The Hour is Coming, and Now is


(system) #1

The gospel According to John invites us to enter an environment quite different from the one we have become accustomed to in the synoptic gospels. In these gospels Jesus preaches about the kingdom of God by means of parables that describe activities and objects of everyday village life. In According to John, as we have already pointed out in previous columns, Jesus preaches himself as the One Sent by the Father. His message is “I Am”. In the synoptics the ministry of Jesus takes place in Galilee, and he is in Jerusalem only for the last week of his life. In According to John his ministry takes place mostly in Jerusalem. In all four gospels Jesus refers to the saying, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country”. But while the land in which Jesus is without honor in the synoptics is Galilee (Mk. 6: 4), in According to John it is Jerusalem (4: 44).

In the synoptics Jesus’ audacity in expelling the money changers and the sellers of animals from the temple provoked the authorities’ decision to kill him. Such a demonstration of power in the cosmic universe of the temple could not be tolerated. It was a public challenge that had to be confronted decisively. In According to John the account of the expulsion of the money changers and the sellers of animals suggests an event of greater violence than what is described in the synoptics. Here Jesus holds in his hand a whip and throws them out as if he were herding cattle. But the event is framed by the provision of the best wine at the wedding feast at Cana and the conversation with Nicodemus, the gentleman of the night. The demonstration of power at the temple takes place on a Passover two or three years before his passion and has nothing to do with the decision to kill him. In this gospel the officers of the temple and the Pharisees decide to kill him because the resurrection of Lazarus is causing the people to give too much authority to Jesus (11: 48).

In the synoptic gospels Jesus pronounces apocalyptic discourses that predict the future signs and the characteristics of the times just before the coming of the Son of Man in glory. In According to John apocalyptic discourses are not part of the teaching of Jesus. Even more importantly, the present already contains what apocalypticists expect in the future.

One of the best known images in apocalypticism is “the harvest”. In the sypnoptics Jesus tells several parables that demonstrate the need to have the patience and the hope of the farmers who must wait until the harvest in order to see the fruit of their labors. The parables also illustrate how the harvest reveals the quality of the soil, the need to separate that which was sown from the weeds, or the internal power at work in seeds. In According to John Jesus disconnects what happens in nature from what happens in history. To the disciples who worry about getting something to eat at lunch time (the sixth hour), Jesus tells them “my food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish (teleióso) his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest. He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together” (4: 34 – 36). In the case of the harvest for eternal life there is no need to wait four months to harvest the fruit. In this case the sowers and the reapers rejoice together.

The food provided by nature for the sustenance of the flesh depends on processes that require time. The food of Jesus, to do the will of his Father and to accomplish his work, is effective at once. The work of Jesus does not reach its completion at a future apocalyptic event. His work was accomplished, finished, on the cross. Very aware of this, before breathing his last, Jesus said: “It is finished” (tetélestai, 19: 30). Surely this word on the cross is the announcement that he had done the will of his Father and finished his work. With this word the future is disarmed. By his descent and his ascent the Son of Man made possible eternal life. The more abundant life is already a reality among human beings.

The earthly life of the Son of Man took place according to a set schedule. It did not accommodate itself to capricious circumstances that could arise. His life followed the outline established even “before the foundation of the world” (17: 5, 24). On more than one occasion what seemed inevitable did not happen because “his hour had not yet come” (7: 5, 30; 8: 20). For his brothers, however, their “time is always here” (7: 6).

The hour of Jesus, no doubt, arrives at its appointed time, and Jesus knows how to face it. Already in Jerusalem for the Passover, Jesus announces, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (12: 23). The narrator later tells us that a few days before the feast, since he “knew that his hour had come” (13: 1), Jesus began to wash the disciples’ feet. This was an act of solidarity before death that levels the master and his servants. Jesus did it as an example that his disciples should imitate. Then he identified Judas and told him, “What you are going to do, do quickly” (13: 27).

Since the disciples are supposed to identify themselves with their master, it is not surprising that one day their hour will also arrive. To prevent their becoming disoriented when their hour arrives, Jesus warns them: “the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God . . . But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you of them” (16: 2, 4).

What is, then, the significance of the hour that marks the life of Jesus and that of his disciples? We may find a clue about this in Jesus’ explanation that the sorrow the disciples would experience as witnesses to his crucifixion would turn into joy when they discovered that he lived after his resurrection. “When a woman is in travail she has sorrow, because her hour has come; but she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world” (16: 21).

This analogy between childbirth and the disciples’ experience at Jesus’ hour without a doubt reflects the limited view of womanhood at that time. According to popular opinion women existed to bring children to the world. The “hour” of the woman is the hour of giving birth to “a man” (anthropos). It would seem, then, that “the hour” is when a person’s reason for living is revealed -- when one’s purpose is exposed. When certain Greeks who have come to Jerusalem to worship at Passover ask Philip: “Sir, we would see Jesus”, Philip does not know what to do with this request and consults with Andrew. Then both present the request to Jesus. The reaction of Jesus is: “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour” (12: 27).

This is the Johannine equivalent to the scene in the garden of Gethsemane in the synoptics, but it does not describe agony and supplications. While it alludes to the personal importance of the moment, what it demonstrates is the resolute decision of the One who knows for what he came to the world. The immediate response by Jesus to the request of the Greeks, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (12: 23), is definitively described by Jesus at the beginning of his prayer: “Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son” (17: 1). The purpose for his being in the world had to be accomplished. Jesus was to be “lifted up” to where he had come from. The hour in which he was to account for the reason of his being in the world had come. The Father had to glorify him, crucify him. In this gospel authority over life and death comes only “from above” (19: 11).

Three times we read “the hour is coming, and now is”. These declarations are worthy of special attention. Apparently in these cases reference is not made to the life of Jesus. By this phrase specific experiences of Christians who are living after the glorification of the Son of Man are being singled out.

It is after his resurrection and after he has breathed on the disciples the Holy Spirit (20: 22), that Christians can worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth (4: 23). “The hour is coming, and now is,” when true worshippers, the type of worshippers the Father seeks, will adore effectively. The temple of the true worshippers is the temple of his body (2: 21). It is the temple of the Risen Christ.

Likewise, it is after his resurrection that “the hour is coming, and now is” when “the dead” hear the voice of the Son of Man and those who hear it pass from death to life (5: 25). Verse 28 then contrasts these “dead” with those who are in their tombs. Those who hear, those of faith, need to see the glorified Jesus who in this way brought eternal life to the world. Those dead in sin need not wait till harvest time. Eternal life is already a reality among Christians.

This expression is also used specifically in reference to the identity and the vocation of the true disciples. “The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered” (16: 32). As disciples of the One who came to bear witness to the truth, the hour of truth comes to all his followers. It is when they must be willing to be rejected by “the world” in the manner in which “the world” rejected him who came to save it. To all his disciples, from the point of view of According to John, “the hour is coming, and now is” because the lifting up of the Son of Man has been effective and must be re-enacted in the lives of his disciples.

The Christian community shaped by these intensive theological reflections on the life and the death of Jesus as the incarnate Logos saw itself as the blessed beneficiary of the mission that the Son of Man had carried to completion with total success. This conviction, however, did not cause its members to overflow with reprehensible pride or in egotistical celebrations. On the contrary, it caused them to concentrate their attention on the need to love each other, and to institutionalize the washing of each others feet, an institution ignored by the synoptic gospels, as a vow of solidarity with Christ when facing biological death.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/3544