Lectionary Year A
April 11, 1999
John 20:19-31


      This pericope is immediately preceded by Mary weeping at the tomb of Jesus. She is distraught that his body is gone. Peter and John (in verses 1-10) have found that Jesus' body is gone as well. Mary is spoken to by two angels and then has a conversation with Jesus, at first not knowing it is he with whom she is speaking. She recognizes Jesus after he calls her name and Jesus sends her to tell (his brothers) that he is ascending. 20:18 tells us that Mary announces to the disciples that she has seen the Lord and reports to them what he said to her. So, up until our text, the disciples know that Jesus' body is gone from the tomb and that Mary claims to have seen him.

      Following 20:19-31 is an account of another post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to the disciples. It is strange that it falls at this point in the text, since verse 31 of chapter 20 almost reads as a closing. In Chapter 21, Jesus comes to disciples who are not huddled and afraid in a locked house, but are doing some night fishing in the Sea of Tiberias.


      John's differences with the synoptics: no account of the birth of Jesus, baptism, temptation, Last Supper, Gethsemane, or the ascension. No parable stories or healings of demoniacs. In John, Jesus' speeches are often a whole chapter long.
      The facts of the life and ministry of Jesus are different in John. The design of the gospel as a whole is stated by the author in 20:31. Therefore, what is told in this account of Jesus' life and ministry reveals Jesus as Messiah, Son of God. God is revealed in Jesus Christ. Jesus provided access to God in ways never before possible. The frequent "I am" statements by Jesus in this gospel are a radical claim that Jesus is God incarnate.

      The structure of this gospel is often broken down into two parts:
           Chapters   1-12 the book of signs
           Chapters 13-20 the book of glory


      This gospel was known in Egypt by 100 A.D (from P52). Its first commentary was written by Heracleon around 150. John was most likely written at Ephesus, also maybe Antioch or Alexandria. This gospel is an anonymous document. Tradition claims (Irenaeus) the author as John the "Son of Zebedee", the apostle. Many scholars believe it was composed by a disciple of John who recorded his preaching. The author was a Jewish Christian who wrote for and in a Jewish Christian community in conflict with synagogue authorities.

      The vast majority of converts were now from Hellenistic not Jewish backgrounds. A crisis may have precipitated the writing of this gospel: possibly the "putting out of the synagogue" or excommunication as heretics for those who practiced alternative forms of Judaism (e.g. belief in Jesus). There are certainly Greek and Gnostic influences in 1st century Judaism. The work of Philo is one example. Shades of both these influences, consistant with the religious diversity of the 1st century Mediterranean world, can be seen in John's writing.

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