Column: John brings new ‘life’ to the Gospels

by Father Mike Stubbs

Fourth Sunday of Easter Jn 10: 1-10

In this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jesus identifies himself as a gate for the sheep.

Later on, in the same chapter, we will read that Jesus is the good shepherd. Both metaphors, the sheep gate and the shepherd, point to the same reality. Jesus is the one who enables the sheep to live. As the gate, Jesus provides an entrance to the sheepfold for shelter from wolves and thieves.

The gate also provides the way to pasture. As the shepherd, Jesus is the one who leads them there. According to St. John Chrysostom, “When he (Jesus) brings us to the Father, he calls himself a door; when he takes care of us, a shepherd.”

The last line of Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jn 10:1-10, echoes the last line of John 20:19-31, the Gospel reading we heard a couple of weeks ago on the Second Sunday of Easter. In Jn 10:10 we read: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Similarly, Jn 20:30 reads: “But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.”

In the first case, Jesus himself is speaking. In the second case, the evangelist is writing the words. But both statements are making the same point: Jesus has come in order to bring us life.

John’s Gospel tends to stress that idea.

The word “life” appears 49 times in John’s Gospel. That’s a huge number, compared to the other Gospels: 10 times in Mark, 15 times in Matthew, 17 times in Luke.

Not only does John use the word more frequently, but also he ordinarily shades it with a spiritualized meaning.

In John’s Gospel, the word “life” usually does not refer to the physical condition of the human body. Rather, it means the relationship with God that enriches, energizes and renews the human spirit. It is the life of heaven which we anticipate through our union with Jesus Christ. That is the life that Jesus Christ wishes to bring us. That is the “life” that Jesus means when he proclaims himself to be the bread of life (Jn 6:35).

Similarly, that is what Jesus means when he identifies himself as the resurrection and the life (Jn 11:25).

While the word “life” with its spiritualized meaning characterizes John’s Gospel, we might note, on the other hand, an absence of the phrase “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven,” which pervades the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Apparently, the word “life” serves a similar purpose in John’s Gospel. At the same time, it does not exactly mean the same thing. It simply functions in a similar place in John’s theology. In the synoptic Gospels, Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God. In John’s Gospel, Jesus has come to bring us life.

By comparing the two, we arrive at a deeper understanding of the evangelists’ message. It is more likely, then, that we will hear their invitation to life in Christ. It is more likely that we will respond to it.

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