Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Seven Signs: part 1

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I am excited about our new series on the 7 Signs of John's gospel; Sunday we introduced the first: water into wine.

I will aim to actually post some follow-up afterthoughts each week. The audio will be on the podcast box; right hand side of page.

We talked Sunday about the uniqueness of John's gospel, when compared with the synoptics (Matt, Mark and Luke). It seems that anytime four people are in a room, three may have affinities, but the fourth may be on a different page altogether (maybe the John of the Beatles is an example..or me in my birth family (or married family) of four. One way John is different in that he is a deep theologian/philosopher and a mystic-heart. He rearranges..sometimes radically...the Jesus material. Here he is literally"on another page altogether." We found this Sunday in that all three synoptics place Jesus' "temple tantrum" towards the end of Jesus'public ministry; while John intentionally framejacks it, and drops it at the beginning of his book.

Right after the first "sign." On purpose. Folks shared some thematic reasons this might be.

This paragraph below is lifted from the Wikipedia article on John; it is helpful, but the last sentence is bunk/basura/skubala (I may edit it, and see if it my edited get edited. For a response to this kind of "all or nothing scholarship , see "'Interrupting Jesus,' Interrupted")

Seven Signs

This section recounts Jesus' public ministry.[2] It consists of seven miracles or "signs," interspersed with long dialogues and discourses, including several "I am" sayings.[3] The miracles culminate with his most potent, raising Lazarus from the dead.[3] In John, it is this last miracle, and not the temple incident, that prompts the authorities to have Jesus executed.[3] Jesus' discourses identify him with symbols of major significance, "the bread of life" (John 6:35), "the light of the world" (John 8:12), "the door of the sheep" (John 10:7), "the good shepherd" (John 10:11), "the resurrection and the life" (John 11:25), "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), and "the real vine" (John 15:1).[3] Critical scholars think that these claims represent the Christian community's faith in Jesus' divine authority but doubt that the historical Jesus actually made these sweeping claims.[3] The teachings of Jesus are so different in John from those found in the synoptic gospels, that since the 1800s scholars have understood that only one of the two traditions could be authentic, and they have unanimously chosen the synoptics as the source for the teachings of historical Jesus.[11]

If you want John's "number," it's 777.
His gospel is embedded with seven signs, seven "I am" statements, and seven narratives. This kind of structural analysis can be overdone; but here it would seem vital to John's purpose and theme...especially the signs and "I am"s:

Seven Signs:

1. Turning water into wine (2:1-12)

2. Healing the noblewoman's son (4:46-54)

3. Healing the man at Bethesda (5:1-47)

4. Feeding the 5000 (6:1-4)

5. Walking on Water (6:15-21)

6. Healing the Blind Man (9:1-41)

7. Raising of Lazarus (11:1-57)

Seven "I AM" Statements:

1. I AM the Bread of Life (6:35)

2. I AM the Light of the World (8:12)

3. Before Abraham was, I AM (8:58)

4. I AM the Good Shepherd (10:11)

5. I AM the Resurrection and the Life (11:25)

6. I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life (14:6)

7. I AM the True Vine (15:1)

What's intriguing is the signs are found in the first half of the gospel (The word 'sign" is used dozens of times in the first half, and only once in the second half (and then, only to summarize the purpose of the signs..20:30-31). The seven "I am" statements, and the seven narratives rea more evenly distributed throughout John's work of art. This is so obvious that noted scholar has called John 1-12 "The Book of Signs," an chapters 13-21 "the Book of Glory":
The first of these is a series of sign-miracles, coupled with discourses, which reveal to us something of who Jesus is. The second is an extended treatment of Christ’s death and resurrection, together with his final teachings related to the topic of his death and the glory which should follow.


NT Wright helps us grasp John's vantage point:

I feel about John like I feel about my wife; I love her very much, but I wouldn't claim to understand her. I didn't get the job.

In style, emphasis, structure — in all the things that make a book what it is — John stands out from the rest. With Paul we are in the seminar room: we are e are arguing the thing out, looking up references, taking notes, and then being pushed out into the world to preach the gospel to the nations. Matthew takes us into the synagoguewhere the people of God are learning to recognize Jesus as their King, their Emmanuel. Mark, as we shall see, writes a little handbook on discipleship, Luke presents Jesus to the cultured Greek world of his day. John, by contrast, takes us up the mountain, and says quietly: 'Look — from here, on a clear day you can see for ever.' We beheld his glory..'

John does not describe the transfiguration, as the other Gospels do;in a sense, John's whole story is about the transfiguration. He invites us to be still and know; to look again into the human face of Jesus of Nazareth..with our awe and bewilderment reaching its height, to the point where we realize that the face is most recognizable when it wears the crown of thorns...When John says, 'We beheld his glory', he is thinking supremely of the cross...

I want here to explore three out of the dozens of strands which go to make up this extraordinary tapestry. The first one is all about signposts. John is a canny writer; he gets us to do half the work. In one of the early scenes in the Gospel, a passage much beloved of preachers at weddings, he tells the story of the wedding at Cana, and of Jesus changing the water into wine. John's comment, at the end of the story, hooks into the prologue, and at the same time points us forwards into a sequence of signposts.

...John starts off as though he's writing a new Genesis, a new creation story. And so he is. He is talking us through the seven signs of the new creation...
-NT Wright,link

Elsewhere, Wright says:
The whole point of signs is that they are moments when heaven and earth intersect with each other. (That’s what the Jews believed happened in the Temple.) The point is not that they are stories which couldn’t have happened in real life, but which point away from earth to a heavenly reality.
– N.T. Wright John for Everyone, 21.

We talked quite a bit about running out of wine at a wedding was a huge problem in tht biblical culture. Jesus's "frivolous"miracle really kept the family from shame and restored their honor.
Some helpful background info on this is in the Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John,
and The Bible Background Commentary, two vital resources, both readable online.

Some other fascinating, but sometimes farfetched, resources for grasping the symbolism and strucure are "The Good Wine: Reading John from the Center" and "Mystical Christianity: A Psychological Commentary on the Gospel of John"

Oh, here is the section from "The Brothers Karamazov" where the Cana wedding scripture is read at the priest's funeral.

Bonus: I found that Tony Maude in the UK is a few weeks ahead of us in his series on the seven signs, and he too has been posting us he goes. His post on the first sign is here.

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