Commentary on John


The Gospel of John does not enjoy a dedicated year for itself in the Sunday Lectionary.  Instead, passages from the Gospel are spread over all three years of the Lectionary Cycle.  I was surprised, however, to realise that a similar proportion of the text of John is drawn on over the three years as is taken from any of the other three Gospels in the one year devoted to each.  The text is not covered systematically in the Lectionary.  Of all four Gospels, perhaps this is the one where a systematic coverage matters least.  John’s Gospel includes very few incidents from the life of Jesus.  Those that are included are accompanied by lengthy discourses that do not lend themselves to piecemeal reflection.

A number of readers of my earlier commentaries have asked me when I would write a commentary on John.  I gather that many people are attracted to the Gospel, yet realise that it is difficult to understand without a guide.  Certainly, that has been my personal experience.

It is a wonderful Gospel.  As I reflect on my own life, I recognise how many of its phrases and images have thrown light on my experience and accompanied me on my journey over the years into the heart of Jesus.  Among those that still resonate powerfully, I treasure:

  • The encounter of the first disciples with Jesus, and their understated interaction: What do you want? Where do you live? Come and see.  They came and remained with him.
  • The author’s reflection on Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
  • The excited exclamation of the Samaritan woman: Come and see a man who has told me everything I have ever done.
  • The passage from the Discourse on the Bread of Life (particularly the Jerusalem Bible translation): As I myself draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will draw life from me.
  • Peter’s confused but dogged act of faith: Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know...
  • Jesus’ insistent request: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
  • And his reassurance: I do not call you servants … I have called you friends.
  • The simple message of the risen Jesus: Peace be with you.
  • Peter’s confession: Lord, you know that I love you.
  • And the last words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel: Follow me.

Other readers will no doubt have other words or images that they would add to the list.  For some reason, lines from the other Gospels have not burned into my memory to the same extent as these.

As with the earlier commentaries, this one does not pretend to be an academic exercise. There are no footnotes or references. My aim is pastoral. There is one author, however, whom I do acknowledge – James Alison, an English theologian. The interpretation of chapters 5 and chapters 7-9 draws heavily from his work. His observations on the scapegoating mechanisms at work in social and religious structures have been helpful for understanding, not only the dynamic at work in the rejection of Jesus by the religious leaders of the time, but also the behaviours common to institutions generally.

I realise that there is a degree of repetitiveness in the Commentary. Some of this is deliberate. Though I hope that readers approach the Commentary as a continuous narrative and read it from beginning to end, I realise that many will tune in primarily to those sections that occur in the Church’s Lectionary over the three year cycle. I do not presume that all readers will have read what has preceded, so at times I re-state points that have already been covered.

John McKinnon
Hamilton, Victoria
January 2010