John field notes 3e: Earthly things

After the birth & the wind:

Nicodemus answered “How can such things be?”

Jesus answered “You’re the teacher of Israel and you don’t know these things? Amen amen I tell you what we know we tell and what we’ve seen we witness to.  You don’t accept our witness. If I tell you earthly things and you don’t trust, how will you trust if I tell you heavenly things? (John 3:9 – 12, Reynolds Price’s Three Gospels)

What are the earthly things?  Maybe:

John’s implied and extended metaphors act as the Synoptic Gospels’ parables.  Jesus’s “If I tell you earthly things” is the synoptic gospels’ “The disciples came to him and asked, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ He replied, ‘To you it has been granted to know the secrets of the kingdom of Heaven, but not to them.'” (Matthew 13:10 – 11, REB)


The earthly things / heavenly things dichotomy is John’s version of Luke’s least / much, unrighteous mammon / true riches, another man’s / own:

“Anyone who can be trusted in small matters can be trusted also in great; and anyone who is dishonest in small matters is dishonest also in great.  If, then, you have not proved trustworthy with the wealth of this world, who will trust you with the wealth that is real?  And if you have proved untrustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you anything of your own?” (Luke 16:10 – 12, REB)


John doesn’t see itself as a “polyphony of private settings and unclear referents playing above a plainchant of trial-court language (testimony and witnesses),” as I describe it in field note 2d.  Instead, private settings, unclear referents, and, now, implied and extended metaphors are the testimony — the earthly means by which Jesus testifies. (So, like, if that’s earthly, what’s heavenly?)


We Westerners need a book like John, which doesn’t give things away too easily.  Reading the synoptic gospels, I tend to shuck the parables like shellfish and tread the pearls Jesus later offers to his disciples alone. I rend rather than render the text.

But John makes me sweat.

[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.]