The eagle of St John


Reading the weekday Gospels March 2020

A guide from Patrick Fitzgerald-Lombard O.Carm

Monday 30th March-Thursday 2nd April

Over these four days, Jn 8,12-59 is read as the Gospel.
The conversations recorded here are a continuation of chapter 7, though exploring that further is beyond the scope of the present commentary.
As noted for Monday 30th March, the first part, Jn 8,12-20 is read only in year C. This part is addressed to the Pharisees
From Jn 8,21 onwards, the conversation partners are again the Jews. However, the Pharisees and Jews are close to being the same group.
We will therefore follow commentators in reading Jn 8,12-59 as one interaction between Jesus and his enemies.
This interaction leads to some extraordinarily strong language in verse 44. This is followed by a complete breakdown in relations by the end when the Jews seek to stone Jesus (Jn 8,59). It is not surprising that Jn 8,43-50 is omitted from the readings at Mass.

The daily Gospel readings therefore are as follows:

MondayJn 8,12-208,12: again
TuesdayJn 8,21-308,21: again
WednesdayJn 8,31-428,30/31: believing
ThursdayJn 8,43-59including the omission, 8,43-50

The whole falls into two halves: Jn 8,12-30 which comes in two sections both beginning "Again": 8,12-20 & 8,21-30. Conveniently these are the readings for Monday and Tuesday.

The first half ends with many Jews believing in Jesus (8,30) while the second half opens with Jesus speaking to them
What follows is a sustained conversation of answers and replies which needs to be read as a whole. This we will consider further on the next page.

The expression that frames this conversation is "I am", ego eimi in Greek. We have Jesus saying "I am the light of the world" in 8,12 and the whole climaxes with an absolute "I am" in 8,58.

In between, we have "unless you believe I am" in verse 24 and in verse 28 "when you have lifted up the Son of Man then you will know I am". It also occurs in verse 18, of which more later.
Translations often render this phrase as "I am he" because the full dvine implications of "I am" are not always seen to be appropriate. In John's Gospel, "I am" is used by Jesus to express his unique relationship with God. There may be echoes of God speaking to Moses at the burning bush, Exodus 3,14 but also notable as background are Isaiah 43,10 & 45,18. In the Old Testament, God reveals himself by this expression so Jesus in the New Testament reveals himself in the same way.

Here in chapter 8, we need to notice that the "I am" statements are the key to the first half of the chapter. There is then no further mention of "I am" until its absolute use right at the end of the confrontation, verse 58. That final absolute "I am" therefore points back to the first half and especially its climax in verse 28.

The word which runs through the whole conversation is "father", 10 times the Father of Jesus and, in the second half, 7 times referring to the father of the Jews. Paternity is the underlying theme here.

With that in mind, we can now read the first half of the chapter, the Gospels for Monday and Tuesday.

Monday March 30

The first section of the chapter, Monday's Gospel in year C, is therefore Jn 8,12-20. It is marked by its opening "again" and the conclusion in verse 20 that Jesus' hour had not yet come (see Jn 13,1).

In 8,12, Jesus proclaims that he is the light of the world, as announced in the Prologue of the Gospel, Jn 1,9. Here Jesus is directing another theme of the feast of Tabernacles towards himself, as he did with water in 7,37. Part of the Tabernacles feast was the lighting of four huge candles in the Temple. The theme of light will be followed up in chapter 9 with the story of the man born blind (9,5). For the Jews, the Torah was their light (Psalm 119,105 for example); now Jesus is the light, he is revealing God his Father and witnessing to him. It is given added emphasis as an "I am" saying. There are also echoes here of Isaiah 9,2 "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Jesus as the light sets the theme for what follows.

This leads to the rest of 8,12-20 discussing Jesus' witness, much as we have seen in Jn 5,30-47. Here though it is a witnessing which brings out the special relationship between Jesus and his Father. Judging in verse 15 indicates an evaluation of the quality of the witness. Jesus presents the evidence without judgement and to this evidence we are called to respond.
This comes to a climax in verse 18 though many translations of this verse are close to paraphrase.
An exception is the NIV which reads: I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the one who sent me, the Father. That this sentence begins with "I am" and ends with "the Father" indicates the unity of their witness. This leads to the conclusion in verse 19.

Once again, we are told in verse 20 that Jesus' hour is not yet come. This is a concluding statement; it may also point towards the announcement of 8,28.

Tuesday March 31st

Today's Gospel again coincides with the next section of the chapter, Jn 8,21-30, which we are reading in continuity with the preceeding section. As it verse 12 so again, there is an opening "again". The theme moves on to Jesus' origins and destiny. "I am" has been introduced in verses 12 and 18, now it becomes the key in verses 24 and 28.

The section opens therefore with Jesus referring to his fate and the resulting confusion on the part of the Jews, verses 21 and 22.
Jesus then contrasts his origins with theirs and insists that the only way to bridge the gap is to believe that "I am". Sin in this Gospel is failure to believe in Jesus, a failure which leads to death rather than life, verse 24. That increases the confusion on the part of the Jews in verse 25 and leads to Jesus' frustration with them in verse 26. This is followed by Jesus's pronouncement that he brings the truth of the one who sent him, the truth which is the only way to life, "I am the way, the truth and the life" (Jn 14,6). This is further clarified by the evangelist's comment in verse 27 that Jesus was speaking about the Father.

Jesus then returns to the topic of his destiny in verse 28. Being lifted up on the cross is a key statement for this Gospel, see Jn 3,14 and 12,32. It is there that for all who accept him Jesus will indeed be proclaimed "I am". This is the Gospel of the triumph of the cross. Verse 29 then indicates the unity and harmony between Jesus and his Father as he does the Father's will.
In consequence, many we are told in verse 30, believed in him.
So ends the first part of this controversy.