Connections 04.07.2019: Looking for Jesus

John 11:55–12:8

Jesus’ last days are filled with longing, heavy with sadness, and intense with foreboding. He reveals over and over again that he knows what awaits him in Jerusalem. He prepares his disciples and other followers as best he can. The atmosphere in the Scriptures is tense and on edge. Jesus is determined but sad. His followers are confused and in denial.

The first part of our lesson text sets us in Jerusalem, where preparations are under way for the upcoming observance of Passover. Visitors to the city are looking for Jesus. When they don’t see him at the temple, they ask each other, “What do you think? Surely he will not come to the festival, will he?” (v. 56b). If we read a little earlier in John 11, we find that Jesus isn’t there because he knows he is in danger. It’s not yet time for him to die, so he has headed to the wilderness with his disciples (vv. 45-54). Maybe these Passover guests hope he isn’t there so he can stay safe; or maybe they wish he is there so they can be the ones to turn him over.

The second part of our lesson text sets us in a place of comfort for Jesus—the home of siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Surely the family is still coping with the magnitude of what has happened over the past few weeks: Lazarus was dead, but then Jesus came and brought him back to life. It was no small, light miracle, and its aftermath can be felt throughout the household. What Jesus did for Lazarus was a taste of what God will do for the world through Christ. (See John 11:1-44.)

As the group eats together, Mary recognizes the significance of what is taking place. Her extravagant and symbolic gift of pouring perfume over Jesus’ feet and wiping them with her hair is distasteful to those who watch, especially Judas, who accuses her of being wasteful. But she seems to notice that this visit is different. This time, there is more at stake than a good meal, happy guests, and even fancy perfume. Mary senses the gravity of the moment, and she must do something to show her desperate struggle to understand. In her own way, she too is looking for Jesus.

I also look for Jesus. Some days, he seems far removed from my life on this earth. It’s hard even to imagine him walking here, living here, a human being like us. I feel that he might be just a nice story, nothing more. Some days, though, it seems he is easy to find. When I’ve been reading about his life and teachings or listening to someone talk about him, I feel that he might be standing right beside me.

Here in the final weeks of Lent as we approach Good Friday, the shadow of the cross looms large. Will we look for Jesus? Where will we find him?

Discussion

  1. How do you look for Jesus? When do you feel that you have found him?
  2. The Passover visitors wanted to find Jesus, but their intention may have been to turn him over to the authorities as the chief priests and Pharisees instructed (v. 57). When have you had self-serving motives for seeking Christ? What happened?
  3. Mary must have felt especially grateful to Jesus for bringing her brother Lazarus back to life. That incident showed her something deeper about her friend Jesus, and she wanted to understand more. When have you had earnest motives for seeking Christ? What happened?
  4. Mary gave up something valuable to honor Jesus. Are you actively participating in Lent this year? If so, what did you choose to give up for the 40-day period? How has it helped you feel closer to Jesus?
  5. How will you continue to look for Jesus as we approach Good Friday? Where might you find him? What will you do when you encounter his presence?

Reference Shelf

The plot/story of the Fourth Gospel is simple. John tells of one who came as revealing, empowering presence (1:1-18); who picked/produced a new community (1:19–2:12); who provided them with warrants from his public ministry for a different kind of worship (2:13–11:54); who privately predicted what their future would be like, offering promise, parenesis, and prayer for that time (13:1–17:26); and who ultimately made provision for their community life, worship, and ministry before he returned to whence he had come (18:1–21:25). In seven episodes surveyed so far (2:13–3:21; 3:22–4:3; 4:4-54; ch. 5; ch. 6.; chs. 7–9; 10:1–11:54), the hearer of the Gospel has been told that in his public ministry Jesus, the holy man, superseded traditional Jewish worship in its various dimensions. Throughout, this period has been characterized as a time when his hour/time has not yet/fully come (2:4; 7:8). In the next section of the Fourth Gospel (chs. 13–17), Jesus’ hour has come (13:1) and the episodes therein are all conditioned by that fact. In between 2:13–11:54 and 13:1–chapter 21 stands a thought unit (11:55–12:50) that functions as a hinge.

After an introduction (11:55-57) that locates the events near Passover, the unit falls into two parts built around (1) two days (12:1-11 and 12:12-36) and (2) two conclusions (12:37-43 and 12:44-50). The thought unit serves as a conclusion to what has come before (so 12:37-50) and as an introduction to what follows (so 11:55–12:36). The awkwardness that a modern reader feels when reading 11:55–12:50 is due, in no small part, to the fact that the last of the unit goes with what comes before (2:13–11:54), while the first of the segment goes with what comes after (13:1–ch. 17). Although unsettling to a modern reader, it follows the ancient directives for relating one part to another in narrative (Lucian, “How to Write History,” 55, says of the historian, “When he has finished the first topic he will introduce the second, fastened to it and linked with it like a chain . . . ; always the first and second topics must not merely be neighbors but have common matter and overlap”).

Charles H. Talbert, Reading John, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 1992) 185–86.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (14) and Natalie (12), and her husband John. Occasionally, she appears onstage in community theater productions and can sometimes be found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel movies and Doctor Who, and she’s still trying to write a young adult novel that her girls will enjoy.

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