I recently had a wonderful time auditing a two week intensive on John. It was great to be part of such an excellent class of fellow students and teacher. Here are my personal top take-aways:
1. When John refers to "the Jews" (as he does over and over again), ask yourself:
Is John referring to the 8,000,000 people living throughout the Roman Empire who identified as belonging to the people of Israel?
Or to put it another way:
Is John wanting us to include as one of "the Jews" Lazarus - whom the text says Jesus loved; and Mary - who anointed him before his arrest?
And when John actually includes "Jews" in the story, who are they? (Answer: about 90% of the time they are Judean elites who were collaborating with the Roman Empire as local rulers.) (The Greek text uses the word for Judean, i.e. people from the geographic region called Judah - which historically was in the process of becoming the generic word Romans used to refer to the entire people of Israel. English translators have continued this practice even though it is often debatable as to whether this is the correct meaning.)
2. The pascal lamb that is sacrificed on Passover is NOT a sin offering. Identifying Jesus as a sin offering is not Johannine. Jesus' death (at most) is an offering for protection, community formation, and escape from bondage. John is placing Jesus in the Mosaic Exodus tradition - not a priestly ritual blood-sacrifice tradition. John presents Jesus as a Messiah in the Mosaic tradition, not the Davidic. ("Jesus died for our sins" may be valid, but it is not in John. Nor in me. And don't get fooled by John the Baptist saying, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." Just about everyone who says anything about Jesus in John have got it wrong. John the Baptist is no exception.)
3. Jesus was laid in a tomb (not buried) in expectation that he would be resurrected. But expected to be resurrected on the last day, not on the third day. And so, Jesus' resurrection is not "Love is stronger than death." Easter sermons need to think about: What does it mean that this resurrection happened ON THE THIRD DAY?
4. The crucifixion is a SIGN that points to the glory of God. How does it do that? Passion Sunday and Good Friday sermons probably would not go far wrong if you spent the whole time using the dialog between Jesus and Pilate to reflect on their two very different understandings of: a) Kingship, b) power, and c) truth. God's glory is not about being glorious.
5. When John reports that Jesus "gave up his spirit" (John 20:30), he is wanting us to remember that Jesus has previously promised that he will send the Spirit to be with us. John wants us to understand that Jesus has already given us his Spirit. There is no "Second Coming" to look for. Jesus has returned in the Spirit incarnated in / through his disciples. If I were to be starting over again, I would be spending my ministry wondering how the Holy Spirit is a real presence in this congregation?
And just to add the usual mea culpa: Harry Maier, our teacher, is NOT responsible for any errors, omissions, additions, or stupidities in the above. They are all exclusively my own. But I am thankful for his lively, scholarly, humane, and joyful teaching of this amazing Gospel.