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Commentary on the Gospel of John

1:1-18 The Prologue functions like a musical overture, introducing the main themes of the Gospel to be developed in subsequent chapters: light (1:4), life (1:4), darkness (1:5), testimony (1:7), faith (1:12), glory (1:14), truth (1:17). This network of images and ideas is held together around Jesus the Word, who is portrayed as the Creator and Redeemer of all things. Similar poetic passages are found in Col 1:15-20 and Heb 1:1-4. Back to text.

1:1 In the beginning: John traces the origin of the Word into eternity past, where God the Son was present with God the Father before time itself began (17:5). • This opening verse of John is a direct allusion to the opening verse of the Bible. As in Genesis 1, the evangelist draws attention to light, darkness, life, and the spoken Word that brought all things into existence (1:1-5). It is implied that the universe, once created through the Word of God, is now being renewed through that same Word come in the flesh as Jesus Christ (1:14; Rev 21:15; Catechism of the Catholic Church [hereafter CCC] 241, 291). was with God: Distinguishes the Word from the Father. They are not the same Person, yet they share the same nature in the family of the eternal Godhead (17:25-26) (CCC 25456). was God: Or, "was divine". This is the first and clearest assertion of the deity of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel (5:18; 10:30-33; 20:28) (CCC 242). Back to text.

1:4 life: Earthly life is a gift that is given and sustained by God through his eternal Word (Heb 1:3). Ultimately, natural and biological life points beyond itself to the supernatural and divine life that Jesus grants in abundance to the children of God (10:10; 2 Pet 1:4; CCC 1997). This new life comes to us when we give ourselves to Christ in faith (3:16; 20:31), and Christ gives himself to us through the sacramental action of the Church (3:5; 6:53). Back to text.

1:5 light . . . darkness: Symbolic of the struggle between good and evil (1 Jn 2:8-11). Jesus himself is the true light (1:9) that drives away death, deception, and the devil (1 Jn 3:8). Other contrasts in the Gospel include flesh and Spirit (3:6), truth and falsehood (8:44-45), heaven and earth (3:31), and life and death (5:24). Back to text.

1:6 John: John the Baptist, who fulfilled a divine mission to Israel (1:31) but was not the divine Messiah (1:20). Emphasis on John's subordinate role to Jesus runs throughout the Fourth Gospel, suggesting that one of the aims of the evangelist is to win over the remaining band of John's disciples who had not yet accepted Jesus (3:25-30; 5:36; 10:41). Support for this is found in Acts 19:1-7, where we learn that a contingent of John's followers lived in Ephesus—the same city that tradition links with the publication of the Fourth Gospel. See introduction: Author. Back to text.

1:10 the world: One of several concepts in John with multiple meanings. The world can refer (1) to the universe created by God (1:10), (2) to the fallen family of man in need of redemption (3:17), (3) and to the sphere of the devil that opposes God and hates the truth (15:18-20). Back to text.

Word Study

Word (Jn 1:1)

Logos (Gk.): "word", "statement", or "utterance". The term is used 330 times in the NT. The background of this concept in John is both philosophical and biblical. (1) Ancient Greek philosophers associated the Word with the order and design of the universe or with the intelligible expression of the mind of God as he sustains and governs it. (2) In biblical tradition the Word is the powerful utterance of God that brought all things into being at the dawn of time (Gen 1:3; Ps 33:6; Wis 9:1). (3) Another biblical tradition links the Word of God with the Wisdom of God, who was depicted as God's eternal companion (Prov 8:23; Sir 24:9), the craftsman who labored alongside God at creation (Prov 8:30; Wis 7:22), and the one who remains a source of life for the world (Prov 8:35). John, it seems, has pulled these traditions together to say something entirely new: the Word of God is not so much an abstract principle or an audible power as it is a Divine Person: God the Son (Rev 19:13). This eternal Word, once a mediator of creation, has now become a mediator of salvation through his Incarnation (Jn 1:14; 3:17).

1:11 received him not: Jesus' ministry to Israel was often resisted and sometimes rejected (8:56-59; 10:31; Lk 4:2830). Back to text.

1:12 believed in his name: i.e., believed that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel and the eternal Son of God (20:31; 1 Jn 5:1, 13). Names are inseparable from persons in Semitic thinking. So, for instance, the Lord himself is invoked when his name is called upon in worship (Gen 4:26; 12:8) and when covenants are ratified by swearing an oath in his name (Gen 21:23; 24:3). children of God: By the grace of divine generation we are filled with divine life and reborn as sons and daughters of the Father (1 Jn 3:1, 9). This transformation requires faith and takes place in Baptism (3:5-8; Gal 3:26-27) (CCC 2780-82). Back to text.

1:13 not of blood . . . flesh . . . man: Three means or processes that bring about natural birth into the world, i.e., women, the sexual impulse, and men. John is stressing that natural birth does not establish us in a supernatural relationship with God. • A similar cluster of ideas is found in Wis 7:1-2, where human existence is said to depend on the blood of prenatal gestation, the pleasure of marital relations, and the seed of man. Back to text.

1:14 the Word became flesh: Asserts the mystery of the Incarnation. It means that Christ, who is fully divine, eternal, and equal in being with the Father, came from heaven to earth and entered history as a man. The word "flesh" signifies all that is natural, earthly, and human (3:6; 6:63; 1 Jn 4:2) (CCC 423, 456-63). dwelt among us: The Greek means that Jesus "tabernacled" or "pitched his tent" among us (Rev 21:3). • John is making a link between the Incarnation of Jesus and the erection of the wilderness Tabernacle in the OT (Ex 25:89). The Tabernacle, once the architectural expression of Yahweh's presence in Israel, is a prophetic image of Jesus dwelling in our midst as a man. Likewise, as the Wisdom of God once tabernacled in Israel in the Torah of Moses (Sir 24:8), so Jesus is the embodiment of divine Wisdom in the flesh (1 Cor 1:24). See word study: Word. grace and truth: Equivalent to the "mercy and faithfulness" of God celebrated in the OT (Ex 34:6; Ps 25:10; 89:1; Prov 20:28; CCC 214). his glory: The magnificence of God's presence and Being once visible in the fiery cloud that indwelt the wilderness Tabernacle (Ex 40:3435) and later the Jerusalem Temple (1 Kings 8:10-11). The glory of Christ is veiled behind his humanity and becomes visible only when he manifests it through his miracles (2:11; 11:40) (CCC 697). Back to text.

1:15 ranks before me . . . was before me: The preeminence of Jesus over John is deduced from his preexistence. Although his ministry followed that of John, his life with the Father predated the foundations of the world itself (1:1; 8:58; 17:5). Back to text.

1:16 grace upon grace: Or "grace in place of grace". As implied in the next verse, the graces of the Old Covenant have been superseded by the blessings of the New (1:17; CCC 504). Back to text.

1:18 No one has ever seen God: God is pure spirit and thus invisible to human eyes (4:24; 1 Tim 6:16). Even still, the face of the Father can be seen in the face of Christ, who is the visible image of the invisible God (14:9; Col 1:15). Only in eternity will we see God as he truly is (1 Cor 13:12) (CCC 151). the only-begotten Son: A significant textual variant reads "God, the only begotten", which directly asserts the deity of Jesus. The reading followed in the translation can (1) refer to the eternal generation of Christ within the Trinity or (2) mean "unique" and "precious", as Isaac was the beloved of his father, Abraham (Heb 11:17) (CCC 444). Back to text.

1:19 Jews: The term has a geographical tint and can sometimes be translated "Judeans". It has negative connotations in the Fourth Gospel because Jesus encounters great resistance in Judea (4:43-44) from the Judean leaders of Jerusalem who orchestrate his death (11:47-53; 19:12-16). The term is not a derogatory epithet directed at ethnic Jews in general; after all, Jesus was a Jew, as was his Mother, his disciples, and most of the earliest Christians (CCC 597). See note on Jn 4:47Back to text.

1:20 the Christ: i.e., the Messiah (1:41). See word study: Christ at Mk 14. Back to text.

1:21 Elijah?: Israel anticipated the return of the prophet Elijah. • Malachi foretold that Elijah would make final preparations for the arrival of Israel's messianic Lord (Sir 48:10; Mal 4:5). John is not Elijah come again in the flesh, but he fulfills his mission in spirit (Lk 1:17) (CCC 718). See note on Mk 9:11. the prophet?: Israel awaited the coming of a prophet in the likeness of Moses. • That the authorities question whether John is the prophet and not simply a prophet suggests they are thinking of this Mosaic figure foretold in Deut 18:15-19. John is not the messianic prophet; it is Jesus who fulfills this role as the new Moses (4:20-26; 6:14; 7:40). Back to text.

1:23 I am the voice: A quotation from Is 40:3. See note on Lk 3:4-6Back to text.

1:24 the Pharisees: The influential leaders of a Jewish renewal movement in NT Palestine. They are fierce opponents of Jesus and his message (7:45-53). See topical essay: Who Are the Pharisees? at Mk 2. Back to text.

1:26 I baptize with water: The water baptism of John is merely a sign of the sacramental Baptism of Jesus. The former signified our need for cleansing and renewal; the latter effects this by an infusion of the grace and new life of the Spirit (Acts 2:38; Tit 3:5) (CCC 720, 1262). Back to text.

1:28 Bethany: An unknown location east of the Jordan River (10:40). It is distinct from the Judean village of Bethany near Jerusalem (11:18). Back to text.

1:29 Lamb of God: Points to the sacrificial dimension of I Jesus' mission. • This was prefigured by the Passover lambs of the Exodus, whose blood was a mark of divine protection for Israel and whose flesh was eaten in a liturgical meal (Ex 12:1-27), and prophesied by Isaiah, who portrayed the suffering Messiah as an innocent lamb slain for the sins of others (Is 53:7-12; CCC 608). See notes on Jn 12:32 and 19:36. Back to text.

1:32 the Spirit descend as a dove: The Baptism of Jesus, which initiates his manifestation to Israel (1:31) and prefigures the effects of sacramental Baptism (3:1-13). See notes on Mt 3:15 and Mk 1:10. remain: The Greek expression is used often in John (also translated "dwell" or "abide") for the enduring bond between the Father and Son (14:10; 15:10) and for the indwelling of the Trinity in the believer (6:56; 14:17; 15:4-7). Back to text.

1:35 two of his disciples: One of these is identified as "Andrew" (1:40), while the other is probably the evangelist himself. See introduction: Author. Back to text.

1:39 the tenth hour: About 4 P.M. See note on Mt 20:1Back to text.

1:41 the Messiah: A rendering of the Hebrew word for "Anointed One". This title is rendered into Greek as Christ (4:25). See word study: Christ at Mk 14. Back to text.

1:42 Cephas: A rendering of the Aramaic word kepha', meaning "rock". With one exception from the fifth century B.C., this term was not generally used as a personal name before Jesus renamed Simon. The name Peter is its Greek equivalent. See word study: Peter at Mt 16. Back to text.

1:44 Bethsaida: A village on the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee. Nathanael: Also called "Bartholomew" in the Synoptic Gospels. See chart: The Twelve Apostles at Mk 3. Back to text.

1:45 Moses . . . the prophets: Introduces a theme of scriptural fulfillment that runs throughout the Gospel narrative (2:22; 5:46; 7:38; 10:35; etc.). Back to text.

1:46 Nazareth: A small and secluded Galilean village considered unimportant to many in Israel. Back to text.

1:47 an Israelite indeed: i.e., a descendant of the patriarch Jacob, who was renamed "Israel" (Gen 32:28). Ironically, Jacob himself was known for his beguiling ways, especially when he intercepted the family blessing intended for his older brother Esau (Gen 27:35). Back to text.

1:49 Son of God . . . King of Israel: Titles closely connected in ancient Israel, where King David and his successors are called the "sons" of Yahweh (2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:7; 89:26-27). Unlike his Davidic predecessors, however, Jesus is the Son of God by nature and not by a covenant of divine adoption (1:18) (CCC 441-42). • Nathanael speaks from his knowledge of the OT. (1) That he was "called" while sitting "under the fig tree" (1:48) recalls how neighbors will "invite" one another under their "fig tree" in the messianic age (Zech 3:10). Judaism linked this hope with the coming of the royal "Branch", a messianic figure mentioned by Zechariah (Zech 3:8; 6:11-13) and modeled on his contemporary Zerubbabel, who rebuilt the Temple after the Exile (Hag 1:14; Zech 4:9). (2) Mention of Jesus' hometown suggests a connection with Is 11:1, where the "branch" that will sprout from David is a term (Heb. netser) linked to the word "Nazareth" (1:46). Once these oracles converged in the mind of Nathanael, he could reason that Jesus is the messianic "Branch" and thus the royal Son of God. • Allegorically (St. Augustine, Tract. on John 7, 21): the shade of the fig tree is the shadow of sin and death. Nathanael is the Church, who is known in advance by the mercy of God, cleansed of all guilt and impurity, and summoned by the apostles to come forth from darkness to live in the light. Back to text.

1:51 ascending and descending: An allusion to Jacob's dream in Gen 28:11-15. • Jacob dreamed of a ladder spanning heaven and earth that enabled the angels to pass in and out of the world. Moved by the experience, he renamed the place where he slept "the house of God" and "the gate of heaven" (Gen 28:17). Jesus puts himself in the center of this vision, claiming that (1) he is the place where heaven touches down to earth; (2) he is the true house of God; and (3) he is the mediator through whom the angels exercise their ministry. See notes on Jn 2:19 and Heb 1:14. the Son of man: Alludes to the heavenly figure of Dan 7:13. See topical essay: Jesus, the Son of Man at Lk 17. Back to text.

2:1 the third day: Chronologically, this refers to the third day since Jesus' encounter with Nathanael (1:43-51). Theologically, it has two levels of significance. (1) The third day is actually the seventh day of Jesus' opening week of ministry. The evangelist hints at this when he delineates the successive days in 1:29, 35, 43, and 2:1, implying that the creation fashioned in seven days (Gen 1:1-2:3) is being transformed and renewed through Jesus (2 Cor 5:17; Rev 21:1-5). (2) Jesus manifests his glory on the third day at Cana (2:11), just as he reveals his glory by rising on the third day after his death (1 Cor 15:4). See word study: Signs. marriage at Cana: Jewish weddings, like this one five miles north of Nazareth, could be celebrated for an entire week or more (Judg 14:12; Tob 11:19). Curiously, the young couple is never identified, leaving Jesus and his Mother to hold center stage for the entire episode (2:111). • Traditional exegesis holds that Jesus sanctifies the covenant of marriage by his presence at the wedding at Cana (CCC 1613). Back to text.

2:3 the mother of Jesus: Mary is never called by her personal name in the Fourth Gospel (2:12; 19:25). no wine: An embarrassing predicament for the young couple. Mary's concern for the situation may suggest she is a relative of the wedding party. • Vatican II affirms the propriety of the title "Advocate" for the Mother of Jesus (Lumen Gentium, 62). It means that just as Mary intervened at Cana for the needs of others, so she continues to make heavenly intercession for the needs of the saints on earth (CCC 969). Back to text.

2:4 woman: Although it might offend the standards of modern etiquette, this was a title of respect and endearment in antiquity (4:21; 8:10; 20:13). There is, however, no ancient example of a son addressing his mother in this way. • Genesis 3 is the reverse image of the Cana episode. As Eve prompted Adam to defy the Lord and drag the human family into sin, so Mary prompts Jesus, the new Adam, to initiate his mission of salvation. The description of Mary even alludes to Gen 3:15, where Yahweh speaks of a "woman" whose son will trample the devil underfoot (CCC 489, 494). what have you to do with me? The expression is a Hebrew idiom rendered in Greek (literally, "what to me and to you?"). It typically presupposes some perceived tension between two parties having contrary perspectives (Judg 11:12; 1 Kings 17:18; Mk 5:7), though not always (2 Chron 35:21). When the idiom is used in response to a person's request, either stated or implied, the speaker sometimes capitulates to the expressed will of the other (2 Kings 3:13) and sometimes not (2 Sam 16:10). Here the former pattern is evident: Jesus complies with Mary's request (Jn 2:7-8), and Mary herself appears perfectly confident that Jesus will respond favorably to her petition (2:5). In effect, Jesus would not have initiated the miracle at Cana, but neither does he refuse his Mother's prompting. My hour has not yet come: The assertion hides an important assumption. The statement would seem exaggerated unless the provision of wine was somehow connected with Jesus' appointed "hour". This points beyond the historical hour of his Passion to the commemoration of that hour in the eucharistic liturgy, where Christ is present behind the visible sign of wine (CCC 2618). See topical essay: The "Hour" of Jesus at Jn 4. Back to text.

2:5 Do whatever he tells you: The final words of Mary in the NT, which ring out as her spiritual testament for all disciples of Jesus. • The command to follow Jesus echoes the command to follow Joseph in Gen 41:55. As the patriarch went on to provide bread in abundance during a time of famine, so Jesus supplies wine in abundance at a time of need. Back to text.

2:6 six stone jars: Together holding over 120 gallons of water. • The purpose of these water jars is outlined in Num 19:11-22, which stipulates that any Israelite defiled by contact with the dead must be purified with water on the third day and then again on the seventh day. Curiously, the Cana miracle takes place on the third day (2:1), which, according to John's chronology, is also the seventh day. See note on Jn 2:1. • The first sign performed by Jesus (water into wine) recalls the first sign performed by Moses (the first plague, water into blood, Ex 7:19). Note that wine is called the "blood" of the grape in Hebrew poetry (Gen 49:11; Deut 32:14). Back to text.

2:9 the bridegroom: The unidentified groom at the wedding. Jesus fulfills this role on a spiritual level (3:29; Mt 25:113; CCC 796). Back to text.

2:10 the good wine: A biblical symbol capable of many associations. (1) An abundance of wine is a sign of the messianic age (Is 25:6; Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13). (2) It signifies the joys of marital love (Song 1:2; 4:10; 7:9). (3) The transformation of water into wine anticipates the transubstantiation of wine into blood when Jesus gives himself to the world in the eucharistic liturgy (6:53; 1 Cor 10:16). (4) The wine of the marital celebration looks beyond this life to the marriage supper of the Lamb in heaven (Rev 19:7-9) (CCC 1335). Back to text.

Word Study

Signs (Jn 2:11)

Semeion (Gk.): a "sign" or "miracle". The term is used 17 times in John and 60 times in the rest of the NT. Since the signs in the Fourth Gospel are concentrated mainly in chaps. 1-12, the first half of John has been called the "Book of Signs". For the evangelist, the signs of Jesus are not just mighty works, but miracles that unveil the glory and power of God working through Christ. The signs of Jesus also recall the signs performed by Moses during the Exodus, signs that likewise revealed the glory of Yahweh (Num 14:22) working through Moses (Ex 3:12; 4:28-31; Deut 34:11). The Fourth Gospel draws attention to seven signs: (1) the miracle at Cana (2:1-11), (2) the healing of the official's son (4:4654), (3) the healing of the paralytic (5:1-9), (4) the multiplication of the loaves (6:1-14), (5) the restoration of the blind man (9:1-41), (6) the raising of Lazarus (11:17-44), and, most important of all, (7) the Resurrection of Jesus, which is the second sign mentioned in the Gospel (2:18-22) but the final and climactic sign to be accomplished (20:1-10). Jesus elsewhere calls this the "sign of the prophet Jonah" (Mt 12:39).

2:12 Capernaum: A village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee and the headquarters of Jesus' Galilean ministry (Mt 4:13). his brethren: Not full brothers of Jesus but his close relatives (CCC 500). See note on Mt 12:46Back to text.

2:13 The Passover: Celebrated every spring to commemorate Israel's rescue from Egyptian slavery (Ex 12). Three times the Passover is mentioned in John, indicating that Jesus' ministry extended beyond two years (6:4; 13:1). See note on Jn 6:4. Jerusalem: Nearly 80 percent of John's narrative places Jesus in Jerusalem. The Synoptic Gospels give greater attention to the ministry of Jesus in Galilee. Back to text.

2:14-22 The cleansing of the Temple is recorded in all four Gospels. One difference among them is that John places the event at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, while the other Gospels place it at the end of his ministry. Two explanations for this are possible. (1) All four accounts may refer to the same event. If so, John moved the episode to the beginning of his narrative to highlight an important truth. As it stands, the Temple cleansing makes the same theological point as that in the preceding Cana episode: Jesus brings a New Covenant that supersedes the institutions of the Old. (2) Jesus may have cleansed the Temple twice. In fact, some have dated the episode in John around A.D. 27 or 28, calculating "forty-six years" from the time Herod the Great began renovating the Temple in 19 or 20 B.C. (2:20). This date fits more easily into the early period of Jesus' ministry than the latter part of it. Back to text.

2:14 In the temple: The Jerusalem Temple was divided into several courts. The outermost court, open to Gentile pilgrims, was used for selling sacrificial animals and exchanging foreign currency for the appropriate coins needed to pay the annual Temple tax. Jesus is angry that the merchants are robbing Israel through inflated rates of exchange and robbing the Gentiles of the opportunity to worship and pray (CCC 583-84). See note on Mt 17:24Back to text.

2:15 poured out . . . overturned: The aggressive actions of Jesus are a prophetic sign of the Temple's imminent destruction (Mk 13:1-2). The expulsion of oxen, sheep, and pigeons (2:14) from the precincts likewise signifies the termination of animal sacrifice in the Temple (4:21-24). See note on Mk 11:15. • Allegorically (Origen, Comm. in Jo. 10, 16): the sanctuary is the undisciplined soul, filled, not with animals and merchants, but with earthly and senseless attachments. Christ must expel them with the whip of his divine doctrine to make spiritual worship possible. Back to text.

2:17 Zeal for your house: A reference to Ps 69:9. • Psalm 69 depicts the suffering of the righteous, who are pained by the insults that sinners heap upon God. Jesus, burning with righteous indignation, is outraged that business dealings have taken the place of prayer in the Temple courts. Back to text.

2:19 Destroy this temple: Jesus challenges his critics to destroy, not the sacred building, but his own body (2:21-22). Ironically, the latter is destined to replace the former: after the Crucifixion, the Temple of Jerusalem will be razed to the ground in divine judgment while the temple of Jesus' body will be raised from the grave in divine glory (CCC 586, 994). Back to text.

2:25 he knew all men: The supernatural knowledge of Jesus is often highlighted in the Gospels (4:39; 16:30; Mt 9:4; 17:27; Mk 11:2-4; Lk 22:9-13). Here he detects deficient faith in those who marvel at his miracles but fail to grasp the significance of his mission. In the next episode, Nicodemus is representative of such inadequate belief (3:1-15) (CCC 473). Back to text.

3:1 Nicodemus: Probably a member of the Jewish court, the Sanhedrin. See note on Mk 14:55Back to text.

3:2 by night: Nicodemus comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness because he fears persecution from the unbelieving leaders of Israel (12:42; 19:38). Symbolically, he is walking in spiritual darkness and lacks the enlightenment of true faith (8:12). Back to text.

3:3 anew: The Greek expression can mean either "again" or "from above". Nicodemus takes it to mean "again", as though Jesus required a physical rebirth to enter his kingdom. This is a misunderstanding. Jesus instead calls for a spiritual rebirth "from above" (CCC 526). The Greek expression always means "from above" elsewhere in John (3:31; 19:11, 23). Back to text.

3:5 born of water and the Spirit: The syntax of this verse in Greek suggests that Jesus is speaking, not of two separate births, one by water and another by the Spirit, but of a single birth through the working of water and Spirit together. Several observations suggest the verse refers to the Sacrament of Baptism. (1) A close link between water and Spirit is forged elsewhere in John's writings (7:38-39; 1 Jn 5:8). This is most explicit in 1:33, where the Spirit descends upon Jesus at the very moment he is baptized in the waters of the Jordan. (2) Immediately following this episode Jesus and the disciples begin a baptismal ministry in Judea (3:22). (3) Other NT passages describe Baptism as a sacrament of salvation through the Spirit (Acts 2:38; 1 Cor 6:11; Tit 3:5; 1 Pet 3:21). • The OT envisions Yahweh pouring out his Spirit from above in the messianic age (Is 32:15; Ezek 39:29; Joel 2:28-29). This was depicted as water being poured upon the Israelites to wash away their iniquities and renew their hearts (Is 44:3; Ezek 36:2526). These prophetic hopes should have prepared Nicodemus to understand the thrust of Jesus' teaching (3:10). • The Council of Trent declared in 1547 that Jn 3:5 refers to Baptism. It was said that "water" is no mere metaphor, but a visible sign of the Spirit's invisible work in the sacrament (Sess. 7, can. 2) (CCC 694, 1215, 1257). Back to text.

3:6 flesh . . . spirit: A significant contrast in John. Flesh represents all that is natural, earthly, and human, while spirit signifies all that is supernatural, heavenly, and divine. The distance once separating these realms has been bridged by Jesus Christ, whose flesh (1:14) is an instrument that conveys the life and Spirit of God to the world (5:21; 6:51-53; 20:22). Back to text.

3:8 The wind blows: Or "The Spirit blows" (see textual note f). By capitalizing on the double meaning of this expression, Jesus reasons that if the direction and destiny of the wind is mysterious, then the mission of the Holy Spirit is even more so in the lives of believers (CCC 691). Back to text.

3:11 our testimony: i.e., the twofold witness of Jesus and John the Baptist (1:7, 19; 3:28). Back to text.

3:14 the serpent: A reference to the episode in Num 21:4-9. • Moses hoisted a bronze serpent upon a pole as a remedy for faithless Israel. Although God punished them with poisonous serpents, he promised to save everyone who looked to the bronze serpent in search of his mercy. Jesus sees this relic as an image of his own Crucifixion and the healing it will bring to a rebellious world (CCC 2130). be lifted up: A shorthand reference to the Paschal Mystery, when Jesus is lifted up on the Cross, from the grave, and into heaven (8:28; 12:32). Back to text.

3:16 gave his only-begotten Son: The earthly mission of Jesus is part of the heavenly plan of the Father, who displays the depth of his love through the sacrifice of his Son (Rom 5:8; 1 Jn 3:16; CCC 219). This verse marks a transition from the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus (3:1-15) to an extended monologue by either Jesus or the evangelist himself (3:16-21). eternal life: The expression refers both to the divine quality of new life in Christ as well as its duration. We receive this gift already on earth in the hope that we will possess it irrevocably in heaven (10:10; 1 Jn 5:13). Back to text.

3:18 condemned already: Unbelief is a form of rebellion that puts offenders outside the safety of the covenant. To reject the Son of God is to reject the light of faith in preference to spiritual darkness, death, and disinheritance (3:20; CCC 679). Back to text.

3:22 baptized: Clarification is made in 4:2 that only the disciples of Jesus were baptizing. Back to text.

3:23 Aenon: An uncertain location, probably in either Samaria (central Palestine) or the Jordan Valley (eastern Palestine). Back to text.

3:24 put in prison: John is imprisoned for reprimanding Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee. See note on Mk 6:18Back to text.

3:25-30 The ministry of John the Baptist is of real but secondary importance compared to the saving mission of Jesus. John humbly recognizes this and so directs his disciples to become followers of Christ. See note on Jn 1:6Back to text.

3:29 the bridegroom: Jesus, whose bride is the Church (2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:21-32). John the Baptist is the friend or "best man" of the groom who, in Jewish custom, arranges and manages the wedding celebration. John is content to fade into the background now that his duties are fulfilled (3:30). • The marital covenant between Jesus and the Church is an extension of the spousal relation between Yahweh and Israel under the Old Covenant (Is 54:5-8; Jer 2:2; Hos 2:16-20; CCC 796; 1612). Back to text.

3:31 earth . . . heaven: A contrast between the earthly origin and ministry of John the Baptist and the heavenly origin and ministry of Jesus Christ. Back to text.

3:34 not by measure: As the Messiah, Jesus possesses the fullness of the Spirit (Is 11:2) and his graces (1:16) (CCC 504). Back to text.

3:36 believes . . . does not obey: Faith is exercised when we trust in God and entrust ourselves to God. Because it involves both the assent of the mind and the consent of the will, it can never be a purely intellectual decision that exists independently of one's behavior (Jas 2:14-26). It is because faith and faithfulness are two sides of the same coin that the opposite of faith is not just unbelief, but disobedience (CCC 161). Back to text.

4:4 had to pass through: A divine necessity, dictated not by geography but by the missionary schedule given to Jesus by the Father. Jews normally traveled a longer route from Judea to Galilee by skirting around the eastern side of Samaria along the Jordan River. Back to text.

4:5 Sychar: Probably ancient Shechem, where Jacob purchased a field (Gen 33:18-20). Back to text.

4:6 Jacob's well: Nowhere mentioned in the OT but traditionally located at the foot of Mt. Gerizim in central Samaria. • The setting recalls the marital arrangements described in the Pentateuch. As the wives of Isaac (Gen 24:1067), Jacob (Gen 29:1-30), and Moses (Ex 2:15-21) were first encountered at a well, so Jesus is the divine bridegroom in search of believers to be his covenant bride (3:29). the sixth hour: About noon. Back to text.

4:7-42 Centuries of animosity between Jews and Samaritans loom in the background of this episode. It began with the devastation of northern Palestine by Assyria in the eighth century B.C., when masses of Israelites were deported out of the land and foreign peoples were forcibly resettled in the region (2 Kings 17:6, 24-41). According to the Jews of southern Palestine, the remaining Israelites (Samaritans) had defiled themselves by assimilating the practices of these pagan peoples and intermarrying with them. The enmity between Jews and Samaritans was very much alive in NT times, and both groups took steps to avoid interaction with one another, especially in matters of food and drink. Back to text.

4:9 How is it . . . ? Jesus oversteps the boundaries of Jewish tradition, which discouraged men from conversing with women in public (4:27), sharing a drink with a Samaritan (4:7), or associating with a recognized sinner (4:18). Back to text.

4:10 living water: An expression with two levels of kilkJ meaning. The woman takes it to mean "flowing" water, i.e., a preferable alternative to stagnant well water (4:1112). Jesus, however, is speaking of the life and vitality of the Spirit (7:38-39; CCC 728, 2560). • Several prophetic texts depict the blessings of the Lord as life-giving "water" (Is 12:3; 44:3; Ezek 47:1-12; Zech 14:8). See note on Jn 3:5. • Christian tradition associates living water with baptismal waters, which lead us to "eternal life" (4:14). Paul, in fact, describes Baptism in terms of drinking from the Spirit (1 Cor 12:13; CCC 694). Back to text.

4:15 Sir: A respectful term of address. As the episode progresses, the perception of Jesus' identity becomes ever more clear: by 4:19 he is a "prophet", by 4:29 he is the "Christ", and by 4:42 he is the "Savior of the world". Back to text.

4:18 five husbands: The woman has endured multiple marital struggles. • The woman's personal life parallels the historical experience of the Samaritan people. According to 2 Kings 17:24-31, the five foreign tribes who intermarried with the northern Israelites (Samaritans) introduced five male deities into their religion. These idols were individually addressed as Baal, a Hebrew word meaning "lord" or "husband". The prophets denounced Israel for serving these gods, calling such worship infidelity to its true covenant spouse, Yahweh. Hope was kept alive, however, that God would show mercy to these Israelites and become their everlasting husband in the bonds of a New Covenant (Hos 2:16-20). This day has dawned in the ministry of Jesus, the divine bridegroom (3:29), who has come to save the Samaritans from a lifetime of struggles with five pagan "husbands". See note on Jn 4:6Back to text.

4:20 on this mountain: In OT times the Samaritans worshiped in a sanctuary built on Mt. Gerizim. Although it was destroyed in 128 B.C., they continued to worship on the mountain during NT times and even to the present day. Back to text.

4:22 what you do not know: Samaritan religion was an admixture of Israelite faith and pagan idolatry (2 Kings 17:29-34). • Jesus speaks from the perspective of the OT, which describes idol worship as ignorant worship (Wis 13:1-2, 10-19; Is 44:9-20). from the Jews: The Messiah was expected to come from the line of King David, who belonged to the royal tribe of Judah (Gen 49:8-12). Back to text.

4:23 in spirit and truth: Christian worship contrasts with Jewish and Samaritan worship. It will be in spirit, not confined to a single Israelite sanctuary where the ritual sacrifice of animals has continued since the days of Moses. It will also be in truth, not tainted by the errors of idolatry that have plagued the Samaritans since the days of the divided kingdom. See topical essay: The "Hour" of JesusBack to text.

4:26 I . . . am he: Jesus accepts the title "Messiah" (4:25) only here and at his trial (Mk 14:61-62). See note on Mk 1:44Back to text.

4:28 left her water jar: The woman becomes both a believer and a missionary, accepting Jesus as the Messiah and sharing that belief with her hometown (4:39-42). • Morally (St. Augustine, Tract. on John 15, 16, 30): the water jar is the fallen desire of man that draws pleasure from the dark wells of the world but is never satisfied for long. Conversion to Christ moves us, like the Samaritan woman, to renounce the world, leave behind the desires of our earthen vessels, and follow a new way of life. Back to text.

4:34 My food: The Father's will is always the driving force behind Jesus' mission (5:19; 6:38; 12:49; 14:10; etc.). Back to text.

4:35 white for harvest: Suggests that the world in general and the Samaritans in particular are ripe and ready to be gathered by the missionary efforts of the Church (Acts 8:4-25; Rev 14:14-16). Back to text.

4:42 the Savior: A title for Jesus also in Lk 2:11 and 1 Jn 4:14. Although salvation comes from the Jews (4:22), it is for all the nations of the world (3:17; 1 Jn 2:2). Back to text.

4:44 a prophet has no honor: A similar proverb is uttered when Jesus is rejected by his hometown of Nazareth (Lk 4:24). The remark resonates with bitter irony: although Jesus is a Jew (4:9), he is rejected by kinsmen from his own country of Judea (4:3, 47). See note on Jn 1:19Back to text.

4:46 Capernaum: This village was more than 15 miles from Cana. The official from the town was probably a royal officer under Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee. A similar episode where Jesus heals from a distance appears in Mt 8:5-13 and Lk 7:1-10. Back to text.

4:47 Judea to Galilee: Geography plays a symbolic role in John. For the most part, the northern regions of Samaria and Galilee accept Jesus in faith (1:43-49; 2:11; 4:39, 53-54), whereas the southern region of Judea with its capital in Jerusalem is persistently antagonistic toward him (5:18; 7:1; 9:22; 10:33; 11:7-8, etc.). This tension between north and south is underscored by repeated emphasis on Jesus' withdrawal from Judea to Galilee (4:3, 45, 46, 54) and elsewhere when the Judean opponents of Jesus make derogatory remarks about Galileans and Samaritans (7:52; 8:48). It is against this background that John classifies the enemies of Christ as "the Jews", i.e., the unbelieving leaders of Judea and Jerusalem. See note on Jn 1:19Back to text.

4:52 the seventh hour: About 1 P.M. See note on Mt 20:1Back to text.

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