Part 4: Neither here nor there (John Ch 18-21)

Bill Bryson titled his travels around Europe, Neither here nor there. It's a flick of Bryson's wit as with this one underwhelming phrase he distances a continent that for a good few hundred years was the centre of the world. In John's world, Rome was the centre. But John's distancing is even more sublime.

The political context of the Jews - living under Roman rule - is further from the surface in John than in the other gospels. Yet in these final chapters it emerges as Pilate takes centre stage. Jesus is brought before the governor, and the author of life is subject to the deliberations of an empire.

But Jesus is a subversive.

And Pilate is in no mood for games.

Let's step away from the Proconsul's palace for a moment, and onto the beach by the Tiberian sea. The resurrected Jesus cooks some fish and then gives it to his disciples along with bread. Then, in a moment of restoration for Peter, he tells him three times to 'feed my sheep'.

This is a profoundly physical moment, the kind we have come to expect from John. But it is also a reference to a previous sign, where Jesus feeds the crowds with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish.

And this is how the gospel ends.

Back to Pilate's seat and the chief priests cheer 'We have no king but Caesar!' (19:15). The sycophantic leadership of Jerusalem is stacked against the elusive king from Galilee. And Jesus' death is their victory.

Except there's resurrection.

And so Jesus can sit by the sea and cook fish. The sea, called Tiberias. Named after the Emperor Tiberius. The Caesar the chief priests claimed as their king.

John's final chapter is a political juggernaut. The might of Rome crushed Jesus. And he simply returned to feed his disciples in quiet defiance.

The might of Rome crushed the Jewish population daily through their economic oppression. And Jesus commissions Peter to feed his sheep in quiet defiance.

I've called this commentary series To infinity, and beyond! because I think John's Jesus creates new space for new life. But it's a deliberately ambiguous phrase. We think of infinity as 'out there', somewhere beyond the blue, farther than the eye can imagine. But infinity is about possibility. And possibilities exist right under our noses.

John's story of Jesus has been one in which God walks the earth and infuses the physical reality of our existence with a divine, creative life. But this does not just mean that water becomes wine, blind people see, or even that dead people are resurrected. It has political implications as well. The hungry will eat, the thirsty drink.

The empires of this world - those that keep people under military or economic oppression - are real. And it is they, far more than Hellenist philosophy, that undermine true, physical, created life. But in John's story of Jesus empires don't get to be the centre. They are neither here nor there.

Here is the resurrected life which Jesus empowers us to live.

And there is the unknown space to which Jesus will take us; a place of possibility that will always defy oppression and feed real freedom.