Bailie on John 3-4

Notes on Lectures of the Florilegia Institute by Gil Bailie
Series: “The Gospel of John”
Tape #4; Re: John 3-4

  1. Introduction
    1. New York Times article entitled, “Student’s Killing Displays Dark Side of Japan’s Schools”–to which he would add that it displays the dark side of something much larger than that.
      1. Buber: these insights weren’t born at the writing desk. I.E., the insights of John are not just born at the writing desk. It is the community saying, ‘This is our experience.’ It is born of experience.
      2. The Japanese school boy was wrapped up in a rolled up gym mat. Students talk about the bullying of kids who never fit in. Commentators: reveals the dark side of the much admired school system in Japan. Bailie: it reveals something much more anthropologically fundamental.
      3. Japanese Prime Minister blamed it on “the pressure cooker atmosphere of Japanese schools. Bailie: The pressure of the schools is no doubt a factor, but it involves much more: a form of social rejuvenation at the expense of the victim; the re-creation of the esprït de corps of a community at the expense of a victim, an unconscious form of regenerating social stability. It produces “conviction,” reminding us the etymology of that word with the victim.
    2. The question is: can we do it otherwise?
      1. The crucifixion calls this form of social regeneration into question. It exposes the gears and pulleys of this system by awakening in us an empathy for the victim, so that we cannot successfully do it anymore. We don’t stop trying, but we become increasingly disastrous
      2. Bultmann–quote on being “born again.” “Man cannot act otherwise than what he is. But in the Revealer’s call there opens up to him the possibility of being otherwise than he was. He can exchange his whence–his origin, his essence–for another; he can be born again and thus attain to his true being.” This is the theme for these two chapters in John, with two encounters with Jesus: Nicodemus at night and the Samaritan woman at the well.
      3. Back to this gospel being based on experience, the autobiography of their own community’s experience fifty years after Jesus. They believed in having an encounter with Christ, such as those of the disciples, or Nicodemus, or the Samaritan woman, even long after he was dead. There is even the sense that the Paraclete deepens and furthers the later experiences of followers. What are the circumstances of a life-changing encounter with Christ? That is what the church exists for. This is the psychological effects of encountering Jesus.
      4. We live in a time when the Enlightenment idea of individuality is declaring its bankruptcy, the crisis of subjectivity in the modern world, the modern self suffering from chronic instability. It’s fragmenting, dissolving, pathologizing. Bailie: this is because the cultural frame of reference which used to give it stability is breaking down, with seemingly nothing to takes its place. Instinctively, we try to return to those spasms of victimage which created culture in the first place, such as in the Japanese schools. The question is: Is there another way?
    3. Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that salvation comes from the Jews.
      1. Von Rad talks about the coming into being of the “I” with the Jewish prophets, but very different than our modern personhood. It was based on their god-relatedness. This is true of the Jesus of the gospels, the “Abba” experience. Jesus came to make available the same kind of intimacy with God for others.
      2. Buber: To become means to become for something; it means to be made ready for the one relation which can be entered into only with the one for whose sake man exists. Seems a ridiculous idea in the modern world.
      3. The question is: how can I be real? The NT says that Jesus was real in a way that nobody before or since has been real; and if we want to be real in a way even remotely close to him, we have to use him as a model. Sin is living in delusion. We can only be saved by the revealer, the model.
      4. Buber on the essential relation: the barriers of individual being are breeched, and a new phenomena appears only in this way. One life opens to another. Two participate in each other’s being. In modern psychology, psyches create relationships. In the biblical world, relationships create psyches.
    4. Given this nature of the human self, are we all condemned? All of us are in the same soup. I can only become real by falling under the sphere of the other. As long as the other is a fallen creature, we are like two spent swimmers trying to save each other. Jesus was one who was not caught up in the same funny business and so can save us. The resurrection makes it so that the crucifixion does not cut off the possibility of that relationship.
      1. Hebrews 1:3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
      2. On hypostasis: often translated as “person,” especially during the Trinitarian debates of the church. Jesus is a person to the extent that he is a perfect replica of the maker of all persons. More literally translated as “stand under.” Jesus came as the one who perfectly stood under the God who he came to understand by doing that.
      3. There is an echo in 1 Timothy 2:5-6: “For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all– this was attested at the right time.”
    5. John’s gospel makes the outrageous claim that if you get close enough to this person, he will change your life in ways you cannot imagine. It invites us to “Come and see.”
  2. Introduction to the two stories in John 3-4. The arrangement may seem haphazard, but the structure is really quite marvelous. These two stories raise the question about the encounter with Jesus.
    1. Compare and contrast the two stories:
      1. Characters:
        1. Nicodemus-upright leader of the Jews, strict, orthodox Pharisee, a moral paragon. A man.
        2. The Samaritan woman-a heretic by Jewish standards, a loose woman of moral disrepute. A woman.
      2. Setting: at night vs. noon.
      3. Theme: birth vs. marriage
    2. But both bring out whether or not a decisive encounter between the person and Jesus is able to take place. What kind of things frustrate that possibility get in the way.
    3. The problem with Nicodemus is that he already has a coherent, integrated sense of self. He’s a Pharisee, an upright one, a leader of his people, Mr. Rectitude. Buber: “Each of us is encased in an armor whose task it is to ward off signs.”
  3. John 3 / Nicodemus
    1. vs. 3: He comes to Jesus expecting an encounter with a teacher and a performer of signs. A current movement within the historical Jesus approach is to return to the idea of Jesus as a wise sage, full of proverbial wisdom, a quaint philosopher. He comes at night to guard his reputation, since he is a teacher whom Jesus should be coming to.
    2. Jesus responds that Nicodemus must be born again. He can reach moral perfection as a Pharisee, and that still isn’t the answer. He must throw all that off and be born again. No lesser form of transformation will work.
      1. This is what Paul had discovered, too. Paul had been a Pharisee; he had been Nicodemus. And he discovered that ‘you can’t get there from here.’ No matter how morally or religiously scrupulous you become, you can’t get there from here.
      2. Something more profound has to take place. The sinners and prostitutes are closer to this transformation than you are; because they are more willing to let go of the old self. So it’s not just a matter of changing your mind, or changing your moral behavior, or following a teacher. It’s something really profound.
      3. So the question is “What does that change entail?” And the next question is “How’s it come about?”
    3. Jesus continues with what seems like a total non-sequitur. John 3:8: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
      1. In other words, there is an integrity to their lives that cannot be seen. It is not an adherence to a set of rules, not a strict pattern of behavior. It is invisible in that sense; but they are obeying something much more elusive, and much freer. It is an obedience that is indistinguishable from freedom. Perfect obedience and perfect freedom at the same time. One’s life is moving to this mysterious spirit, just like the wind. We can see its effects, but there aren’t any clear markings.
      2. This passage is taken from NAS Ecclesiastes 11:5: “Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things.” (NRSV: “Just as you do not know how the breath comes to the bones in the mother’s womb, so you do not know the work of God, who makes everything.”) It links these two images: birth with the wind.
    4. Jesus is talking about a new kind of self; a new anthropos, as Paul would say; a new coming into being. When does the first coming into being happen? And how can we come into a new one? Remember Buber: the barriers of individual being are breeched, and a new phenomena appears only in this way. One life opens to another. Two participate in each other beings. Selfhood is dependent on relationship.
    5. Wordsworth, Book II of “The Prelude.” “Blessed the infant babe, blessed in his mother’s arms…” The moment when the connection with the mother brings about the birth of the self in relation. “…like an awakening breeze.” Same connection between birth and wind.
      1. There are two ways of living in an ordered world. One way is to live in the delusion of the GMSM. The other way is to be grounded in the “one essential relation” with the Creator of all, which gives one a whole world.
      2. Having a new birth comes with the sense of having a new parent. Jesus lived out his whole life, after his baptism, centered on his relationship to his heavenly father.
  4. Transition to the story of the Samaritan woman: the reappearance of John the Baptist (3:22-30), especially the final two verses, as John tells his disciples about Jesus: “He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.” The new thing here is the metaphor, the theme of marriage, which introduces the theme which will shape the Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus.
  5. The story of the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob. It begins with the incarnate Jesus “tired out by his journey.”
    1. Jacob’s well has significance in two ways:
      1. As Jacob’s well, it bore religious significance similar to the water jars of purification used at the wedding in Cana. Jesus is going to replace it with another kind of nourishment.
      2. As simply a well, it bore the significance of being a meeting place for men and women, kind of like single’s bars today, “watering holes.” Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel, Moses and Ziporrah all met at wells.
    2. The disciples go into town for food. Jesus stays at the well, and a woman comes at noon. Jesus has already ignored the religious taboo of a Jew traveling in a Samaritan region. Now, he is about to ignore the taboo of talking to a strange woman alone at well. Clearly, this woman is an outcast. Women came at the break of day when it was cool. And they came together, socially. This woman is sneaking to the well alone at mid-day, in the same way that Nicodemus came to Jesus, sneaking out at the middle of the night. This is in bright daylight, it’s her time to go there unnoticed.
    3. Jesus asks her for a drink of water. The woman is surprised that he, a Jewish man, would speak to her, a Samaritan woman. NRS John 4:10 Jesus answered her,”If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you,’Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” She’s kind of a street wise woman, ‘from the Bronx,’ and looks at Jesus: “You don’t have a bucket, and this is a deep well.”
      1. That Jesus has no bucket: he has no technique, no plan. In John’s gospel, Jesus isn’t really a teacher, no system, no cosmic agenda. What this gospel presents to us is an encounter with the living Jesus. That’s all there is. How can you quench the thirst of the world without a bucket.
      2. Story of Gil going to see Howard Thurman (black minister in S.F.) in the 70’s. He asked him what he needed to do to help the world. Thurman told him not to ask that, but to ask what he needs to do to come alive. What the world needs is people who come alive. Bailie was talking buckets, and Thurman cut through that.
    4. NRS John 4:13 Jesus said to her,”Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The question is: what does he mean by “thirst.” The world is parched. And this thirst will drive us to all kinds of thirst. Pick up the newspaper tomorrow, look at all the craziness, and say, “They thirst.” They’re raping and pillaging in Bosnia: they thirst. They’re going wild at some party on Long Island: they thirst.
    5. NRS John 4:15 The woman said to him,”Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Never have to come here again. She means never coming at noon, sneaking there. Her thirst caused her to take part in some flamboyant behavior that resulted in her ostracization. If Jesus quenches that thirst, then she won’t need to come alone at noon anymore. So we’re set up for the next question.
    6. Seemingly out of nowhere: NRS John 4:16 Jesus said to her,”Go, call your husband, and come back.” And then the prophecy of her having had five husbands, her current one not truly her husband. Is this misplaced? Has Jesus decided to go off on some moral harangue? No, structurally this has to do with thirsting. The woman suffers from “psychological promiscuity.” The sexual promiscuity is a sign of a deeper problem, psychological promiscuity, the inability to commit to one person.
    7. pege in vv. 6 & 14 is a spring or spring-fed well; while phrear in vv. 11-12 is a cistern or well with standing water. When Jesus arrives this well is a spring; when he leaves it will be a cistern again. The woman refers to Jacob’s well as a cistern. The impact of Jesus’ incarnation is to render the existing system/source defunct. He turns it from spring water into stagnant water. This is the whole structure of the gospel: when Jesus shows up, the Temple is surpassed; when Jesus shows up, the ritual washings are done away with; when Jesus shows up, the temple curtain is rent asunder; when Jesus shows up, conventional religion is undermined. Before he gets there, the water that flows from this religious system flows like in Ezekiel 47 from the Temple. When Jesus arrives, he shows you that all that exists because of the victim, whose voice you do not hear (Psalm 69).
    8. Back to psychological promiscuity, the epidemic of our time, that prevents us from a saving encounter with Jesus, reflecting on Jeremiah 2, on the religious promiscuity of Israel.
      1. NAS Jeremiah 2:13 “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, The fountain of living waters, To hew for themselves cisterns, Broken cisterns, That can hold no water.” This obviously puts the matter in terms of John 4 and is in the background there. But Jeremiah puts it in even starker terms:
      2. NAS Jeremiah 2:20 “For long ago I broke your yoke And tore off your bonds; But you said, ‘I will not serve!’ For on every high hill And under every green tree You have lain down as a harlot.” The high hills were the official shrines that occasionally descended into human sacrifice. They did this modern thing of refusing to bow down, but in time were bowing down to every fashion that came along, thinking all the while that you were free.
      3. NAS Jeremiah 2:23 “How can you say, ‘I am not defiled, I have not gone after the Baals’? Look at your way in the valley! Know what you have done! You are a swift young camel entangling her ways, 24 A wild donkey accustomed to the wilderness, That sniffs the wind in her passion. In the time of her heat who can turn her away? All who seek her will not become weary; In her month they will find her.” Footprints in the valley? The valley of Ben Hinnon was the valley were human sacrifice was performed. Religious promiscuity leads to sacrifice. There is a link between psychological promiscuity and the sacrificial frenzy.
      4. A story out of Lakewood, CA: High school students who called them selves the “spur posse,” and had a contest going of how many women they could have. Some were rape and statutory rape.
      5. Oughourlian on the link between sex and violence, gradually indistinguishable in descending sacrificial frenzy, the Dionysian frenzy.
      6. News article about song by Nine Inch Nails called “Wish,” appearing several times a day on MTV.
      7. This isn’t about sexual promiscuity or moral virtuosity; it’s about psychological promiscuity, a psychological emergency in our time. Our rituals of bonding are closer to primitive sacrifice again. The gospel of John is talking about how the self reconstitutes itself for real intimacy around bonds of love.
    9. NAS John 4:28 So the woman left her waterpot, and went into the city, and *said to the men, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?” 30 They went out of the city, and were coming to Him. (hydriai, “waterpot,” only occurs elsewhere in John 2:6-7, dispensed with when Jesus’ wine begins to flow.)
      1. Putting down her water jar is a marvelous surrender. How do you cope in this world without a waterjar? She earlier asked Jesus. When she puts down her water jar, she surrenders her way of coping, which had been getting in the way.
      2. She walks straight back into the village and speaks the truth to the very people who had shunned her. Where is the source of a centered dignity that is immune to all this craziness? There are moral problems and social problems, violence, and all kind of craziness; but the question is the question of the self. We are in the midst of this crazy thing in which we think that the self can somehow make it through all this. There isn’t. The self, as Buber said, is constituted in relationship, and unless we find a way in which the self can be constituted that is coherent, sane, civil, dignified, loving, generous, self-sacrificing, then we are in terrible trouble. Because we cannot create those old-fashioned cultural selves the way we used to because the sacrificial system for creating them has been destroyed by the crucifixion.
      3. Father Zosima in the Brothers Karamazov would look at those arrogant kids in Lakewood, CA and see suffering. With such an outlook we can begin to connect with the suffering in a healing way, as Jesus did with the Samaritan woman, and not just contribute to it by haranguing it morally.
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