Reflecting on the Gospel of John for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

From The Gospel of John, by Francis Martin and William Wright, commenting on John 16:12-15:

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The Church prescribes this reading for Trinity Sunday. The Trinity has everything to do with all aspects of Christian life. The Catechism states, “God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange” (221). This sharing is heaven. The Father sent his only Son to suffer, die, and rise, so that humanity could be restored to his friendship and enter into the divine communion. The Spirit has been sent to teach us, strengthen us, and help us replicate in our lives the same pattern of self-giving love that exists in God. Our task is to yield to the Holy Spirit, who makes the reality of God powerfully alive for us and draws us into communion with him through Jesus. In order to do this, we have to give up our sins and open ourselves up to God. The more attuned we become to the Holy Spirit by renouncing our sins and living a graced life of prayer and the sacraments, the more we will come to know the mystery of love that is the Blessed Trinity.

© 2015 Francis Martin, William M. Wright IV, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on the Gospel of John for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

From The Gospel of John, by Francis Martin and William Wright, commenting on John 14:25-29:

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Throughout the Farewell Discourse, Jesus announces beforehand many things that will happen to the disciples (13:19; 14:29; 16:1, 4). Jesus has just told the disciples about the realities to be revealed at his resurrection, and he includes the future teaching activity of the holy Spirit. As the Father has sent Jesus, upon whom the Spirit descended (1:32–33), the Father will also send the Spirit in Jesus’ name and at his request (14:16). The Holy Spirit, who will dwell in Jesus’ disciples, will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.

There are several instances in the Gospel where disciples are said to remember episodes in Jesus’ ministry after his glorification (2:17, 22; 12:16). As this verse suggests, their remembering of Jesus’ ministry will be caused by the Spirit. It is not a simple recollection of the past but also a deeper understanding of Jesus and his work given by the Spirit—a spiritual understanding. The Spirit leads disciples into a greater understanding of the mystery of Jesus and makes it come alive for us.

Among his promises (14:18–24), Jesus includes the promise of his peace. Behind this mention of “peace” is the biblical promise of shalom (peace, wellbeing, everything is right), a blessing of reconciliation that God promised to bestow upon his people in his †eschatological act of salvation (Isa 52:7; 54:10–13; Jer 33:6–9; Zech 9:10). Jesus’ peace is a fruit of his relationship with the Father, into which he will bring his disciples. It is a supernatural peace that arises from a total love for the Father and therefore is unlike the peace of the world, which rejects God. Repeating his words of reassurance (14:1), Jesus calls the disciples to a confident, trusting faith and promises them the peace that comes from obeying the Father and knowing his love. We shall see this promise fulfilled in the Gospel account of Easter Sunday evening, when the risen Jesus gives the disciples his peace, which drives out their fear (20:19; see 20:26; 1 John 4:18). Paul similarly exhorts his readers, “Let the peace of Christ control your hearts” (Col 3:15).

Jesus continues to console his distressed disciples with the promise I will come back to you. He will return to them not only after his resurrection, not only at the †Parousia, but also during the present time through the Holy Spirit. While it may be very hard for them to grasp, the disciples should rejoice that Jesus is going to the Father. The Father is greater than Jesus in his mortal humanity, but at his resurrection and ascension, Jesus’ humanity will be glorified by the Father and become “greater” (see 14:12). Jesus’ entrance into heavenly glory opens up salvation and life with the Father, salvation and life for humanity (see Acts 2:33). Jesus has prophesied these things ahead of time, so that when they happen, the disciples may believe in him, believe that he is present to the Father and “has revealed him” (1:18).

© 2015 Francis Martin, William M. Wright IV, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on the Gospel of John for the Third Sunday of Easter

From The Gospel of John, by Francis Martin and William Wright, commenting on John 21-15-19:

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This exchange between Jesus and Peter provides much food for thought about the ministry of the pope and basic aspects of the Christian life, such as sin, repentance, and discipleship. When Peter denied Jesus three times, he rejected his relationship with Jesus. In this scene, which recalls Peter’s denials, we see the tremendous love and mercy of Jesus for Peter. Jesus makes the first  move and initiates the conversation with Peter. He invites Peter to repent and return to him by professing his love. With Peter’s threefold profession of love, his threefold denial is undone, and Jesus restores the relationship between them. Jesus’ mercy is so complete that he does not hold Peter’s past sins against him. Instead, Jesus gives Peter the honor and responsibility of serving as the delegated shepherd of his sheep.
The same dynamics of repentance and forgiveness apply to all disciples, for Peter is still a sheep in relation to Jesus. No matter how serious or how many the sins we have committed (Peter’s were very serious), the love and mercy of Jesus is infinitely greater. He seeks us out and invites us to return to him. This scene should give us confidence that when we seek reconciliation with Jesus, he forgives us completely and forever. As Pope Francis has beautifully taught, God  “does not tire of forgiving us if we are able to return to him with a contrite heart.”

© 2015 Francis Martin, William M. Wright IV, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on the Gospel of John for the Second Sunday of Easter

From The Gospel of John, by Francis Martin and William Wright, commenting on John 20:20:

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During the Farewell Discourse, Jesus told his disciples that they would “weep and mourn” (16:20) and be “in anguish” (16:22) when he left them. He also reassured them, “I will come back to you” (14:28) and “you will see me” (16:16).

Now Jesus fulfills this promise: he came and stood in their midst. And he speaks the words of shalom, the †eschatological reconciliation between God and his people: Peace be with you (see Isa 52:7; 57:19). Before he departed, Jesus told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. . . . Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” (14:27). The risen Jesus now gives the disciples the gift of his peace, which drives away their fear, for he incorporates them into communion with the Father. !rough his cross and resurrection, Christ has “conquered the world” (16:33) and its ruler (12:31), and he has made his disciples “children of God” (1:12). There is, then, no reason for his disciples to fear. The presence of the wounds of crucifixion on the risen Jesus’ body is significant. They indicate that the body resurrected to glory is the same one that died on the cross (see Luke 24:39).14 Resurrection is not the return of a human being to ordinary mortal life but total transformation into a glorified mode of existence. As St. Paul wrote, the natural body is transfigured by the Holy Spirit into a glorified, “spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:44). The wounds on Jesus’ resurrected body reveal that he is forever fixed in the act of love in which he died. The love and sacrifice that he offered on the cross are forever present before the Father as “expiation for our sins, and . . . for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).

Jesus’ wounds also signify that the victory of the resurrection comes only through the cross. Similarly, the Lamb in the book of Revelation bears the wound of his slaughter by which he accomplished the work of redemption (Rev 5:6, 9). In this way, St. Thomas Aquinas, drawing on the Venerable Bede, can speak of the wounds on Jesus’ resurrected body as “trophies” of his victory.

Donatien Mollat found significance in John’s use of the verb “showed.” After the temple incident (2:14–17), the †Jews asked Jesus to “show” them a sign to legitimate his words and deeds (2:18). Jesus responded with a statement about raising up the temple of his body (2:19). Now, when Jesus shows the disciples his risen body with its wounds, he provides the †sign that legitimates his words and deeds: his resurrection.

 

© 2015 Francis Martin, William M. Wright IV, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on the Gospel of John for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

From The Gospel of John, by Francis Martin and William Wright, commenting on John 8:1-11:

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The story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53–8:11) has a complicated history. It does not appear in any major Greek copy of John before the sixth century, which is why it appears in brackets in the NABRE, although it does appear in earlier Latin manuscripts. In some Greek manuscripts of John, the story appears in places other than its present location. One manuscript group has the account at the end of the Gospel, after 21:25. In addition, it appears in some manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke, after 21:38. The Greek language in this story differs noticeably from that in the rest of John. These factors suggest that the story did not originate with the rest of the Fourth Gospel. Rather, it resembles conflict stories found in the Synoptics. The Church receives this text as inspired Scripture and proclaims it liturgically on the fifth Sunday of Lent in Year C.

Jesus shows loving-kindness to a person involved in sexual immorality. Many men and women are in a similar situation today. Turning away from such sinful activity can be very difficult. The gentle mercy of Jesus, which is infinitely greater than the worst of our sins, is available to all in the sacrament of reconciliation, through which he pardons all our sins, even the most serious ones. Moreover, Christians who are not involved in such sinful behavior do well to avoid the proud self-righteousness of the woman’s accusers and instead imitate Jesus, not condemning but lovingly summoning the sinner to repent and live a better life.

Pope Francis on Christ’s Mercy:

[This] Gospel presents to us the episode of the adulterous woman ([John] 8:1–11), whom Jesus saves from being condemned to death. Jesus’ attitude is striking: we do not hear words of scorn, we do not hear words of condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, which are an invitation to conversion. “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again” (v. 11). Ah! Brothers and Sisters, God’s face is the face of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about God’s patience, the patience he has with each one of us? That is his mercy. He always has patience, patience with us, he understands us, he waits for us, he does not tire of forgiving us if we are able to return to him with a contrite heart. (Pope Francis, “Angelus,” March 17, 2013.)

© 2015 Francis Martin, William M. Wright IV, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on John for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of John, by Francis Martin and William Wright, commenting on John 6:60-69

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Some of Jesus’ disciples refuse his words about his body and blood. They describe his saying as hard, as unacceptable. Now they are murmuring like the Israelites in the wilderness and the Jews who objected to Jesus’ teaching (6:41–42).

Instead of watering down his teaching, Jesus challenges them: Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? Jesus, the Son of Man and bread of life, has come down from heaven and will offer his flesh and blood as eternal food. If these disciples cannot accept that Jesus came down from heaven, took flesh, and commands his followers to eat his flesh and drink his blood, how will they accept his returning to the Father by means of his death on the cross and resurrection?

Jesus must offer his flesh for the world’s salvation on the cross, displaying his love for the Father and the Father’s love for the world (14:31; 3:16). After being gloriously transformed in the resurrection, Jesus’ flesh will be apt for heavenly existence and having ascended to glory, become spiritual food for believers.

The remedy for these disciples is to be more spiritual—that is, to believe with a deep faith, born of the Spirit: It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail (compare 3:6). These disciples should not make Jesus conform to their human standards (“the flesh”) but should conform themselves to his Spirit-filled, life-giving teachings: the words of spirit and life.

As St. Cyril of Alexandria comments: “It is not the nature of the flesh that renders the Spirit life-giving, but the might of the Spirit that makes the body life-giving. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit, that is, both spiritual and of the Spirit, and they are life.”

 

© 2015 Francis Martin, William M. Wright IV, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on John for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of John, by Francis Martin and William Wright, commenting on John 6:51-58

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Jesus’ words about his flesh and blood have a strong realism. The verb used for “eat” in 6:54–58 is different from the verb used in the preceding conversation and is very graphic. In other Greek literature, it designates how animals eat.

While obedient listening and faith are means of ingesting God’s Word and wisdom, the change to a more concrete verb for eating accents the fact that Christ’s offer of his body and blood entails something even more radical: consuming his flesh and blood in the Eucharist. All the material food and drink in the world, including the manna and the multiplied loaves, are gifs from God to sustain mortal life. They are also imperfect foreshadowings of the true food and true drink by which God gives us eternal life.

Jesus explains the Eucharist as the food of eternal life by linking it to participation in the divine communion: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. In John, the verb “remain” (menō) designates the mutual indwelling of Father and Son, the eternal relationship between them in which Jesus invites his disciples to share (see 1:39; 14:10; 15:4–10). By our consuming Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist, he dwells within us, and we in turn share in his divine life. The Eucharist is truly “holy communion” (Catechism 1391). As St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation [Greek koinōnia, literally, “fellowship, communion”] in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16).

Jesus continues, Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. In 5:26, Jesus spoke of his own possession of the divine life, which is the Father’s eternal gift to the Son. As the bread of life, Jesus came down from heaven to give “life to the world” (6:33). Jesus’ divine life is given to those who receive Jesus in faith as God’s wisdom and, even more profoundly, consume his Eucharistic body and blood.

© 2015 Francis Martin, William M. Wright IV, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on John for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of John, by Francis Martin and William Wright, commenting on John 6:41-51

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Jesus spoke of “food that endures for eternal life” (6:27) and then was challenged by the crowd to perform a sign greater than the manna (6:30–31). Jesus went on to speak of “the bread of God . . . which comes down from heaven” (6:33) and identified himself as this heavenly “bread of life” (6:35).

Jesus now returns to the manna, and his discourse crescendos in the revelation that the bread from heaven that gives eternal life is the crucified and glorified flesh of Jesus himself (6:48–51). With strong realism, Jesus teaches that he gives this very same flesh as nourishment to believers in the Eucharist, the sacrament of his body and blood (6:53–58).

Returning to the themes of manna and life-giving bread, Jesus compares himself as the bread of life with the manna. The manna was a providential gift from the Lord to sustain the Israelites in the wilderness. But despite its wondrous nature, the manna did not give eternal life: Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died. However, the bread of life from heaven does what the manna could not: it gives eternal life, so that whoever eats this bread will live forever.

The food that gives immortality is an allusion to the tree of life in the garden of Eden. According to Genesis, the tree of life’s fruit could give immortality. After their sin, God expelled Adam and Eve from Eden to keep them from eating this food (Gen 3:22–23). Now Jesus says that anyone who eats the bread he gives will live forever. Jesus opens the way to paradise and offers the food that gives immortality.

Then Jesus explains what it means to eat the living bread that came down from heaven. At one level, in light of the biblical imagery for God’s wisdom and Torah, eating this bread means taking Jesus in as spiritual nourishment and wisdom. But there is a much greater depth to his words. Jesus now specifies that this bread that gives eternal life is his own flesh. He gives his flesh for the life of the world in his perfect act of love and obedience on the cross. Once crucified and transformed by the resurrection, Jesus’ human flesh becomes the source of eternal life for the whole world. It is Jesus’ own flesh that people must eat.

© 2015 Francis Martin, William M. Wright IV, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on John for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of John, by Francis Martin and William Wright, commenting on John 6:24-35

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Earlier the crowd thought that Jesus was the promised Prophet-like-Moses (6:14–15). Now they realize that he is claiming to be even greater than this promised prophet, indeed, greater than Moses himself. They ask him for another sign so that they may see and believe in him (compare Matt 16:1–4). If Jesus is greater than Moses, they reason, he should do something even greater than the signs and wonders Moses did.

They cite Scripture and appeal to a great act associated with Moses: Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” Their citation does not exactly match any biblical text, but it is closest to Exod 16:4, which recounts the Lord’s gift of manna to the Israelites (see also Ps 78:24; Neh 9:15). This scriptural text about the manna is at the center of the whole ensuing discourse.

Presented with this text, Jesus begins the Bread of Life Discourse. The discourse follows an established manner of Jewish preaching, which elaborates on the elements mentioned in a biblical quotation, in this case, Exod 16:4, referenced in John 6:31.11

Jesus begins his response to the crowd’s challenge with the assertion that it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven. As with the Samaritan woman (4:20–21), Jesus redirects the crowd’s attention from their ancestral past to the present moment: My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. Moses was not the source of the manna: it was the Lord. The Lord provided Israel with manna, and he continues his providential care by now providing true bread from heaven. The modifier “true” should not be taken to imply that the manna was false, but rather that it was incomplete or less than perfect. The manna was a genuine gift from God, and it also foreshadows the even greater care that God provides in Jesus.

The description that this bread comes down from heaven connects this bread with Jesus, who, as the Son of Man, came down from heaven (3:13, 31). This heavenly bread gives life to the world. Like the Samaritan woman who asked for water that would quench all thirst, the crowd says, Sir, give us this bread always (see 4:15). As he has done before, Jesus will now raise the discussion to a whole new level.

© 2015 Francis Martin, William M. Wright IV, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on John for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of John, by Francis Martin and William Wright, commenting on John 6:1-15

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Upon seeing a large crowd approaching, Jesus asks Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” Jesus does not ask this question out of ignorance but to test Philip. By doing so, he invites Philip to grow in his faith in him. Instead, Philip thinks in terms of money: it would take an enormous sum, the better part of a year’s wages, to feed such a large crowd—and only for each of them to have a little.

Andrew intervenes in the conversation by calling attention to a young boy with five barley loaves and two fish. His mention of barley loaves recalls the incident in 2 Kings 4:42–44, where the prophet Elisha fed more than one hundred men with twenty barley loaves. But like Philip, Andrew contrasts the enormity of the crowd with the small means at hand: What good are these for so many?

Jesus acts on his intention to feed the crowd. He first tells the disciples, Have the people recline: get them ready to eat. The comment about grass recalls Ps 23:2, where the psalmist says of YHWH his shepherd, “In green pastures he makes me lie down.” The disciples obey Jesus’ instruction, and the men reclined, about five thousand in number. With the presence of women and children, the crowd would have been even larger.

Jesus’ gestures resemble accounts of the Last Supper in the Synoptics: he took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them. While John’s Gospel does not narrate the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, it underlies Jesus’ teaching on the giving of his body and blood throughout chapter.

Another important detail concerns the one who feeds the crowd. In the Synoptics, Jesus gives the bread to the disciples, who then feed the crowds (Matt 14:19; Mark 6:41; 8:7; Luke 9:16). But John does not mention any role of the disciples; Jesus feeds the crowd directly. John thus underscores that Jesus is the ultimate source of the bread for the crowd. Philip and Andrew stressed the scant means to feed such a huge crowd, but Jesus miraculously produces a superabundance of bread. The entire crowd was completely satisfied, for all had as much bread and fish as they wanted.

 

© 2015 Francis Martin, William M. Wright IV, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.