July 2021 Print

Meditations on St. John’s Gospel: Chapter Seven

Pater Inutilis

St. John henceforth will present us Our Lord during the last year of His life, beginning with His third journey to Jerusalem, according to our evangelist. Our Lord’s altercations with the Jews during this sojourn are related in chapters 7 to 10, where we hear Him stating the divine origin of His teaching and therefore the obligation to accept it.

Gone are the days when in Jerusalem “many believed in his name, seeing his signs which he did.” We have just seen that of His very disciples many found His sayings hard to accept and walked no more with Him, and even an apostle is now a devil. Now Calvary is in the picture: the world hates Jesus; the Jews want to kill Him and send ministers to apprehend Him; His own brothers do not believe in Him.

Parenthetically, it may be the moment to talk more about Our Lord’s “brothers,” already mentioned when, after the wedding at Cana, He went down to Capharnaum with “his mother and his brethren and his disciples.” Given that “a prophet hath no honor in his own country,” “his own” knowing him too well just as one of them and not acting as a prophet, Jesus’ brothers do not believe in Him. This, of course, will not be true of all of them. Who are these brothers? For a start, they are not children of Mary and Joseph. God had wanted that “a virgin. . . bring forth a son” and had blessed her vow of virginity, “‘How shall this be done, because I know not man?’ And the angel answering said to her: ‘The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee. . .’” St. Jerome had no difficulties in showing that the Bible readily uses “brethren” for relatives and kinsfolk other than siblings of the same parents, e.g., Abraham and Lot, uncle and nephew, are called “brothers” and the Church has gladly defined the perpetual virginity of Mary.

Jesus’ ‘‘brethren” are His cousins. We do not know how many siblings St. Joseph may have had (but one brother was called Cleophas) nor therefore how many cousins Jesus had. Mary of Cleophas was the mother, notably, of St. James the less, called elsewhere “James of Alpheus.” Most likely, Cleophas married Alpheus’ widow. The Blessed Virgin Mary then could easily have a sister-in-law named Mary. James, therefore “the brother of the Lord,” is one of the Apostles; so too Jude the “brother of James.” “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joseph and Jude and Simon?” These are not amongst those who believed not in Him, or even thought He had become mad.

His brothers, not believing in Him, want Him to present Himself in Jerusalem grandly. They probably expect Him not to be received, to fail and be disillusioned. Jesus will not do their bidding—“I go not up to this festival day,” as you would have Me: manifestly. But go He would, “not openly, but, as it were, in secret.” There He is very much on the minds and in the mouths of the Jews, with opinion upon Him being divided, but nobody could openly support Him “for fear of the Jews,” fearing reprisals unto “excommunication.” Yet He was born to “give testimony to the truth,” and so “about the midst of the feast, Jesus went up into the temple, and taught.”

What He teaches is grand: He has been sent by God, His words are the words of God. He did not study in any rabbinical school, but received directly from God: “My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent me.” Those of “good will,” who want to do God’s will, will see that His teaching is of God; but of these Jews who seek to kill Him “none of you keepeth the law.” They cannot even claim to “know God”: “He that sent me is true, whom you know not.” But Jesus has come from Him, has been sent by Him, and brings His words. “I know Him, because I am from Him, and He hath sent Me.” This they should know because Jesus seeks only “the glory of him that sent him” and works miracles showing that He is sealed of God. This should be ample evidence for those of good will: “But of the people many believed in him and said: When the Christ cometh, shall he do more miracles than these which this man doth?” His teaching is divine. “Of that multitude therefore, when they had heard these words of his, some said: This is the prophet indeed. Others said: This is the Christ.” The ministers sent to arrest Him would not do so: “Never did man speak like this man,” they explain.

But those intent upon His destruction feed their antagonism even upon His miracles. “One work I have done, and you all wonder.” Our Lord deigns again to explain that miracles are not breaking the Sabbath rest, but these Jews are not of good will. They gainsay when He accuses them of wanting to kill Him though this is of general knowledge. To refuse Him, they quibble: the Christ is the son of David and to be born in Bethlehem. Further inquiry would have shown this to be Jesus’ case. He comes from Galilee, whence no prophet comes.

Jesus Raises the Widow’s Son at Naim

Nowhere is it written that a prophet cannot come from Galilee, and indeed Jonas did. Those who do believe in Him are despicable: “Hath any of the rulers believed in him, or of the Pharisees? But this multitude, that knoweth not the law, are accursed.” Anyone who would defend him must himself be a Galilean—only a Galilean would. They are hardening their hearts, their blindness is becoming complete. This will be more and more obvious throughout the remaining disputations of this “third visit” to Jerusalem.

With Calvary looming larger, Christ invites to Himself with greater insistence: He “cries out.” “And on the last and great day of the festivity, Jesus stood and cried saying: If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink.” A thirst, of course, for spiritual drink: wisdom, grace, life. These are Our Lord’s to give. “He that believeth in me, as the scripture saith: Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” Believing in Him, one imbibes His Spirit, now in him a fountain of life—the Spirit which God does not give by measure, but abundantly—“rivers,” overflowing and enriching many. “The knowledge of a wise man shall abound like a flood, and his counsel continueth like a fountain of life.” “Now this he said of the Spirit which they should receive who believed in him,” explains our inspired writer. “For as yet the Spirit was not given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” That is, the Holy Ghost could not be given so abundantly, manifestly and universally until Christ’s resurrection and ascension, making it “expedient for us that He go.” Like Nicodemus, let us first want to hear Him.