Tuesday, December 4, 2012



As I said in my last post, THE WEDDING FEAST AT CANA: A WHOLE LOT OF PARTYING GOING ON…AND MARY’S COMMAND FOR THE AGES, John’s gospel is dense, with multiple meanings and multiple layers of those meanings for virtually every passage. But within one of the most complex passages can be found one of the few simple statements in that gospel.

John 3, 31-36 is a brief reflection on Jesus’ divine nature, delivered immediately after a passage about John the Baptist’s proclaiming that

He (Jesus) must increase; I must decrease.” (John 3, 35)

(Note, by the way, that we do not know who the speaker is of 31-36. Is it John the Baptist? John the evangelist? Or is it Jesus? We don’t know, but we suspect it is the evangelist reflecting on what he has just reported, as happens so often in this gospel.)

The reflections of 3, 31-36 are there for at least two reasons, as is everything else in John. One of those reasons is to reinforce the point that it is Jesus whom the early Christians must follow, not John the Baptist. Following John the Baptist is, of course, beneficial because it will lead us to Jesus, but John’s purpose is indeed to lead us to Jesus. This was quite the controversy in the earliest days of the Church; many of John’s followers clung to their loyalties and were hesitant to follow Jesus, thinking that doing so was somehow an abrogation of their fealty to John. John and Jesus were, in many people’s minds, rivals rather than the partners in salvation that they actually were.

The second reason for John 3, 31-36 is to yet again reinforce the major thrust of John’s gospel; i.e., that Jesus is indeed divine, that He is the son of God and that He is God.

Buried within this passage is verse 34, which could easily be glazed over:

For the one whom God sent speaks the word of God. He does not ration his gift of the Spirit.” John 3, 34, emphasis mine

It is the second portion that is especially germane: God does not ration his gift of the Spirit.

We tend to think of God in human terms…

“If I do this, will you do that?”

“I promise to do this if you give me what I ask.”

“Don’t give this to me; give it to someone who needs it more than I do.” (or maybe the opposite: “Don’t give that to that guy; give it to me”!)

“Don’t inflict this trial on my children (or friends or spouse); inflict it on me.”

But, while God, in the Person of Jesus, did indeed share our humanity, He is also divine. He doesn’t think like us and He knows no limits. He has and gives abundantly of everything, and especially of the Spirit. “He does not ration the gift of the Spirit.” The only limitation of the gifts of God, and especially of the Spirit, is our willingness to accept them, to believe, if you will, that God is so good and so powerful that He wants to and indeed can deliver to us immeasurable quantities of the Spirit if only we will accept those gifts.

This is indeed a formidable limitation, given our human frailties, suspicions, and limitations. But it is a limitation imposed by us, not by God.

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