I will be presenting prizes at a school sports day on Saturday. I always think it a bit ironic when I do this sort of thing given how much I detested taking part in sport when I was at school. My most vivid memory was getting stuck on the last obstacle in the obstacle race and getting a cheer when I eventually did get over it. My only success was in the three-legged race ... Not a tale of sporting prowess I am afraid. I did, however, make it into the School chess team!
Trying to Understand the Ministry of Jesus
St John tells us that Jesus' first miracle took place in Cana of Galilee. Cana was probably a place about 9 miles north of Nazareth. Nathaniel who becomes a disciple was from there. Quite why he thought that nothing good could come out of Nazareth when it was so near is an interesting question!
I have just read an article by Richard Bauckham, a scholar I much respect, arguing that St John's Gospel amongst other things was originally written with those in mind who may had already read St Mark's Gospel. It is something I have felt myself for some while, but never really followed up on.
As is well-known, the first three Gospels, the so-called synoptic Gospels, focus on Jesus' ministry in Galilee apart, of course, for the events in Jerusalem leading to his death. St John records Jesus also ministering in Jerusalem and making relatively frequent visits there. Scholars are rather sceptical about the value of St John's Gospel historically, so much so, that even the more conservative leave it out of consideration when writing about the life and ministry of Jesus. This results in a very Galilean focused account.
St John's Gospel, however, while ackowledging quite clearly that Jesus had a significant ministry in Galilee, even performing his first miracle there, fills in the gaps by telling us about the Jerusalem and Judean ministry. If this is historically based then it means that many, if not most accounts of the life of Jesus are somewhat imbalanced. It is notoriously difficult to piece together the events in the life of our Lord to create anything like a diary of events. The Gospels are not those sort of documents. However, it is worth thinking about how the ministry of our Lord took shape.
Given that Jesus' teaching focused on the coming Kingdom of God, that he himself was a good Jew, and believed that he had a message for all Israel, how likely then is it that he would have avoided going to Jerusalem and Judea during his ministry? Did he really only turn up there at the end of it for just a few days? It seems improbable to say the least. St Luke tells us that Jesus' parents went every year to Jerusalem for the Passover (Luke 2:41) This would be true of many Galilean Jews. Was Jesus really so different? Even in the synoptics there are hints that Jesus was not in fact such a stranger to Jerusalem. How did he know the owners of the donkey he borrowed to ride in to Jerusalem and of the Upper Room in which he celebrated the Last Supper?
St John tells us of Jesus that, 'When he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, since they had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the festival; for they too had gone to the festival.' (John 4:45) The typical view of Jesus is that people in Jerusalem wanted to hear him, when he eventually came from Galilee to Jerusalem at the end of his ministry, because his reputation had gone before him. If St John is right, then it is all a little more complicated than that and part of St John's aim in his Gospel is to show this to those who only know the synoptic tradition.
Of course, if St John is right, it raises the interesting question of why the first three Gospels focus so exclusively on Jesus in Galilee.