Jesus had a complicated relationship to the God of the Israelites.
We’ve got a short one today. This chapter serves as prelude to the last plague, the calm before the final storm. It calls back to several events that God predicted previously, so we’re going to look back at those previous passages, in the interest of actually having something to talk about. Ha! I’m not being entirely facetious.
When I sat down the first time to write this post, I felt like I had nothing new to say about today’s chapter. Peter and John’s foot race to the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the risen Messiah, Thomas’ insistence on empiricism: for nearly two thousand years, wiser individuals than I have been saying things about these scenes, and what could I add to them? As I’ve been reading and re-reading the chapter here, I don’t even have any fresh insights that I’m noticing for the first time. But how is it that I’ve never before discussed Thomas on Chocolate Book? I, a professed Christian skeptic? And of all the topics I could retread today, none seem more worth recapitulating observations on which you may well have heard before than our friend Doubting Thomas.
If you’ve read even one gospel, the events of John 18 will seem pretty familiar to you. There are passages in John which read like him whispering, “Come hear this thing about Jesus that you never knew!” But between Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter’s three denials, the inquisition at the Jewish temple, and Jesus’ questioning before Pilate, this chapter feels like John’s just hitting all the events that everyone knows happened. What is this: four chapters of John-exclusive content at the Last Supper, and then suddenly a synopsis of the synoptics? Not quite. The events may be the same, but John includes a few new details about them. Let’s take a look at one such detail.
I’ve never celebrated Sukkot. Have you? Honest question. Leave me a comment and let me know if you’ve ever celebrated it. And if you don’t know what it is, you’ve almost certainly never celebrated it, because it’s not the sort of holiday you’d observe by accident. It’s the Jewish Feast of Booths, and according to the instructions in Leviticus 23:33-43, it lasts eight days, and it requires you to build and live in a temporary shelter, the titular “sukkah.” It also requires you to take leafy branches and rejoice before the Lord. I doubt you’ve ever said to yourself, “Whoops! I just built a booth with at least three walls and a thatched roof and lived in it for seven days, holding a sacred assembly for the Lord on the eighth, and all week long I accidentally rejoiced with leafy branches and presented food offerings to the Lord,” but…where was I going with this? I honestly don’t know. Let’s find out.
The gospel of Mark is weird, but at least it’s synoptic. You probably already know that Matthew, Mark, and Luke comprise the three synoptic gospels, but you may not know that the word “synoptic” comes from the Greek words συν, syn, meaning “together,” and οπτικος, optikos, the adjective form for the word meaning “seeing” or “sight.” We call Matthew, Mark, and Luke the synoptics because they’re looking together at the same events from Christ’s life, looking at him in more or less the same way. John’s gospel, however, is so weird it isn’t even synoptic. In all probability, John was the last gospel to be written down, so it’s like John’s saying to us, “I’m going to complement the synoptics by giving you a whole different vantage point on Jesus Christ, and it’s going to blow your mind.” I may be editorializing a bit with that last phrase, but the fact remains: the gospel of John provides a distinct look at the life of Jesus Christ, and it is weird.
It gets better.
That’s God’s message to his people as he continues his monologue from the last chapter. Remember Sharezer and his companions, asking whether to fast, and God’s response criticizing their insincerity? Whether they fast or not in the present, the future holds a time to abstain from fasting–a time to celebrate. Speaking through Zechariah, God declares, “The fast of the fourth, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth months will become joy, gladness, and cheerful feasts for the house of Judah; so love truth and peace” (19). Whether people formerly fasted out of selfishness or sincerity, they’ll be swapping out fasts for feasts once God completes his work.