Jesus Becoming Jesus, Volume 2:
A Theological Interpretation of the Gospel of John: Prologue and the Book of Signs
by thomas g. weinandy
catholic university of america press, 484 pages, $34.95
Fr. Thomas Weinandy is a committed Capuchin, but this new volume of his trilogy on the Gospels brings to mind an old Dominican adage: “Contemplata aliis tradere”—to hand on, communicate what one has contemplated. This study of the first part of John—which follows the first volume, on the Synoptic Gospels, and will be followed by a reading of John 13-21—is the fruit of loving contemplation, and demands no less of the reader.
A distinguishing feature of the book is that it is, avowedly, a theological interpretation, one rooted in the doctrinal definitions of Nicaea and Chalcedon. Trinitarian patterns do, after all, structure and propel John’s narrative. At the same time, the author celebrates and stresses John the Theologian’s own interpretation of the prior kerygmatic tradition—the apostolic preaching of the world’s definitive salvation in and through Jesus Christ.
On Weinandy’s telling, John offers a Spirit-inspired exegesis of the inexhaustible riches of the mystery of the Word made flesh. Hence, Weinandy does not hesitate to affirm that the Gospel communicates Jesus’s “ipsissima sententia”: Jesus’s own understanding and judgment of who he is, the beloved Son of the Father.
What comes into salient relief is that the Incarnation of God’s eternal Word, his “pitching his tent among us” (Jn. 1:14) in our mortal condition is not an instantaneous happening, confined to Annunciation or Nativity, but an ever-deeper process of immersion and transformation. In Johannine terms, the “hour” of Jesus is the culmination of the Word’s flesh-taking: hence the title of the trilogy, Jesus Becoming Jesus.
Among the Evangelists, only John does not recount the scene of Jesus’s Transfiguration. But, as many have noted, the whole Gospel is the manifestation of the transfigured Jesus. Each of the signs narrated displays the power of the transfigured One and bears witness to the Prologue’s exultant confession: “We have seen his glory!” (Jn. 1:18).
But also distinctive of John’s Gospel, and underscored by Weinandy, is that the believer is called to participate in Jesus’s own filial identity, to share in his transfigured glory. This will appear most fully in the next volume, The Book of Glory, when we come to the Last Supper Discourse. But it is clearly adumbrated here by the exchanges with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman and, especially, in the raising of Lazarus: “whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (Jn. 11:26). The Eastern Christian tradition of theosis, the divinization of the believer, finds nourishing soil in this most contemplative of the Gospels.
Most obviously, it is announced in the Prologue to the Gospel: “To as many as received him, he gave power to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12). Indeed, the Prologue anticipates the entire movement of what is to come, revealing its mystical significance and cosmic scope. Weinandy summarizes the point with admirable concision: “The eternal Word through whom God created all that is, the Word who is the life-giving light, is the same Word through whom God will now re-create the world and transform men and women, through the Holy Spirit, into his children.”
The foundational Christian claims propose radical interpretations of reality; to put it more philosophically, the New Testament has ontological consequences. Through God’s eternal Word “all things came to be, and nothing came to be save through the Word” (Jn. 1:3). Weinandy fully recognizes this point—a crucial recognition in light of modernity’s ontological deficit: the one-dimensional worldview both spawned and reinforced by its constricted sense of reason as merely utilitarian and technocratic. Thus art, poetry, and music, not to mention religious experience, are not deemed to convey any cognitive content.
As the New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson has asserted: “Perhaps because of a distaste for—and ignorance of—ontology, and the flat epistemological monism that shapes modernity, it is difficult for many to hold together the human and divine in Christ, whether in profession or in piety or in politics.” Throughout Fr. Weinandy’s close reading of John, ontological considerations are to the fore, and the human and divine in Christ are held in tensive union.
It is a commonplace that the Gospel of John exhibits a “realized eschatology,” the bringing of eternity into the present—“the one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (Jn. 6:54a). The believer already shares the new life that Jesus brings, that Jesus is. Yet the appropriation of this new life, its “realization” (in Newman’s strong sense of the word), is a process that is not yet fully accomplished. It will be complete only when Jesus returns in glory to raise up the believer “on the last day” (Jn. 6:54b).
Weinandy concludes this volume by underscoring the eschatological élan of the Johannine theological vision and of his own theological interpretation of the Gospel of John. He writes in lyric fashion: “In his coming down out of heaven at the end of time, and in his taking up with him the faithful into his ascended glory, Jesus will then become fully Jesus, for he will have fully enacted his name—YHWH-Saves.” And, because the vine and the branches are inextricably intertwined, “As Jesus becomes fully in act at the end of time, so Christians, who fully abide in Christ, become Christians fully in act at the end of time, for, together with Jesus, they are living in communion with the Father, the source and plenitude of all life.”
On October 14, 2008, I had the privilege of attending, as a guest, a session of the Synod of Bishops devoted to “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.” Providentially, it was the very day when, to the surprise of all, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the gathering. The Holy Father told those assembled: “For the life and mission of the Church, for the future of faith, it is absolutely necessary to overcome the dualism between exegesis and theology. Biblical theology and systematic theology are two dimensions of one reality, which we call theology.” Fr. Weinandy has happily taken these words of Benedict to heart, and offers, in his book, an abundant theological harvest.
Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is the author of Rekindling the Christic Imagination: Theological Meditations for the New Evangelization.
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