The experience is a familiar one. A small, struggling community of believers searching for truth and justice finds the Spirit present in its midst. They are set aflame with the joy and peace of deep insight into God's call for them and for the church as a whole. They rush to their sisters and brothers in the larger church, offering the gift of their new revelation. But instead of open acceptance, they hit the brick wall of institutional rejection. Rather than being embraced, they are ignored.
If they insist on their version of truth, the reaction stiffens into anger, hatred, persecution. Eventually, they must decide: Do we in turn reject the institutional church in favor of our own Spirit-filled vision of justice and peace? Or do we continue to witness to the religious powers, no matter what the price?
THIS SCENARIO, familiar to modern-day Christians who often find the institutional church hard-hearted to Jesus' message of nonviolence and love, describes the situation of that ancient community of Christians who grounded themselves in the story of Jesus known to us as the gospel of John.
Frequently, "spiritualized" interpretations of the fourth gospel ignore the social crucible of love and hostility in which the text was formed. A reading of the text sensitive to political and social reality reveals a Johannine community in a life-or-death struggle with "the powers" over a Jesus who loved the world enough to die for it and to send his disciples out on a mission like his own.