Conversations with Jesus

Conversations with Jesus

Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 5, 2024

Conversations with Jesus

Homily for May 5, 2024
The Sixth Sunday of Easter
John 15:9-17

Purely by chance on my first day in Dublin last year, I happened upon several James Joyce sites.  Determined to take advantage of a rare sunny day, I went by train down towards the seaside town of Bray.  But when I saw signs for “Sandymount” and “Beach,This Way,” I impulsively disembarked and walked the ten minutes or so to the beach.  Which turned out to be not just any beach but Forty Foot beach, where Leopold Bloom (the main character in Ulysses) swam in the sea.  And just a short walk up the beach was the Martello tower, where the novel opens with Buck Mulligan perched over his shaving bowl, calling down “the dark winding stairs” to Stephen Dedalus. During my remaining time in Dublin, I came upon other Ulysses sites: Grafton Street (the setting of the Wandering Rocks episode); Glasnevin Cemetery (the site of the Hades episode); the Ormond Hotel (the Sirens episode),the National Library (Scylla and Charybdis); the Cable Pub (formerly Barney Kiernan’s – the Cyclops episode).  And here is the house lived in by Oliver St. John Gogarty, the physician on whom Joyce based his character Buck Mulligan.  And there is a plaque to the Anglican Archbishop Richard Chenevix Trench, the grandfather of the man upon whom Joyce based his character Haines.  And it was on the steps of the National Library where the young Joyce first met the older William Butler Yeats, with whom he kept up a correspondence.  Though Joyce left Dublin at age 22 to live on the continent, yet in his brief return visits he moved among Dublin’s literary and artistic classes, and he knew Dublin so well that he is purported to have said that, were Dublin to disappear,it could be reconstructed stone by stone from reading Ulysses.  

Joyce’s relation to Dublin and its literary and artistic classes is not dissimilar to the relationship scholars believe the evangelist John had with Jerusalem and its educated and priestly classes.  Note how the author knows Jerusalem intimately, referring to specific places and specific details such as: “the Sheep Gate” (5:2), or the pool of Beth-Zatha “which has five porticoes”(5:2), or “Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon” (10:23), or again, “[Jesus] went out with his disciples across the Kidron Valley to a place where there was a garden” (18:1). As Joyce knew Dublin, so did John know Jerusalem.  And if Joyce moved in Dublin’s literary and artistic circles, so does the evangelist appear to have moved in Jerusalem’s educated and priestly circles.  John wrote in a Greek called koine, a style of Greek used by the Hellenized Jewish upper class, both for writing and discussion, and also for prayer.  John pays close attention to the Hebrew liturgical calendar, writing that Jesus twice went up to Jerusalem for the Passover (2:23; chapter 12), once for the Festival of Booths (7:10), and once for the Festival of the Dedication (chapter 10). And in chapter 18, after Jesus had been arrested, recall how Simon Peter was unable to get into the courtyard of the high priest until another disciple “who was known to the high priest,” writes John, “went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and let Peter in” (18:16). Scholars believe this “other disciple” to have been the evangelist himself, and he was “known to the high priest” because he moved in educated and priestly circles.      

Some even say the evangelist was indeed John the son of Zebedee and brother to James.  Noting that priests at the time discharged their duties on a rotating basis and served in Jerusalem only two weeks out of the year and frequently worked another job in order to make ends meet, these scholars posit that Zebedee (the father) was a priest who split time between his homes in Jerusalem and Galilee.  Zebedee was no impoverished fisherman, these scholars point out, for he had employees enough to allow his sons James and John to leave their nets and follow Jesus.  Perhaps it was in Zebedee’s Jerusalem home that Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and gave his “Farewell Discourse.”  And perhaps it was in this same home that the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples and to “doubting Thomas.”  

Which bears on this morning’s Gospel from John chapter 15 because John chapter 15 comes from Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse,” and Jesus may well have delivered this morning’s words in Zebedee’s (and therefore John’s) Jerusalem home.  I want to get back to those words, but first, some context.  Many have noted that – in contrast to the Synoptics, in which Jesus’ speaks in short bursts – in John’s Gospel Jesus tends to speak in long “discourses.”  While the Synoptic tradition is thought to reflect the manner in which the apostles may have spoken about Jesus while evangelizing in public, John’s Gospel is thought to reflect rather the intimate conversations Jesus may have had with the disciples in private, perhaps even in John’s Jerusalem home.  After Easter, this line of reasoning goes, the Johannine community continued the conversation, maybe even in John’s home, remembering and discussing and coming to deeper understandings of Jesus’ words, until that conversation came to be written down in what is now St. John’s Gospel.  

This possible context of John the “beloved disciple” taking part in close conversations with Jesus and his disciples, sometimes even in John’s own home, and then after the resurrection continuing that conversation (perhaps in his own home) until Jesus’ and the disciples’ words eventually came to be set down by John in his Gospel, gives this morning’s text added resonance.  For example, when Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you;abide in my love,” perhaps we are hearing the community reflect on their experience of how loved they felt by Jesus during those conversations in John’s home, and that they wanted always to remember and to “abide” in that love.  Or maybe when Jesus says, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete,” we hear the community realize how much joy it brings them to continue to meet – maybe in John’s home– and to continue their conversation about Jesus.  Or when Jesus said, “I appointed you to go and bear fruit,” maybe we are hearing the community realize that the experience they had with Jesus in John’s home was not meant to be kept to themselves but rather to be shared so that others, too, could know Jesus’ peace, joy and love.  If what scholars posit about John and his context is true, the words in John’s Gospel come to us from disciples who had close conversations with Jesus, who continued the conversation after his resurrection,and who as they continued to meet developed a sense of mission to share that peace, joy and love with others.

This possible context of St.John’s Gospel bears meaning for us at Trinity Parish.  Here at Trinity, for example, the Vestry begins each meeting in much the same way as John’s community may have structured its meetings – by sharing with each other our experience of God’s recent activity in our lives.  Like John’s conversations may have been, our conversations to help prepare Jess and Amelia for Baptism were a small group – about twelve – meeting in a room to reflect on Jesus and his words and their meaning for us today.  I hope that as we continue to gather for worship, as our various groups continue to meet, and as we help to prepare further candidates for Baptism, [I hope that] – as Dublin was known to Joyce and as he moved in literary and artistic circles, and as Jerusalem was known to John and as he moved in educated and priestly circles – [I hope that] as the scriptures and sacraments are known to us, and as we move among Jesus’ circles,we can like John and the disciples continue to find Jesus’ peace, joy and love kindled in us, that we feel his presence abiding with us in this place (and in our homes,) and that we might continue to “bear fruit” by making known to others the peace, joy and love that we ourselves know in Jesus.


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