STUDIORUM NOVI TESTAMENTI SOCIETAS

ABERDEEN, JULY 25 Ė 30 2006

 

A Response to Prof. Dr. Stelian Tofana’s:

 

¬ďThe Spiritual and Sacramental Dimension of the Mission of the Church

According to Jn 5, 1-15. Imperatives and Demands¬Ē*

 

Paper Read in Seminar 8:

 

The Mission of the Church: Exegesis and Hermeneutics

 

By Chris Ukachukwu MANUS

 

 I propose to make this response a brief one. I wish to start with an outline; viz:

(i)                  Introduction

(ii)                What I have read from the paper

(iii)               My own structuration of the text (Jn 5,1-15 (16-18)

(iv)              What I did not find from my reading of the paper

(v)                How to blend what I have found or read with what I have not found from the paper; namely my hermeneutics of mission in the light of Jn 5, 1-15 (18).

(vi)              Conclusion: reading the paper from my social location, the African perspective.

Introduction

Prof. Dr. Stelian Tofana has brokered a novel exegesis on a rather popular Johannine text (Jn 5,1-15) by exposing and highlighting ¬ďthe spiritual and sacramental¬Ē dimensions of mission that we can learn from the Johannine community¬ís ecclesiology. This is a component we have hardly discussed on any of the Books we have studied since the commencement of our Seminar. Care must therefore be taken to see through the challenging insights the author proffers in the context of his Confession and its theology. It is my wish that that context and his interpretation will be kept in mind as we share discussion on Jn 5,1-15.

 

What I have read from the Paper

My reading of the paper furnishes the following:

(i)                  Jesus manifests himself on four festal occasions as God by his revelation of himself as the meeting place; that is, as the encounter between God and humankind (p.2). For John, mission must communicate this revelation-encounter gospel to the world as the in breaking of a new life. There is sufficient stress that the saving purpose of Jesus’ mission is the giving of life.

(ii)                In Jerusalem, the oi Ioudaioi`(the Jews)[1] represent forces of opposition to Jesus indicating that his work and messianic mission involves the art of overcoming the crises raised in the mission field.

(iii)¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Imbued with the power of the Spirit and Jesus¬í ¬ďWord that gives life¬Ē, Jesus turns his mission to ¬ďhandicapped mankind¬Ē instead of the Jews and their institutions. Mission must be directed to the marginalized in our societies; especially victims of structural injustice, oppression, gender inequity and all forms of socio-economic exploitations.

(iv)¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† In the light of ¬ďthe theme of the new life¬Ē, that runs throughout chapters 2-4, Tofana reads the significance of the Johannine scramentology as deriving ¬ďform the power of the word of Jesus. Jesus goes all out to the world to draw to himself all that are brutalized to confer on them ¬ďnew life¬Ē symbolized by the various Johannine sacramentals.

(v)                The invalid man reflects a Johannine representative figure[2] of the hopeless and the despondent whose plight is the locale for mission and vigorous evangelization.

(vi)              The paralytic is charged to desist from sin in the temple indicating that God searches for the sinner and heals the sufferers who are never alone except when sin truncates the relationship between mankind and God. The healed man witnesses to Jesus before the Jews; a typical Johannine category.[3] The Church’s mission includes building structures through which witness must be given to Jesus in the context of the demands of the modern world.

(vii)¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† The symbolism of ¬ďthe healing water¬Ē, the five porches and Jesus¬í willingness to heal the paralytic, a representative ¬ďof the most poor and marginalsed ones¬Ē present Jesus as an ideal model of the mission of the Church¬Ē.

(viii)¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† The encounter between Jesus and the healed person in the temple points up the importance of the mission of the church ad intra. This inward mission of the church must reflect, inter alia, self-critique of itself in order to affirm the ¬ďretention¬Ē of her original vision, which involves both physical and spiritual healing.

(ix)¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† The Bethesda pool and the miracle re-evoke the several episodes in which ¬ďwater symbolism¬Ē represents ¬ďthe basin of the Christian baptism¬Ē.

(x)                Stelian treats us, in his conclusion, to the specific mission orientations of Jesus: social mission, soteriological mission, cross-cultural mission and mission with celestial significance.

My Own Structuration of the Text (Jn 5,1-15; 18-19)

¬†¬†¬† Vv. 1-5 ¬Ė The First Scene:

 -In Jerusalem at the Bethesda Pool at the Sheep Gate with five porticoes.

 -Huge crowd of disabled persons (katekeito plhqoj twn asqenountwn

 -One who had been bed-ridden for 38 years (triakonta kai oktw eth

VV. 6-9 ¬Ė Jesus¬í presence at the scene

-He engages in a dialogue with the disable.

-On account of his plight, Jesus heals him

-And orders him to walk away (egeire aron ton krabatton sou kai peripatei)

¬†¬† Vv.10-3 ¬ĖThe Jews are infuriated that the healed man was carrying his mat and

  walking on the Sabbath.

   V. 14  _  The Second Scene:

Jesus’s re-encounter with the healed man (o Ihsouj e,uriskei auton en tw ierw) in the Temple

                        -He charges him not to sin again (mhkevti avmartane)

-He warns him to be careful ¬ďso that nothing worse may happen to

¬†him¬Ē ¬Ďina mh ceiron soi ti genhtai)

¬†¬† Vv.15-18 ¬ĖAt this point. the healed man recognizes Jesus. He goes to tell the Jews

                        (o, Vanqrwpoj … avnhvggeilen toij Ioudaioij) who healed him

           -They plan to persecute/prosecute him for violation of the Sabbath Law

           -Jesus’ self defense: My Father has been at work and so I am at work now.

           -The Jews strive to kill him for two main reasons:

           -(a) He rubbished the Sabbath Law and called God his Father

           -(b) Thus he equates himself with God. What a crazy man!

What I did not Find from my Reading of the Paper

Mission themes and motifs I did not find clearly articulated in the paper are as follows:

(i)                  That the evangelist had authored the Bethesda story to assure the doubting Jewish Christians of the early church that the proclamation of faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God as indicated as the grand purpose of the Fourth Gospel in 20,30-31 is mission par excellence.

(ii)¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† That the Bethesda miracle wrought at the pool near the Sheep gate at the north side of the temple ground before the public gaze was aimed at ¬ďarresting¬Ē the faith of unbelievers who needed to make a decision about the identity of Jesus and to follow him to have life. I find this true because the gospel is primarily directed toward garnering the faith of unbelievers in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. This is because, and I agree with others, that the Fourth Gospel is a ¬ďmission book¬Ē[4]

(iii)               That the idea of sending is an integral aspect of the Johannine mission theology has been recognized by many scholars. The evangelist’s use of pempw 23 times and apostellw 17 times to designate the sending of the Son[5] is fundamental in understanding the action of Jesus in Jn 5,1-15 where the verbs pempw and apostellw are used interchangeably in vv. 23, 24, 30, 37 and in vv. 33, 36, 38. For Jesus, the father is one who sent him.[6] This is a theme that has not been brought out clearly well by Stelian.

(iv)¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† That the author glosses over the theme of the glorification of God as the centerpiece of the Johannine mission theology, which is readable from 5,5-6 (11, 4) is worthy of our discussion. For me, the length of time the man lived with the illness and Jesus¬í question: Qeleij u,gihj genesqai* ¬ďDo you want to be healed¬Ē (v. 3-8) are all anticipatory to the glorification of God in Jesus¬í ministry and mission by the crowd at the pool. Surely the theme of glorification is implied here below in 5, 41 and 44. It provides a model that enjoins Christians to glorify God by carrying out the mission entrusted to them.

(v)                The absence of the last three verse of the story (vv.16-18) in the paper is not justifiable. The unit is an essential portion of the pericope literarily and theologically connected together by v.15, which an interpreter misses at the risk of failing to understand the rationale for the persecution of Jesus by the Jewish religious leaders. Our exegesis and hermeneutics cannot but reveal the stark realities of the situations, which many missionaries still encounter in various mission lands in the contemporary world.

The Hermeneutics of Mission in the Light of Jn 5,1-18

The contradictions between what I have read and what I have not found in the paper confirm the polyvalent nature of meaning in any biblical narrative; especially when approached cross-culturally. In spite of that, it seems to me that what is important to stress is how we can reposition the themes encoded in the healing of the paralytic at the Pool (Jn 5,1-18) to generate mission theology for our time. From Dr. Tofana¬ís submission, the idea of mission ad intra and ad extra must be rated high on the agenda of contemporary mission studies. The healing of the paralytic and its consequent violation of the Sabbath laws before the public to the ex-paralytic¬ís later encounter with Jesus in the temple and the latter¬ís injunction: mhkevti a,martane (stop sinning) ¬†,ina mh ceiron soi ti genhtai, (¬ďso that nothing worse may happen to you¬Ē) constitute a watershed in the mission theology in the Fourth Gospel. In our discussion, we must address ourselves to mobilizing mission strategies as response to Jesus¬í radical challenge to the prevailing ¬ďpolitics of purity¬Ē in his social world vis √† vis ¬ďthe politics of compassion¬Ē which he was introducing into the religiosity of the people of his day.[7] I wish to open that discussion with the questions: When may we accept it as a good mission strategy to break the laws of any land in order to witness to the gospel? What may a Christian missionary gather from the encounter between Jesus and the ex-paralytic in no other place than the place of worship? How may we understand the relationship between sin and its effects, if any, on the sinner? Surely, the miracle enjoins us to see Jesus as one who invites everyone he encounters to faith and to experience the same Spirit he knew in order to live in relationship with God.

 

Conclusion From an African Perspective

For us in African, the social world of the Johannine Church provides a pivotal context of interpretation as we read any portion of the Fourth Gospel with others. Specifically addressing myself to Jn 5, 1-18, I perceive the reality of unfriendliness and opposition to Jesus such as those masterminded by the Pharisaic leaders. Such persons to whom the gospel message constrains to make a fundamental choice for Christ are still living in modern Africa. And those other people to whom the gospel aches their heads and subverts their hidden agenda by the Machiavellian way they run our economic and social political institutions are many in contemporary Africa. Such persons, even leaders are ever willing to behead the prophetic messengers under cover of ¬ďwar against terror¬Ē. This special miracle helps Africans to acknowledge Jesus as the ¬ďson of his father¬Ē, in order words; as the revelation of the Father. He is thus the only one who enriches and complements the African peoples¬í understanding of the fatherhood and compassion of God already known by various divine names in our religio-cultural traditions. There is no doubt that these ideas are lucrative concepts quite germane for mission in contemporary Africa.

 

The Johannine community draws attention to a mission field, which was remarkable for its inclusiveness ¬Ė Jesus met with the primitive Palestinian Jewish-Christians, the Samaritans,[8] the Diaspora Jewish-Christians and above all Gentiles among whom were many from Africa[9] ¬Ė all who significantly contributed to the unfolding of the mission of Jesus and the church. In that perspective, the Bethesda episode, which reflects Jesus¬í activity at the level of the primitive Palestinian church, invites African Christianity to engage in an open mission and evangelization towards integral human development and social transformation. Most African Pentecostal and Evangelical/Charismatic preachers, prophet-diviners and priest-healers (some Catholics) imitate and re-live the mission of Christ. Many of them are believed by people to be used by God to give life-changing messages of hope, joy and peace to people. Healthcare delivery and poverty reduction rank top on the agenda of these contemporary missionaries in postcolonial Africa. The restoration of life to the paralytic speaks very much to the African Church and to missionaries working in her jurisdiction. In Africa, life is regarded as the fountainhead of communal existence. Jn 5, 1-18 joins with Jn 10,10 to emphasize the fact that Christ came to give life in abundance to all humankind. The incarnation ennobles and divinizes the African culture of compassion and its appreciation of life. People in Africa expect that mission in the African continent should do well to uphold and promote that culture.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†



[1]¬† Allen, E. L. 1955, ¬ĄThe Jewish Christian Church in the Fourth Gospel¬ď, JBL 74, 88-92; Lowe, M. 1976, ¬ďWho were the Ioudaioi¬Ē NovT ¬†18, 101-130; Manus, C.U. 1991, ¬ďJesus and Jewish Authorities in the Fourth Gospel¬Ē, in Amewowo , W. et al. (ed.), Communaut√©s Johanniques ¬Ė Johannine Communities, Actes du Quatri√®me Congr√®s des Biblistes Africains, Nairobi/Karen, 24-29 Juillet 1989, Kinshasa, 135-155, n. 2.

[2]¬† Collins, R. F. 1976, ¬ďThe Representative Figures of the Fourth Gospel¬ď, Downside Review, 93, 26-46.

[3]  Beutler, J. 1972, Martyria: Traditionsgeschichtliche Untersuchungen zum Zeugnisthema bei Johannes, FThS, Frankfurt/Main, Verlag Josef Knecht, 312, 344.

[4]¬† Van Unnik, W.C., 1959, ¬ďThe Purpose of St. John¬ís Gospel¬Ē, Studia Evangelica, 1, 410; Robinson, J.A.T, 1959/60, The Destination and Purpose of St John¬ís Gospel¬Ē,¬† NTS ¬†6, 117-131; Carson, D.A. 1987, ¬ďThe Purpose of the Fourth Gospel: John 20:31-Reconsidered¬Ē, JBL 106, 639-651; Teresa Okure, 1988, The Johannine Approach to Mission: A Contextual Study of John 4, 1-42, WUNT 2/31, JBC Mohr/Paul Siebeck, 232; Carson, D.A. 1991, The Gospel According to John, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 87-95.

[5]   Larkin, W. J. and Williams, J. E. 2003, Mission in the New Testament: An Evangelical Approach, Orbis Book, Maryknoll, New York, 210, n. 9.

[6]  Ibid., 210, n. 10.

[7]  Thompson, J.M. 1997, Justice & Peace: A Christian Primer, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 180-181.

[8]¬† Manus, C.U. 1987, ¬ďThe Samaritan Woman¬† (Jn 4,4,7ff): Reflections on Female Leadership and Nation Building in Modern Africa¬Ē, African Journal of Biblical Studies, 2, 1 & 2, 52-63.

[9]  Adamo, T.D. (ed.), 2006, Biblical Interpretation in African Perspective, University Press of America, Lanham, MD, 276pp.