Reta's Reflections

Mary the Anointer—John 12:1-8

“The name ‘Bethany’ means ‘house of affliction’ or ‘house of the poor,’ which had to be outside of Jerusalem for purity reasons. Brian Capper, an Acts scholar, suggests that Martha, Mary, and Lazarus may have had Essene connections and have sponsored a poorhouse close to their home. Perhaps Jesus originally met these siblings through his concern for the poor. If Mary’s ointment was poured out in the presence of poor people who were more used to smelling bad odors, a ‘house filled with the fragrance of the perfume’ (John 12:3) would have been a treat. In their presence, Jesus’s statement would have denoted compassion rather than callousness. Continue reading

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A Tomb with a View—John 11:38-57; 12:9-11

“The miracle of raising the dead is the last and greatest of Jesus’s ‘signs’ in this Gospel. But can it be literally true? In our experience, dead people do not come to life again. And if it did happen, why do the other Gospels omit such a dramatic event?” Continue reading

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A Household of Beloved Disciples—John 11:17-37

“The other unanswered question is how Jesus came to know and love this family. Was he a cousin or other relative? Did the sisters run a hostel for pilgrims coming to worship at Jerusalem, and he stayed with them when he came? Whatever brought them together, it was such a loving, intimate friendship that both sisters felt free to reproach Jesus for not coming sooner. Only these three siblings are known in this Gospel as ‘beloved disciples.’” Continue reading

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An (Un)Fortunate Illness? — John 11:1-16

“Leaving Thelma, I knew I would never see her again in this life. I did not expect Jesus to raise her as he had raised Lazarus. If we are older than 8 or 9, we know that dead persons do not come to life again. What then can we learn from a story about a man pulled out of his grave alive after four days? Is it a story of hope? Or is it only a legend conveniently omitted by the Synoptic Gospels?” Continue reading

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Feeding Sheep or Eating Them? — John 10:1-21 and Ezekiel 34

“Ezekiel’s description of the false shepherds translates all too well into the 21st century, as large corporations extract resources from powerless people and regions, leaving them worse off than before. ‘Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not the shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep.’” Continue reading

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The Noble Shepherd versus the Thieves— John 10:1-18

“Jesus then names himself as the shepherd, the ‘good shepherd’ who lays down his life for the sheep (10:11-18). How is Jesus ‘good’? There are two common Greek words for ‘good’: kalos and agathos. According to Jerome Neyrey, a New Testament social context scholar, agathos belongs to the realm of ethics and virtue, but kalos to the cultural world of honor and shame. Kalos, used here, is better translated as ‘noble’ or ‘honorable.’” Continue reading

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Sheep Parables and Temple Festivals—John 10:1-42

“This Gospel’s emphasis on the Jewish calendar and its festivals demonstrates the author’s deep roots in the Hebrew Bible and the events that the festivals commemorate. Unlike the Synoptic Gospels where Jesus remains in Galilee until the spring festival of Passover, here Jesus travels to Jerusalem over several years of ministry. He is faithfully Torah-observant as he immerses himself into these events. He becomes water and light; he is the gate that protects the sheep. He will—even more literally—become the Passover lamb.” Continue reading

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