Wednesday, December 27, 2006
St. John, Apostle, Evangelist and Theologian
The image to the right is a copy of the Orthodox icon I have in my office at the church. My wife gave it to me as a birthday gift a couple of years ago since my birthday falls on the Minor Festival of St. John, which is today. I suppose if my mother had been Orthodox or RC, I may have been named John instead of the Celtic name of Don (Donald.)
What I find interesting about the inscription on the icon is what John is called. In the usual propers for this day John is listed (at least in LW) under the broader heading of the Evangelists along with Mark, Matthew and Luke. But this icon adds the additional title of "Theologian." John's symbol, the eagle, has sometimes been explained on the basis that his gospel "soars" in terms of its beautiful and lofty writing. But more than beauty is here. A careful look at this gospel shows that he is every bit the theologian when it comes to addressing key issues about the doctrine of God and Christ.
By the time this gospel was penned, probably around 90 AD, it is felt that the Gnostic heresy was already affecting the church. Now this form of gnosticism was no doubt different from later versions, but it is obvious that one area it affected was the doctrine of the two natures of Christ. From the opening verses concerning the eternal Logos (Word), to the post-resurrection confession of Thomas of "My Lord and My God," John's gospel is one of the most direct apologies for the divinity of the Christ. Still, its witness to the humanity of Jesus is equally strong. As such it would be my first choice in dealing with the Jehovah's Witnesses, the modern incarnation of another heresy spawned by Bishop Arius in the fourth century.
John's gospel is unique among the four, and compliments the synoptics nicely. Unlike the other evangelists, though, John lived longer and must have witnessed more of the theological aberrations that began to afflict the church in those later years. We are richer for his contribution, considering the great variety of false teachings and heresies that would descend upon the church in the centuries to follow the apostolic era.
As a participant in the story of Jesus, John seems relatively quiet, especially compared to personalities such as Peter. He doesn't have the checkered past of Matthew. True, he is one of the "Sons of Thunder," indicating his possible role among the Zealots, yet this potential radical nature does not show through. He was a commercial fisherman along with his brother James and father Zebedee, who later became part of the 'inner circle' of the 12, witnessing such events as the Transfiguration and the turmoil in the Garden of Gethsemane. But most of all he shines brightest as the theologian of the church, proclaiming Christ clearly and boldly for all to see.
It feels appropriate as a pastor to know I was born on the feast day of St. John. As pastors we are trained to be theologians, teachers of the Word. I pray that the example of John may encourage me in my sacred vocation, along with other brothers in this office, that we, too, would aspire to preach only Christ with greatest clarity.
A blessed St. John day to all!
Collect for today:
"Merciful Lord, cast the bright beams of your light upon your Chruch that being instructed by the doctrine of your blessed apostle and evangelist Saint John, we may come to the light of everylasting life; for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen." (LW, 100)