Signs in St. John’s Gospel offer instructive insight

Father John A. Kiley

The Gospel according to St. John has no parables in great contrast to the Gospel accounts of Saints Matthew, Mark and Luke, which literally teem with parabolic lessons. This lack of parables does not mean that St. John offers no vivid images, no colorful sketches. In fact, St. John’s narrative employs not only graphic illustrations like the Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd, but more importantly, the fourth evangelist proposes a series of imaginative miracle accounts that rely greatly on lively dialogue, vivid symbols, touching humanity and, most significantly, sincere professions of faith on the part of each one of Jesus’ beneficiaries.

All of St. John’s signs are familiar to the regular church-goer: the wedding feast at Cana in which wine foreshadows the Eucharist; the cure of the paralytic at the pool of Bethsaida in which water evokes baptism; the healing of the royal official’s son connoting both the healing ministry of the Church as well as the mission to the Gentiles; the multiplication of the loaves again with clear Eucharistic allusions; Jesus’ walking on water reminiscent of the Jews crossing the Red Sea under God’s power; the cure of the man born blind which anticipates the illumination effected by the Spirit at baptism and confirmation; and the celebrated raising of Lazarus anticipating Jesus’ own resurrection, as well as the raising of the individual soul from sin to sanctity in this life and the final resurrection of mankind into eternity.

While these dramatic signs in St. John’s Gospel account are important and instructive, especially since they shed light on the Church’s developing liturgy, these seven signs in St. John’s Gospel account are most important because they all lead to explicit acts of personal faith in Jesus by the recipients of Jesus’ benevolence. After Cana, St. John writes, “…and his disciples began to believe in him.” After the cure at the pool, the text reads “The man went and told the Jews that Jesus was the one who had made him well.” Following the cure of the royal official’s son, the evangelist writes, “…he and his whole household came to believe in him.” The miracle of the loaves drew this faith-filled response from the crowd, “When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.”

Likewise, the walking on water and subsequent sermon on the bread of life drew this famous response from St. Peter, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” The man born blind was most touching in his profession of faith, “When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him.” And surely, Martha’s act of faith in her longtime friend when her brother was brought back to life says it all: “She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”

All religious activity, be it preaching by evangelists, or liturgies offered by priests and deacons, or lessons led by catechists, or charity administered by the faithful, or devotions that enrich the soul — all religious activity must lead eventually to a warm, personal, heartfelt act of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, as Son of God and Savior of mankind. This is truly the message and burden of St. John’s Gospel account. Acts of faith abound in this fourth gospel from Nathaniel’s rather pre-mature, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel!” to St. Thomas’ humbled admission, “My Lord and my God!” In fact, the sacred author even includes his own moment of personal conversion on the morning of the resurrection: “Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed.” This is the Lenten challenge given to all believers in this sacred season. Strengthened and guided by Scripture, by the sacraments, by personal prayer, and by social interaction, every Christian must come to know and embrace Jesus Christ as Messiah, Lord, Savior and God.