Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Three French Hens

Happy Third Day of Christmas.

It's also St John's Day--the patron saint of my parish, and a great many others. It's too bad for John that his feast day comes two days after Christmas. Because the season of Christmas trumps most anything else liturgically, even churches dedicated to him are not allowed to transfer the observance to a Sunday, and hardly anybody is up to a proper weekday celebration when they're still worn out from Christmas Eve and everything that went on during Advent.

Fortunately, John himself has sufficient gravitas that he doesn't depend on a liturgical feast day to attract a critical mass of attention.

There's a bit of a divergence, of course, between ecclesiastical tradition and the currently prevailing scholarly consensus about John. The tradition holds that the Beloved Disciple, the Fourth Evangelist, the author of the three short epistles that bear his name, and the Book of Revelation are all one and the same person. New Testament scholars mostly think such a "John" is an amalgamation of several different individuals, all connected with an early ecclesial community that had something of a distinct existence until it was subsumed by the emerging catholic tradition early in the second century. Intellectually, I can track with the scholars, and what they say makes sense. Spiritually and pastorally, however, I'm more agnostic, and choose to "preach" (broadly construed) from the tradition. It is more nourishing than spending energy trying to get people to follow academic arguments that have very few concrete implications for them.

Glory ... light ... life (especially the eternal variety) ... the Good Shepherd--these are just some of the Johannine themes and images that pervade everyday Christian theology and devotion. The Lenten gospels for Year A, texts that formed the core of ancient catechesis, are an excellent "short course" in the essence of the gospel and the meaning of the baptismal mystery: Jesus and Nicodemus, the Samaritan Woman, the Man Born Blind, and the Raising of Lazarus.

Appreciating John requires, I think, a capacity to respond poetically. So much of the Johannine literature is poetic in nature, if not strictly in form. Trying to read the first epistle as if it were from Paul can be an exercise in immense frustration, especially for a linear thinker such as myself! This was a realization of adulthood for me; hence, I never saw the Eucharist in the sixth chapter of the Fourth Gospel. Now I can't not see it.

Holy John, pray for us.

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