The Gospel according to Saint John has (besides its opening hymn and closing appendix) two parts, which Raymond Brown calls “The Book of Signs” and “The Book of Glory.” The signs are miracles that point to truths concerning Jesus. The first one is the changing of water into wine at the wedding at Cana. The last one is the raising of Lazarus from the dead. All together they indicate that Jesus is one with the Father, and that his purpose on earth is to open a way for those who believe in him to become God’s children by adoption.
In the second part of John’s Gospel (chapters 12–20), Jesus performs that which was signified in the first part. He gives plain teaching, by example and word, to prepare his disciples for their future life. The example is washing their feet. The teaching in word culminates in his declaration that they are his friends. He then performs the ultimate act of friendship, laying down his life for his friends. This act precipitates the revelation of his glory: as king on the cross, as conqueror of death, as giver of the Holy Spirit.
Thus do signs yield to glory. There is nothing quite like Saint John’s Gospel in all ancient literature. It is full of love and beauty. Many of us, when we came new to the Bible, were told to read John first. And just as often, we come back to John after we have read much else. First and last, it is a beloved gospel.
There is a mystery about signs. No sign is ever sufficient to prove the reality or truth of that to which it points. Signs must be interpreted, and they can be misinterpreted by mistake, and worse, they can be willfully misconstrued. It takes humility and openness to be able to receive a sign, and a basic generous disposition towards the sign-giver.
That’s why the opponents of Jesus don’t see the signs. Their hostility and pride preclude their seeing the truth that is before them. So for instance, when a man born blind is given sight, they see wilfulness in Jesus, refusing to submit to the Sabbath’s holiness. The miracle of giving sight is not, for them, a sign of who Jesus is.
But what can we do if we want to see God’s signs? There are no guarantees. But it seems that a certain humility is required, and an avoidance of cynicism. What one seeks is a certain breaking down of one’s hard heart. And also — thankfulness. People who “count their blessings” seem to see more signs of God than the rest of us!
Out & About. This Sunday, October 1, I will be preaching and teaching at St. Augustine’s Oak Cliff, Dallas. The services are at 8 and 10:15 a.m., with the class at about 9 a.m. on “Authority in Sport.”
The following Saturday, October 7, I will speak to the OMGs (“Outrageously Mature Group”) at Church of the Annunciation in Lewisville, Texas; the program runs from 9 a.m. to noon. The topic is: Your future is greater than your past.
Sunday, October 8, I will be preaching at the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. services at All Saints’ Church in Phoenix. At 10 a.m. I will be teaching on caregiving and suffering, with reflections drawn from Losing Susan. Among the many delights of visiting Phoenix, I would like especially to note the privilege of being in a place where it’s always Standard Time.
And looking ahead: The fall theology lecture, October 22, Church of the Incarnation in Dallas, 6 p.m.: “What Good Is Authority?” Even though it can and will err, authority is necessary for us to be fulfilled as human beings. I’ll be looking at the topic not only in broad terms but also (to help us see what it means) in particular forms: the authority of clergy, and how authority functions in sport.