In a certain way, John’s centuries-later chapter divisions work, and the underlying tension in chapters 1 and 2 — the disturbing polyphony of private settings and unclear referents playing above a plainchant of trial-court language (testimony and witnesses) — resolves in a single, diatonic chord: a juxtaposition between Jesus and his new followers:
While he was in Jerusalem for Passover many put their trust in him when they saw the signs that he performed. But Jesus for his part would not trust himself to them. He knew them all, and had no need of evidence from others about anyone, for he himself could tell what was in people. (John 2:23 – 25, REB)
The many needed evidence; Jesus didn’t. The many put their trust in Jesus, but Jesus would not trust himself to them.
John’s Jesus’ mission is an introvert’s outreach, roughly speaking. Field note speaking.
Each stop in Jesus’ campaign so far has sorted people in unexpected ways: by what one knew (Nathanael and the reader), by how one understood an ambiguity (the Jews and disciples), by what room one was in (the wedding). The wedding in Cana alone involves four circles of intimacy: the master of the feast who celebrates Jesus’ miracle without knowing that a miracle has occurred, the servants who know of the miracle but not of Jesus’ conversation with his mother, and his mother, whose sketchy colloquy with Jesus demonstrates she knows all. I am in a fourth circle, closer to the center than the master of the feast and the servants but less intimate than Mary since the text’s first read shuts me out. I inhabit an uneasy ring between the inner and outer rings.
And now, at the end of chapter 2, this policy of concealment is revealed. When Jesus is direct in the other gospels, it’s often only by a disciple’s request. The requesting disciple also risked a reproof for his lack of understanding. Likewise this text of John’s, which describes itself as testimony, feels most reluctant when that testimony is clear. And what does that say about me, the reader?
John 2 feels like the melismatic high Middle Ages resolving into the vocal articulation of the Renaissance. It feels like the isorhythmic novels of Sterne and Fielding resolving into the thick-plotted Victorian novel. It feels like a concession — something that must be said to move on.
[I’m reading John’s gospel. My reactions here vacillate between notes — a list of impressions — and something less sketchy. A note on nomenclature: the note number in my post’s title indicates the chapter of John’s material I’m reacting to. A title’s letter, though, differentiates the post from earlier posts about that chapter. “John field note 2c,” then, is my third post about something in John’s second chapter. N.B.: 12a may precede 3d: I skip around.]