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17. THE MIRACLES IN JN. SYMBOLIC.
But why does Jn. introduce such incredible matters? Is it purely from a delight in the wonderful? Is it from the idea that Jesus could only in this way have shown himself to be the Saviour? Certainly he held this idea, and even attached importance to it (see p. 20 f.). But we should be doing him a great wrong, if we were disposed to think this his sole motive for telling us that such miracles were worked by Jesus. The fact that he describes so few in detail is itself an argument against this. But he also makes us realise clearly that each of these miracles has a deeper sense, a symbolic meaning; that is to say, that it is meant to express a religious idea in a picture as it were. In the case of the .Raising of Lazarus, he himself has supplied in the clearest manner the legend to the picture. Martha expresses to Jesus clearly, if shyly, her hope that he will raise her brother: “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. And even now I know that whatsoever thou shalt ask of God, God will give thee” (xi. 21 f.). Jesus answered, “Thy brother shall rise again.” Martha rejoins, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” And thereupon Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die.” Here therefore we have the well-known and beautiful idea in the Fourth Gospel of that eternal life, in a deeply spiritual sense, which, through faith in Jesus, begins even during this earthly existence, and not merely after death, and which cannot be interrupted by the death of the body (cp. further especially v. 24).96
Is it the same thing when Lazarus is immediately after wards summoned to come forth from the grave? By no means. Lazarus receives back the life of the body; but that spiritually eternal life of which we have spoken is a treasure which is stored in the depth of one’s heart. To call Lazarus back to life, one of the greatest miraculous interventions in the laws of Nature was required; to bring to birth the spiritually eternal life of which we have spoken, only faith was needed. Lazarus can do nothing to help himself to come forth from the grave; whoever wishes to have the spiritually eternal life, must himself do his best within his own heart to call forth faith. Sooner or later Lazarus must die again; the spiritually eternal life, once gained, can never again be lost. Finally, Lazarus is only one man, and though we are certain that Jesus loved all other men, yet he is obliged to leave them all in the grave; but the spiritually eternal life is to be denied to no one. In brief, the thought of that eternal life which Jesus here speaks of as the essence of his message to Martha rises high as the heavens above the work which he afterwards per forms on Lazarus; so high that it has even been thought that the two things were not originally connected, and that the Raising of Lazarus was inserted in the original book of Jn. by a later writer. That is of course a great mistake. Both belong together very well, but only in the same way as a deeply spiritual thought belongs to the picture which gives it clear, if inadequate, expression in a visible occurrence.
Imagine a painter who wishes by means of his art to represent the thought: “Whosoever believes on me will live, even though he dies, and whosoever lives and believes on me will never die.” Can he represent the feeling of his heart on canvas? What better symbol will he choose than 97the summoning of Lazarus, the friend of Jesus, from the grave? And is he obliged to make it real to our eyes in an obscure and indistinct way, because he does not suppose that the event really happened, but only wishes to awaken an idea in the soul of the beholder? We shall call him nothing better than a bungler, if he fails to represent, in a stirring way, how Jesus, while the onlookers are nervously expectant, stands in front of the sepulchre and cries out with arm upraised, “Lazarus, come forth,” while behind the stone door, which has been rolled aside from the hollow vault, is seen the figure of the dead man wrapped in bands. And are we ready to reproach the author of the Fourth Gospel for using his art with equal vigour and effectiveness—the art of painting with words, instead of with the brush? Are we ready to reproach him, because we do not believe that what he paints on his canvas really happened, and because perhaps he also did not believe it?
Did he also not believe it? That would certainly be the most noteworthy aspect of the matter. Before we enter more closely into the question whether we ought to think this, we must take a wider survey. Clearly, the Raising of Lazarus is by no means the only instance in which a miracle is used to represent an idea. On the contrary, this point of view can be applied very easily to all the miracle-stories of the Fourth Gospel; and for the most part the Evangelist himself supplies us with a very clear clue. The legend which should be inscribed under the picture of the healing of the man born blind is found in viii. 12: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life” (cp. ix. 5, 39). The Feeding of the Five Thousand is explained in the discourses attached to it, vi. 26-35a, 36-5la, as a spiritual enjoyment of the person of Jesus, 98he being described as the true bread that comes from heaven: people must take his whole nature into themselves, or in other words, must believe in him (vi. 28 f.). At the same time the Feeding is here meant to represent the Supper; if this were not so, there could not be mention in vi. 51b-58 of the eating of Jesus flesh and at the same time of the drinking (cp. what is already said in vi. 35b) of his blood, not a word having been said in the Feeding of the Five Thousand to the effect that Jesus handed a cup to the disciples. Here indeed emerges the quite remarkable fact that Jesus, about the time of the second Passover feast, which occurred during his public ministry (vi. 4), gives his disciples an explanation of the meaning of the Supper, which, according to the same Gospel, he did not celebrate with them at all, and according to the Synoptics not until a year later; yet the discourses in chapter vi. do not permit of the least doubt that the Supper is really alluded to.
But if this is once assured, it is no longer difficult to recognise also the deeper meaning of Jesus’ Walking on the Sea, which is linked to the Feeding of the Five Thousand as an event of the same evening. True, it might be thought that it has simply been taken over from the Synoptics, where also it follows the Feeding. But, as a matter of fact, Jn. does not repeat other miracle-stories found in the Synoptics. His repetition of this one, however, fits in very well with his purpose. When the Supper is celebrated at one and the same time in the most diverse places throughout the whole of Christendom, it is presupposed everywhere that Jesus is present at the celebration. Yet this could not be, if he were subject to the laws by which man is confined to the limits of space. Now, no single story in the Synoptics better expresses the idea that he was not so limited than that of 99the walking on the sea; consequently, it is certainly meant to serve to support the belief that at every celebration of the Supper Jesus is really near to his followers.
In the case of the sick man at the Pool of Bethesda we have a clue as to how we are to understand his sickness, as regards the time it had lasted. For thirty-eight years the people of Israel had been obliged, as a punishment for their disobedience to God, to wander in the wilderness, without being permitted to set foot on the promised land of Canaan (Deut. i. 34 f., ii. 14). The sick man thus represents the Jewish people, and in the five porticoes of the house in which he has so long hoped for a cure (Jn. v. 2) we may easily recognise the five books of Moses, obedience to which had been no help to the people. Jesus was the first to be able to bring to an end the period of their banishment from the land of peace and quiet; but since the people had opposed the will of God, he was obliged to say first, “Wilt thou be whole?” (v. 6).
The wine into which Jesus changed the water at Cana is then, of course, the new, glowing and inspiring religion which Jesus puts in the place of a weak Judaism. With this is grouped—and not without intention—the expulsion of the dealers and moneychangers from the fore-court of the Temple (ii. 1-11, 13-22). It was this act that showed most clearly how necessary it was to displace the old religion.
Again, with the healing at the Pool of Bethesda is connected that of the son of the royal official at Capernaum (iv. 46-54; v. 1-18). In order also to understand this miracle-story, the last that remains in Jn., we must take note of the points in which it differs from that concerning the Centurion at Capernaum in Mt. (viii. 5-13) and Lk. (vii. 1-10), a story which so manifestly lies at the root of it that 100perhaps the same event may be supposed to be intended in both cases. This centurion is a Gentile, who by his faith excels and puts the Jews to shame. In Jn., however, there appears in his place an officer of the king (so we read in Jn. as in Mk. vi. 14; Mt. xiv. 9 inexactly instead of “of the prince”; see Mt. xiv. 1; Lk. iii. 1, 19), Herod Antipas of Galilee, and we must take him to be a Jew, since, if he were not, the contrary would have been expressly stated. By his faith he also distinguishes himself, though not like the centurion by excelling all Jews, but only those who wish to see signs and wonders before they will believe in Jesus divine power. At first, no doubt in order to prove him, Jesus assumes that he shares the same disposition (iv. 48), but the man frees himself from this suspicion by taking Jesus at his word, when he says that he will make his son whole. We must, therefore, see in him a picture of that better section of the Jewish people which intercedes for the sick section; that is to say, for those who do not believe in Jesus. The latter is represented by the son of the official, just as in the other case it is by the sick man at Bethesda. Just because the sick man of the first story, like the sound official who makes petition for him, represents a section of the Jewish people, he must be described as his son and not as his servant, as in the case of the centurion of Capernaum according to Lk., and perhaps also according to Mt. Though the Greek word in Mt. (pais) may mean, not merely servant, but, equally well, son, and Jn. might keep this second meaning because it suited him better.101
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