Where’s Jesus?

One of the less appreciated little gems in John is the so-called unattached speech of Jesus in 12:44-50.   This speech, which occurs at the conclusion of chapter 12, is interesting because it is a final summary of what Jesus has claimed throughout the chapters that proceed it.  But it is also interesting because the narrator gives it no locative or temporal context.

Verses 30-36 in chapter 12 record the final interaction between Jesus and the crowd.  At the conclusion of his answer to their challenge, the narrator reports something unusual:

John 12:36  36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.

Now Jesus has withdrawn from the crowds before this, but the narrator has always told the reader where Jesus is going.  Here, for the first and only time, the reader remains as ill-informed as the other characters.

In the following verses (vv. 37-43), the narrator provides some theological justification for the Jew’s failure to accept Jesus and sums up the situation by reporting that, although some of the Jewish leadership did respond to Jesus, they were afraid to make their decision public for fear of being cut off from their synagogues.  And then, without any indication of situational or locative context, Jesus speaks one more time:

Then Jesus cried aloud and said: “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me.  And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.  I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.  I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.   The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge,  for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak.  And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me.”

What Jesus says is a summary of his self-identification throughout the earlier chapters. His authority arises from his relationship with God; those who wish to please God should attend to the One who has been with God, and those who fail to do so thereby condemn themselves. Moreover, Jesus speaks with the perfect authority that arises from his perfect subordination to the Father.

Now, none of this is new.  But the absence of contextual indications makes it read quite differently.  It’s almost as if that fact that Jesus speaks without context makes his declaration operative in all contexts.   Where’s Jesus?  Since there are no contextual clues, it’s easy (easier) to imagine that he’s right there, speaking to you,  Since he’s nowhere in particular, it’s almost as if he could be anywhere.

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Mormon Archipelago

November 2009
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