Chapters 14-17 of John’s gospel are some of the most important in the New Testament. These are the last teachings and instructions of Jesus to his disciples before his death. The Gospel of John is unique. It shares little in common in terms of structure and content compared to the other three “Synoptic” gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. In John’s gospel Jesus is the “logos”, the eternal Word springing forth from the very life of God before time began, arching into the created world and into the arena of time and space; “the word became flesh.” The final chapters also expand on and elaborate the events of the “passion” (Jesus suffering and death) in a way that the three other gospels don’t. They contain the beautiful imagery of the vine and the branches and Jesus call for unity and oneness, not only between him and the disciples but among the disciples themselves so that the world would be convinced of his claims.(17:20-21)
It is the relationship of the disciples and relationships in general, that are the focus of the gospel story. Before there was a Christian Bible, i.e., the New Testament, there was a church. Before there was a book, there was a community, a set of relationships. Jesus prayed for the unity and “oneness” of all people. Great religious traditions (and physics/metaphysics) teach us that separateness is an illusion. We are all connected to a greater reality and connected to each other. This is why Jesus said things like, “As much as you’ve done it to the least of these, you’ve done it to me.” We could just as certainly say that as much as we’ve done it to the least of these, we have done it to ourselves! We are all inherently connected and so the quality of our relationships is vital to our flourishing not only as a Christian community but as a human community.
Connection and relationships are part of the tapestry of being itself. Martin Buber, the Jewish Philosopher wrote about this beautifully in his classic book “I and Thou.” Human beings cannot be happy and healthy outside of healthy relationships. Our relationships serve as a mirror through which we can see ourselves for who we really are. It’s also true that we not only come to know ourselves but to know God better through authentic, honest and caring relationships. This is the whole point of a Christian community. It’s not that the relationships in a spiritual community are conflict free and void of all the normal, human, ego driven dysfunction that is part and parcel of being a human being, but the goal should always be for the oneness in Christ which more and more bonds our spirits together and makes us one with each other. This must have been important for Jesus to have saved this teaching for the very end of his earthly life. When we read it now, it almost seems like such an ephemeral and out of reach goal for mere mortals to achieve. It is only through the power and presence of the spirit that anything approaching this ideal is achievable. It is only because we have each been made in “the image of God” and share in the very nature of God that it is possible. During our Lenten journey we go deeper, dig deeper and find ways to be more connected with the spirit, with God, with reality and with each other, not just as some narcissistic, spiritualized goal but that “the world” might see the beauty of the unity and be inspired and find hope. Take time in the next few weeks to read John Chapters 14-17. You will be inspired too.