Monday, April 14, 2008

Ramblinga and Ruminations on John (4)

04.Ramblings and Ruminations on John
John 1:6-13

The soaring rhetoric of vv.1-5 lands firmly on terra firma beginning in v.6 with the introduction of John the Baptist. Over the desk in Karl Barth’s study hung a print of the Isenheim Altarpiece painted by Matthias Gr├╝newald. Jesus hangs on the cross, agonized in body and soul. On the right side of painting stands a gaunt but fierce-looking John the Baptist whose long bony forefinger points to the dying Jesus. At the foot of the cross, between the Baptist and Jesus is a lamb with blood pouring out from it heart into a chalice. Gr├╝newald has captured perfectly the role of John the Baptist in John’s gospel. He is a witness (marturia) to Jesus. This is his sole and only function in John. Karl Barth believed this portrait of John the Witness to Jesus was also the proper role of theology. And Barth strove to fashion his theology likewise as a witness to Jesus Christ, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” as John will call him later in John 1.

Witness to Light so all may come to believe in this Light (v.7) – that’s what John is. Witness – no less but also no more. John takes pains to differentiate John as witness from Jesus as the true Light. Probably some of John’s disciples had begin to give him a more exalted role than witness, perhaps even calling him messiah, and John had to set his readers straight about that early on in his story.

Witness to Jesus as the Light and Life of the world – such is our role too. We stand with the Baptist pointing to the One on the cross as the focal point and hope of all God’s dealings with the world (John 12:32). Witness – no less, but also no more. In John “witness” language is law court language. We are the ones called to give testimony on Jesus’ behalf before an accusing world; first-hand testimony as to what we have seen and heard Jesus do for us and others.

Here I give postmodernism its due, whereas I critiqued it a bit earlier. This role of witness is precisely the role into which we have been cast by postmodern thought. Nobody stands outside the human condition to give a god’s-eye perspective on things, undimmed by time, place, experience, et al. Rather we all stand “somewhere” and what we see and here and believe and think are profoundly influenced and conditioned by that “somewhere.” “Witness” is all we can be – what we have seen, heard, experienced, believed about Jesus is what we are called to announce and share with the world. And God seems pleased to work through our witness from “somewhere.” We have not been given a “knock out” argument or clinching declaration that compels others’ acceptance. We cannot “prove” God or the resurrection or anything else. We can, however, and must share what we found and Jesus and who we have discovered him to be. And that means acknowledging that we have been shown these things by God rather than come to them through our own native talents. D. T. Niles said somewhere that sharing our faith is best likened to one beggar telling another where he has found food. I like that. I think John would like that. What do you think?

That the world will not always (often?) credit our witness is no less than what the One to whom we witness experienced when he came into his own creation (vv.10ff.)! “He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, and the world did not know him” (v.10). The mission of the “true Light” is rejected by those who received their very life through him!

Some did believe, though, and through their faith in his name, became part of God’s family, sons and daughters, and this was God’s work from start to finish. Jesus “authorized” (v.12) these to be his appointed witnesses, taking his message to the world whose darkness would contest their efforts but would not ultimately prevail.

Peace,
Lee