Lecture 20: Jesus' Early Galilean Ministry - Part 2
I. Opening Remarks
In our last lecture, we looked at the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus and thus were launched into the very beginning of the ministry and career of Jesus of Nazareth. A helpful way of summarizing the combined effect of the early messages of John and Jesus phrased in first century Jewish language in terms of later Christian theologizing, might be to summarized by saying that John and Jesus came announcing the restoration of God’s people, that is, what historically is called the people of Israel. But now without ethic limitations, that is to say, a new kind of humanity is being created, particularly by one, namely, Jesus, who does not personally need to repent of any sin, but who says that all others do; a rather astonishing claim, however implicit or explicit from the opening chapters of the four Gospels.
II. The Newness of Jesus' Ministry
The Synoptics move immediately from discussion of the ministry of John to Baptist, Jesus baptism and the temptation in the wilderness to his great Galilean ministry; a period of time that span perhaps, at least, a year of his, roughly, three year ministry, in which his popularity, particularly among the masses, was at its height. John’s Gospel, however, includes a period of time, apparently, preceding this great Galilean ministry. In John’s chapter 2 to 4 and the entire three chapter segment, indicated by the inclusion of the only two references to Cana, the Galilean village, in all of Scripture can be represented by a single chart reflecting the PowerPoint slide for this comparative brief lecture. Not only does John 2:1 begin with Jesus in Cana and the final kerygapi of the healing of nobleman’s son of which John forecloses, finds Jesus again in Cana. But there are a number of signs of careful literary artistry and symmetry in between these two bounding references. The major kerygapi involved the first miracle or what John consistently calls, ‘signs’, namely turning water into wine. This is followed by Jesus’ first cleansing of the Temple precinct in Jerusalem.
Chapter three combines the report of Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus with follow up conversation about the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus. Chapter four is dominating the extensive dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman and then as we have already noticed, closes with the healing of the nobleman’s son. It would appear that there are four main units that these six kerygapi can be grouped into. The message or key theme of turning water into wine is surely the new troy that attends Jesus announcement of the Kingdom. The miracle reminds readers of the synoptics of the parallel of new wine creating new wine skins, such as the six jars used in the rites of purification, which of course, involved what religious people of the later era might have called holy water, proved inadequate and therefore the water was turned into wine so that the social obligations of a bridegroom, bride and their families, could be fulfilled and not be shamed in the eyes of the villagers. Also, the old rites of Judaism, particularly the ritual oral traditions that had been added to the law, whether ritual or moral, were inadequate for this new age that was dawning, and hence wine, a consistent symbol of joy throughout Jewish history and associated with festive occasions, is the effective symbolic replacement for water.
Whatever one makes of whether there was one or two Temple cleansing, one at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and one as the synoptics describe it at the end, or whether John has thematically and programmatically relocated this passage to the beginning of his narrative in order to demonstrate one of John’s key recurring themes, namely Jesus as the fulfillment of the rituals and ritual laws of Judaism. Luke did this in regards to his Nazareth manifesto. Most distinctive piece of John’s teachings about Jesus’ claims, on this occasion comes in 2:19, where he associates his body, later to be given in death and then resurrected as the Temple which really counts against the religious edifice in which he was speaking lof in that occasion. But, fore swallowing, if not explicitly pointing forward to a time when the Jerusalem Temple would no longer be present, indeed, no longer be needed because in his own person provided forgiveness of sins as the Temple building for animal sacrifices represented.
The passage that most Christians are familiar with out of this section comes with the dialogue with Nicodemus in John 3 and the claim in verses three and five that a person must be born again or a new, defined as born of water and the spirit; that is to say, a spiritual cleansing as fore told in Ezekiel 36. Thus, after highlighting the new joy and Temple surrounding Jesus’ ministry, we now have reference to a new birth, a spiritual birth rather than second physical birth. And it isn’t surprising in that context, further discussion and the narrative surrounding the role of John the Baptist, visa-vie Jesus and their respected baptisms should ensure, given the use of water, for that ritual as well. Chapter four then appears to be thematically unified by the concept of a new universalism. Not universalism in the technical theological sense of the doctrine that everybody will someday be saved whether or not they have actually accepted the Gospel of Jesus. But universalism in the sense of a newer and fuller universal offer of the Gospel, a most conscience mission to all of the ethnic groups and peoples and places in the world, signified dramatically by Jesus’ acceptance of the Samaritan woman and her positive response. She would have had three strikes against her by the cultural standards of her day, for gender, her ethnicity/religion and at the very least, the perception of having led an immoral life. Along with this, the nobleman’s son is a person usually considered a gentile.
As we have already seen in a supplemental lecture to the textbook’s introduction to literary criticism; there are all kinds of contrasts, apparently deliberately arranged in John’s literary artistry between Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman. He, who would have been by orthodox Jewish cultural standards, the most likely person to be in touch with God’s will in the entire world, yet, did not at this stage in the Gospel understand Jesus’ teaching at all. While the Samaritan woman, the least likely to understand, had in fact a positive understanding and appreciation, at least, by the end of the conversation, so much so that she brings her towns people to come and hear and in many instances, believe for themselves. There is also symmetry in that, it begins and ends, what John calls attention to, the first and second of Jesus’ signs. He will continue to high light these signs but not enumerate them and in between, having not only the contrast between Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman but presenting them in similar literary forms, namely discourses or dialogues between Jesus and a solitary conversational partner. All of this suggests that this segment is meant to be seen as a historical and literary unit by John the Apostle and author of the fourth Gospel and at his presentation at the outset of Jesus’ ministry, consistent with what we see in the synoptics, though emphasizing and highlighting a different set of events than the synoptics omits. The newness of Jesus’ ministry and hint, polarizing effect that it will have because not all will be convinced that it is continuous with and consistent with God’s previous revelation, is highlighted in John, every bit as much as it is with the synoptic claims that one who exists needs no repentance and yet that he calls everyone else in his nation to same level of a very serious personal and corporate repentance.