“Jesus doesn’t impose salvation as a solution; he narrates salvation into being through leisurely conversation, intimate personal relationships, compassionate responses, passionate prayer, and — putting it all together — a sacrificial death. We don’t casually walk away from words like that.”. –Eugene Peterson (Intro to John in Conversations, The Message translation)
Last fall I got on a big John kick. I couldn’t stop reading him. Over and over I kept reading the gospel of John, his epistles, even Revelation a time or two. John is one of my two favorite people in scripture, the other also being named John.
I like John so much because I see so much of his personality come out in his writing. He is who he is. In the beginning he is one of the “Sons of Thunder”. And by the time he’s writing the gospel down he is so humbled by the love of Jesus for himself that he won’t even refer to himself by name, but only as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. Who was once known as a fighter is now laying his head on another man’s chest as they recline at the table after a big dinner. It’s as if he’s a little kid with his daddy and he thinks his daddy is the biggest and strongest daddy in the whole world and will always take care of him. And what do you know… I think John was right.
There’s this rivalry between John and Peter. You frequently find John poking fun at Peter saying mostly subtle things that no doubt got Peter a bit riled up with his competitive and often Irish-like excitability. All four gospels record Peter’s denial. But John is the only one who also records Jesus reinstating Peter without even an opportunity for an apology from Peter. There may be a friendly rivalry, but there’s no doubt in John’s mind that Peter is the leader after Jesus leaves, not himself.
I also feel like John really gets the idea or the picture of the Kingdom of Heaven more than the other writers. He’s very poetic which reminds me of the way Jesus often taught. He’s also always talking about this dynamic of light and life and love and Jesus and word and truth. It’s like there’s this deeper meaning to all of these words or images that can only be seen in the dynamic of all of them being present together and often interchangable. The Kingdom is not easily explained, but he paints these brushstrokes as he draws the picture of what the Kingdom looks like as it walks the earth and rebuilds through resurrection, both here and now and somehow in eternity at the same time.
I never really got off my John kick. I just got distracted sometime in the summer and stopped reading the Bible altogether. So when a friend asked me some questions about John and asked me if I’d help them find some answers, I was glad to jump back in. I’d been needing a bit of a push.
I decided to start reading John in the Message. I was about to start reading it a few months ago when I got distracted by sin. I really think that there is evil in the world and I think that evil is what distracted me from reading it before. So it seemed like a good place to start again. I read the introduction to the gospel of John written by Eugene Peterson. I’ve learned to always read introductions. It ends with the quote above. As soon as I read it, I knew this was going to be a good ride.
After reading the opening poem in John I was struck hard with a simple little verse I’d read a hundred times before and blazed right over. John 1:8 “John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.” Or as it reads in the NIV, “He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.”
Here was John the Baptist’s purpose. Not to be Jesus; only to point the way to Jesus. I think it’s my purpose too. Often I want to and try to “be Jesus” to someone. But it’s not my job to be him. Which is good because I pretty well suck at it. It’s just my job to point at him. That pointing is sometimes with words, sometimes actions and sometimes just with my finger. This is a good thing because pointing is something I can usually handle. I mean, even when I’ve fallen flat on my face, screwed everything else up and brought everything down on top of myself, I can still lift a hand and point a finger in the direction eveything should’ve gone, but didn’t. That’s a reassuring thought. It’s a bit lighter of a burden to carry than to be Jesus who is God. I think Jesus once said something about a lighter burden too. Funny how long I’ve spent carrying (or trying to carry and failing and kicking myself for failing and trying again) a heavy burden after being told I didn’t need to.
God, I want to stop trying to be you and screwing it up and hating myself for it. In the words of the Fresh Prince of Belair, “You be you and I’ll be me.” Help me to just show love and point. Pointing is easier, lighter. I can handle a life of pointing. You handle the rest.