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Christian Brother Brian Grenier says St John’s Gospel lets us reflect on our own faith journeys

Conservation: Christ and the Samaritan Woman, by Maltese artist Stefano Erardi (1630-1716).

‘Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.’ – John 20:30-31

REPUTABLE scholars assure us that, before the later addition of chapter 21 in which Peter features so prominently, St John’s Gospel concluded with the above verses. 

Succinctly stating the evangelist’s intention, they once formed a fitting ending to a version of the Good News in which the theme of faith in Jesus is central. 

In this Gospel we meet a number of “representative figures” who, as a result of their contact with Jesus, were moved to express their faith however incipiently in him. 

John’s presentation of their “conversions” – once timely, now timeless – was a pastoral wake-up call to the vacillating members of his community to examine the strength of their own commitment to Jesus.

One of these representative figures was Nathanael of Cana who was at first sceptical of Philip’s suggestion that Jesus could possibly be the long-awaited Messiah. 

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” he asked. 

Having met and listened attentively to the Nazarene, Nathanael threw in his lot with him and was among the select few who were present when the resurrected Jesus appeared to five of the 12 apostles by the Sea of Tiberias. 

Even more fully delineated by John is the faith journey of the Pharisee Nicodemus. 

Initially he came under cover of darkness to see Rabbi Jesus whom he acknowledged to be “a teacher who has come from God”. 

He later defended him in the Sanhedrin, the religious and legal supreme court of the Jewish people; and, in his final appearance in the Gospel, presumably at some risk to his reputation, he assisted Joseph of Arimathea in burying Jesus with the respect due to a king. 

Nicodemus is venerated as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Churches.

Other examples are not hard to find. 

The man born blind, who received from Jesus the gift of sight, also received the gift of insight to recognise the unique character of his benefactor. 

After jousting verbally with the disbelieving authorities, he met Jesus again and, we are told, fell at his feet and adored him.

The story of Jesus’ interaction with the much-married Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well is told at length by John. 

After an inauspicious beginning to her encounter with Jesus, she acknowledged him to be a prophet like Moses and, with something akin to missionary zeal, led all her townspeople to meet one whom she suspected of being the Messiah. 

They concluded (presumably with her) that he was “the Saviour of the world”. 

Martha, the sister of Mary and Lazarus, even before Jesus called her brother from the tomb, acknowledged him as “the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world”. 

Mary Magdalene, her grief allayed, announced to the timorous disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and doubting Thomas, absent on that occasion, eventually arrived at a point when he could exclaim in Jesus’ presence, “My Lord and my God!”

As we read the Fourth Gospel, dwelling at length on episodes like these, we will likely be prompted to reflect critically on our own faith journey. 

There is no standing still. If we are not making progress, we are going backwards. 

If we are drifting aimlessly instead of steering resolutely according to the way mapped out by Jesus for all his followers across the centuries, we will need to re-plot our course. 

Read aloud the introductory quotation again, replacing the pronoun “you” with “I”. 

This practice can be used to good effect in times of prayerful reflection on other pertinent gospel passages.

Try also replacing “love” (or “it”) in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 with your name. 

Does it still ring true?

Br Brian Grenier is a Christian Brother in Brisbane.

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