The gospel of John leads us through a series of lengthy encounters with Jesus as we make our way through the season of Lent toward Holy Week and Easter this year. These biblical conversations guide our reflections in this year’s Lenten Devotional written and illustrated by church members and mission partners. They also serve as the texts for our current four-week sermon series on Sunday mornings, as well as the readings for reflection and silent meditation during our Wednesday evening Taizé services.
With these opportunities for repeated engagement, I hope we will live into these gospel stories in such a way that they will come to new life in us. Each of these encounters with Jesus is multilayered, rich with symbolism and deep in meaning. You can read any one of them multiple times and wonder why the gospel writer chose to include this little description or that little detail. Why did Nicodemus approach Jesus at night? If the Woman at the Well was there to draw water, why did she leave her water jar behind when she left? When the Man Born Blind was healed by Jesus why were his parents afraid to talk about his healing? If Mary and Martha were like family to Jesus, when they begged Jesus to come heal their sick brother why did Jesus delay going to help Lazarus for two full days?
In John’s gospel there can be many answers to these individual questions. On the surface they provide narrative intrigue. Below the surface they reach into depths of understanding about who this Jesus of Nazareth is, how he has come to reveal the face of God, and who we are in light of his coming. Revisiting these stories repeatedly can provide insight that helps us encounter Jesus in new ways through these old familiar characters.
One of the things that interests me is that as we read through John, the crowd of participants gets bigger with each encounter. Last week we had Jesus and Nicodemus. This coming Sunday we’ll hear from Jesus, the Woman at the Well, a disciple, and a group of Samaritans. There will be even more characters at the healing of the Man Born Blind, including his parents, some Pharisees and neighbors.
By the time Lazarus is raised from the dead the whole town of Bethany will be there. John, the master storyteller, increases the crowd as the narrative tension mounts – something that is hard to notice until you focus on these encounters over a period of time. I hope that as we read and reread these amazing stories, and reflect on them over these coming weeks, they will indeed begin to live in us so that through the dark, through living water, through blind eyes given sight, and through life restored, we may encounter the living Christ alongside us.