John 2:17-22

His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

One more note on this passage that will help us navigate through John’s splendidly complex and deeply theological work. The author we name John – we actually don’t have any claim of authorship and, indeed, what we now read as one work may have been edited and had more than a single author – was very likely a leader of a community that was not part of what we’d call “mainstream” emerging Christianity. For instance, and as we’ll see as we go on, there is something of a narrative competition between Peter – who figures largely in the other three gospels – and a figure we know only as the “beloved disciple,” who is unnamed but probably the founder of this community, perhaps the one whose memories or sermons form some of the gospel itself. (By the way, you kind of know who will win this competition as Peter is called only Peter while the Beloved Disciple is, well, “the disciple Jesus loved” (Jn. 13:23). 🙂 )

For this reason, John’s Gospel is quite distinct in terms of the miracles (John calls the “signs”) reported, plotting of some key events (as we’ve seen with the cleansing of the Temple), lengthy discourses by Jesus instead of his parables, and a number of distinct theological concerns. Again and again, we’ll want to pay attention to these differences, not trying to figure out “which gospel is right,” but rather trying to understand John’s confession and it’s relevance to us today.

But John does share some important features with the other three gospels, including a keen desire to help his community see the coming of Jesus as God keeping God’s promises to Israel. For instance, John regularly references the Jewish Scriptures (what many of us call the Old Testament), as in today’s reading, for instance, John describes that Jesus’ disciples make a connection to Psalm 69:9 in relation to Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple. Throughout the story, John will make similar connections between Jesus’ words and deeds to the story of Israel to help demonstrate to his community that Jesus not only continues that story but, indeed, is its fulfillment and climax.

In addition, and akin to the other evangelists, John is writing to a community that is wrestling with the trauma of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. All of the gospels are written in the aftermath of the Roman occupation and oppression of Israel that culminates in the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. As the Temple was the center of Jewish faith and worship, its destruction completely reshapes the religion. As John and the other evangelists are writing, there are two groups emerging from that trauma that are, to some degree, in competition with, and at points even antagonistic to, each other. The first is what becomes rabbinic Judaism, the tradition that grows from the Pharisees. The second is what becomes Christianity and grows from those Jews who are followers of Jesus.

All of which adds further explanation to John’s repeated emphasis on Jesus as the fulfillment of Jewish Scripture. John is making a claim that his tradition is the more faithful of these two competing strands of Judaism. And while that desire sometimes shows itself in demonstrating how something Jesus says or does fulfills Scripture, at other points it comes out as John seems to put down or criticize his rivals by characterizing those Jews who did not believe in Jesus rather harshly. This is something we will want to watch for, wrestle with, and hope to transcend as we read this testimony of faith to Jesus, Jewish messiah and lamb of God.

Prayer: Dear God, let us hear in John’s witness words of life and grace that we might be instruments of peace. In Jesus’ name, Amen