John 19:35

(He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.)

This is an interesting insertion, isn’t it? And not just an insertion, really, but actually an interruption. John’s attestation that the one who witnessed these things is testifying truly interrupts, even disrupts, the narrative flow of the story and comes between the description of the centurions’ treatment of Jesus and John’s typical connection of these events to Israel’s story.

Why does he do this? Perhaps it’s simply because the events he describes are so hard to believe: that the one who was rejected by the religious authorities and put to death by the state is the one God worked through to redeem the world. And so in the middle of this death scene, John inserts a reminder that, indeed, these events are not mere hearsay and the one who witnessed them is telling the truth about them.

And who is the one testifying? It’s easy to assume that it’s the author, the one we call John, although he doesn’t identify himself. I’ve suggested earlier that much of the material woven together to form this gospel may have come from the preaching of a disciple of Jesus, likely one not as well known the Twelve. This disciple is the one identified in John’s Passion story as “the disciple Jesus loved” and was likely the one who founded the community for whom John now writes and whose witness served as the inspiration for this distinctive gospel. And so calling to mind the fidelity of this witness would then further bolster the faith of those reading John’s Gospel, as they are reminded of the preacher who first gathered them around the good news.

Of course, it’s not just the events being described that the faithful witness recounts, but also their meaning. That is, the disciple and preacher who gathered this early Christian community and whom John recalls perceived truly that in this one forsaken by the religious and political authorities, God was working to redeem all of us and, indeed, the whole world. And that’s what Scripture is always about. Not just what happened, but why it matters. Not just facts of history, but confessions of faith. For anyone can say, “Jesus died,” but only the believer can say, “Jesus died to demonstrate God’s love and to redeem the world.”

That is the confession John makes, and it’s the confession he hopes we make as well after hearing his testimony.

Prayer: Dear God, when we look upon your love for the world demonstrated in and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, inspire us to witness to our faith in word and deed. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


Post image: “The Last Supper,” (from a panel in St Chad’s Church, Kirkby), by Henry Holiday.