesus was his basic spirituality. He was a friend of Jesus (Jesus even gives him care of His own mother from the cross), so it makes since, that he went where Jesus was after He died on earth. He went to heaven and kept hanging out with Jesus as a friend. That was the nature of their relationship!
Thus, he wrote from heaven and earth about his good friend. So, we have a very unique revelation of the nature and life of Jesus in John’s writings! I relate to that way. The spirituality of St John makes sense to me. It’s a spirituality based in true friendship and intimacy. That is his challenge for us in our own personal relationship with Jesus as well. Can we become friends with Him, in such a way, He can lean over and tell us what He is really thinking feeling doing etc….
There is no distance in John’s gospel between him and Jesus—they are close. So he starts out with the Cosmic Christ who was there from the beginning, then ends up in the book of Revelation (which i believe he did write, though this is not certain, regardless it’s writer shared the writer of the gospel’s type of spirituality; one of friendship and intimacy!), with the future Christ intervening still with humanity. This revelation is based in friendship. So John stayed with Christ after He died and was resurrected. It is interesting that God let him live a long time as well, and appears to be one of the few apostles who was not martyred, but lived out his life into old age. Maybe Jesus just wanted to be with Him on earth for a longer time than most.
This gospel is unique and authentic linguistically as well. It is the gospel of Jesus the Logos, Jesus the Son of God, Jesus the bringer of Grace and Truth, Jesus the one to follow after John the Baptist pointed to Him. This is a gospel centered geographically around Jerusalem rather than His Galilee ministry, and filled with the signs of Jesus while on earth! Here is the unique way of faith emphasized rather than law. Faith as a new way of entering the realm of God and His Kingdom.
John’s personal spirituality of friendship allowed this vision or knowing to be recorded. It is for this reason a great gospel, and unique in emphasizing certain aspects of Jesus personal life few writers touched or knew, or could express so poetically. His baptized imagination, meant that he could meet Jesus through sight, perception and creative vision and expression.
His imagination, like so many saints, was a place of meeting and communication with His friend Jesus and The Father. Therefore, he was able to both see and express or write the book of Revelation (or, even if he is not the writer, certainly have a clear vision of the Cosmic Christ who was with God from the start!). They had a relationship which included the creative imagination. This is a great area of his personal spirituality that we can all learn from and enter into. He was able to write even that John the Baptist was shown that the man who the image the dove landed on was the Christ. So you see that John the Baptist also had this relationship with Christ through his sight. This cannot be under emphasized in what both Johns were modeling for us! Spiritual sight was a basic and very practical part of their communications with God!!!Our creativity and vision is meant to be a place of meeting God, and part of our basic relationship to Him. We see this in Daniel, and clearly in John’s spirituality and the expressions in writing which flowed and poured forth from it! They understood the symbolic dimension of communication with their God. They had no poverty of imagination!
Here, also, is the sensory gospel of the tactile smell of perfume being broken over Jesus’ feet—a sensuous telling of Jesus’ Life on earth; and in John’s letters we see this tactile quality as well– of seeing and touching the actual Logos who became flesh and dwelt among us, as a human being like us and with us. This is a very Jewish and down to earth gospel, and the most sensual and yet mystical. The Light becoming flesh, wrapping Himself in our humanity, clothing Himself in us, in order to save us!
The one he describes as The Light coming into the darkness. The Logos become flesh. The one who came into humanity which rejected him. Here is the son of man and son of God combined. As Jesus and John were friends on earth and in heaven.
In this way John’s personal spirituality is uniquely challenging for us to know Jesus as friend on earth, and as heavenly King simultaneously. To be both very down to earth, and living in heaven at the same time in our relationship with Christ.
To know Him as both Cosmic Christ and Jesus our friend who washes our feet. As Jesus the wine maker (Cana’s miracle is only mentioned in this gospel). Here is a writer who is both mystic and very practical pastor, caring about the daily needs of others.
Eugene Peterson called John a theologian, poet and pastor. That’s about right. For John was a God-thinker, who had a baptized and prophetic imagination, and a carer for real people with real earthly needs! All three are reflected in his spirituality and writings! And we are challenged to emulate all three aspects in our own lives as well!
We have so much to learn from John’s practical and mystical spirituality about friendship with our Divine and very on and down to earth Lord, Jesus!
Each gospel has its nuances of who Jesus really was and is; but this one is particularly revealing of the Identity of Christ, and worth a deep and encountering meditation!
When we look at the four gospels we have to interpret the personal spiritualities of the writers—what their unique relationship with Jesus was like. We need to sense what part of Him they were intimate with and could therefore reflect and express best. We have Luke the doctor historian, Mark the careful recorder, Mathew the thorough etc….each had their unique way of reflecting different dimensions of who Jesus really was, and is!
And there are windows of the beautiful multifarious Nature of Christ in each. We do well to peer through each window of the writers of scriptures, to know more of the endless Identity of Our Lord and Savior who came to earth and dwelt among us as a real friend and king, and made us children of His Father, and brothers and sisters with Him.
Often people think of mystics as impractical people, but in St John we have quiet the opposite–a very practical mystic concerned with, as he wrote, revealing the true nature of who Jesus was, is and will be always, and what close friendship with Him yields!
When you think of the Bible itself, you see that two friends of God wrote the beginning and end of it-Moses and John (even if some are not sure this is the same John who wrote the gospels, whichever John did write this last book of the bible was clearly a friend of Jesus, and shared the spirituality of the Apostle John. What I am concerned with here, is looking at the spirituality of the writers of scripture and what we can learn and embody of them in our own lives and relationships with God! In this case a practical mysticism based in friendship!).
These are practical mystics, who God chose to reveal the beginning and end of His Book about Himself through! We often divide mysticism and the practical down to earth stuff-we have many false inherited dualisms there. But the bible itself is book-ended by two prophetic people who were close friends of God. Friendship with God, allows us to be both mystical and very useful on earth. For, as John taught us, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us! That’s one of the lessons we learn from John’s personal spirituality with God. We are both salty and in The Light!