Books

John: A Gospel Reimagined

A new take on the Gospel of John. Easy to read and connect with the chapters in your Bible.

Buy at Amazon (£3.53)

An extract from the book

1.

When it all began time was just a future concept. A distant idea. No past or present. No ticking clock or reason to regret or worry. Only the now. The ever-present, peaceful now. No starting or finishing. Everything full of rich, fat, oozing reality. And reality embodied in one person. The One. We call him God and we call him a him. The parent-creator. The One in charge. Full of all the good ideas. The best. Absolutely kind. A genius of utter brilliance. On our side. For us, not against us. And along with him The Word. Living, pulsating with light and life, grace and truth, freedom and honesty. Nothing better. Like the best sunset, the tastiest meal, the greatest win, the most satisfying day. Before any of these things ever existed. The Word. Not yet flesh and bone and blood and skin and heart and brain and cells and sweat. That’s all to come. But for now The One and His Word, pregnant with the life of everything that is to be, energy and imagination, zeal and zest. True grit and honest-to-goodness, salt-of-the-earth oomph.

This is what the scruffy baptist is on about when he emerges, ranting and wild-eyed, looking mad yet more sane than any of his contemporaries. To some people he looks for all the world like a spectre, a bulky phantom in goat skins, a figure of darkness, yet he is the one who’s glimpsed the light. And carries the torch. The burning glow. A blaze that can warm hearts while exposing spin and hypocrisy. A cheery bonfire and a flame-thrower all in one. Light. He won’t shut up about it. Won’t let us off the hook. ‘Too important,’ he tells us. ‘There’s a man on the way and he is Light, not merely the messenger like me. Wipe the sleep from your eyes, clear the wax out of your ears. Swap that stony heart for one that beats. For one that can be stirred, moved, broken, rebuilt.’

So the Light got all decked out in flesh and brought us a kind of map, in his own being, in the blood pumping in his veins and in the wonder of his stories and the extreme levels of his caring. In his courage and strength, crossing the boundaries of our fear and prejudice. Breaking through the brittle walls of religion and racism, through the harsh barrier of them and us. And through all the other belittling attitudes we secretly carry in our back pockets. He bust into everything that is real and ordinary. Not a spiritual kind of god, but a fully human God with a capital G and the ability to sweat and cough and stretch and laugh and sob uncontrollably. An eighth day of creation kind of revelation, with resurrection oozing from every pore, smuggled into every fibre of his being. A human – fully, totally cataclysmically alive. More alive than anyone has ever been before or since. With the sole purpose of drawing us, and the planet, and the universe into his Life. Not one of us has seen God, and yet… and yet… here he is. In human form. Living a life that shows us the full exuberant kindness of God, showing us all that matters to God, all the ways of God, cutting through the angry misunderstanding of the centuries.

A messenger sits in the dirt, not smelling all that great, flecks of spit on his face, sweat on his forehead, food crumbs speckling his beard. A bunch of religious experts approach him. One question spilling from their lips.
‘Who on earth are you?’
‘I’ll tell you one thing,’ says the fiery-eyed one, standing and towering above them. ‘I’m not the one to set you free. He’s coming, but it ain’t me. So get ready.’
‘Are you Elijah then? Like the prophet Malachi predicted? We know he didn’t die, are you Elijah, back again to sort out the mess we’re in?’
‘Nope.’
‘Well… What about the promise of Moses then? Are you the prophet he spoke about in Deuteronomy 18? Tell us!’
‘You’re asking the wrong questions!’ The wild-eyed baptiser steams at them. ‘It’s no good trying to tag me and put me into some kind of prophetic, religious box so you can control me. I have a job to do. And I’m doing it. I’m telling you to clear the rubbish out of your lives, to make room for the one who is coming who can fill you with hope and purpose and reality. So wake up!’
They look around, see the lines of people waiting to be baptised, a sign of a new start for them.
‘What gives you the right to do this?’ the religious experts say, waving their agitated fingers at the crowds. ‘You don’t have the right qualifications. You don’t have any qualifications.’
‘This baptism is just the start,’ he tells them. ‘It’s a sign that people are willing to open themselves to this new way of God. I’m just a ragged man with a message, he is coming with life itself in his open palms. I’m not even worthy to shine his shoes. To wash his feet. I am nothing and he is everything.’
It’s as if he is speaking a whole new language. One the religious boffins struggle to pick up, yet one that the ordinary folk grasp immediately. No doubt there is a certain amount of envy in their hearts as the experts eye the vast numbers coming to this wilderness man. His popularity here in Bethany is just a tad galling.

A day passes, and more folks get wet with Jordan water as they begin their lives again. A figure moves quietly through the crowd, someone has come to see what is going on. No doubt another critic wanting to do battle with baptiser John. He finishes baptising the latest arrival, gives them a nod and a pat on the shoulder, then steels himself for the onslaught. And that’s when his heart skips a beat. His jaw drops, his eyes widen. An age seems to pass. Folks notice and turn to follow his gaze, their faces creased with quizzical expression. There’s a figure standing at the edge of the water, the crowd having opened up to let the new man through. It’s the baptiser’s cousin. The penny drops for John and he suddenly knows. The day has arrived. His life will never be the same again. John clears his throat and wipes the back of his hand across his mouth. When he raises his pointing finger his hand shakes a little.
‘Listen up!’ he barks. ‘He’s here. At last he’s here…’ words fail him for a moment, then he continues, ‘I… I had no idea it was going to be you…’
Jesus smiles at him, kicks his way through the shallows and hugs his big cousin.
‘Look!’ John calls out, stepping away from Jesus, ‘this is the man I’ve been telling you about, this is the reason we’re here. That new way I’ve been talking about… this is him.’
John looks up, narrows his dark-ringed eyes, watches a bird swoop and hover for a moment, right there over his cousin. A dove of peace.
‘This is him,’ he says again. ‘The new way. I’ve only got this… this water…’ John slaps his hand on the surface of the Jordan sending a shower of spray over both of them, ‘he has something else. He has God’s spirit. The kind of baptism that’s unstoppable, that can change anything, that can set the world on fire. This cousin of mine is the chosen one of God!’
Jesus bows his head and steps closer. John frowns.
‘What?...’
‘You must,’ says Jesus. ‘It’s the way. It’s the only way.’
‘But you should baptise me…’ John’s voice is suddenly small.
‘No.’
A single word, yet all the authority in the universe. John falters, nods, and baptises his cousin. Jesus rises up out of the water and the dove descends on him once more. Jesus looks out at the people, water running down his face and beard. He smiles. The largest smile in the world. It is beginning. He has imagined this day for a while now. Thought on it many times as he hammered and planed and shaped all that wood in his dad’s carpentry shop. Jesus nods at John, thanks him silently and slips away through the crowd. John stands watching for a long time.

If he thought his job was done he was wrong. The baptising goes on. The people keep coming. But the story passes quickly. One set of lips to another. They have seen him. He came to the river. All day the people murmur and whisper about it. Then, the next morning, he is here again, but not stopping this time. The baptiser has to be on his mettle to hastily snap his fingers and jab one of them at his cousin, as he tells two of his friends. Andrew and a younger guy, also called John, leap up and start to chase after Jesus, and the baptiser knows. This is the beginning of the end for him. His time in the spotlight is starting to fade. Andrew and the other guy race to catch up with Jesus. He hears the pounding of feet in the dirt. Stops. They stop too. He slowly turns. Andrew is tempted for a moment to look at his nails, pretend they weren’t following him.
‘What is it?’ Jesus says.
Andrew looks Jesus full in the face. He’s not like his cousin, he is shorter with a slight figure, his shoulders sag a little, as if he is carrying the world on his back. You wouldn’t pick him out in a crowd, and yet… he clearly carries a presence with him. A sense of calm assurance.
‘Where… are you staying?’ Andrew asks.
Jesus nods, glances down then back up.
‘Come with me,’ Jesus says, ‘I’ll show you.’
The minutes turn to hours and before they know it the day is done, yet the next morning, before the sun is up, Andrew is awake and outside his brother’s house, pounding on the door.
‘Come see who we’ve found!’
Eventually the door opens and a sleep-riven face peers out, the eyes barely open, the hair a mass of spikey untidiness.
‘What?’ Andrew’s big brother slurs.
‘Simon, come on! The Messiah’s here! We’re free!’
The big man sticks his head out and looks around. The street’s as it was the night before.
‘All looks the same to me,’ he growls.
‘Trust me,’ says his brother. ‘Come on!’
Simon is still pulling on clothes as Andrew hauls him out and back towards Jesus’s house. The place is quiet and Andrew stands, his fist hovering, wondering if he dare beat on the door, when they hear footsteps. They turn. Here he is, walking towards them from out of town. Andrew glances down, the Messiah has dust on his knees.
‘This is my brother,’ Andrew gushes, ‘Simon.’
Jesus steps closer, studies him, no sign of a smile on his face. Simon stares back. Eventually Jesus nods.
‘Peter,’ he says, jabbing a calloused finger towards the big brother.
‘Eh?’
‘Peter. Rock. That’s you. Not now maybe. But soon.’
Simon looks back at his brother and shrugs at him. For a moment he looks as if he might say something… but no. He shakes his head, turns and walks away. Muttering to himself as he goes. Andrew steps forward to apologise but Jesus stops him.
‘No need,’ he says, ‘no need.’

Later, as Jesus, Andrew and young John head for Galilee they realise they are being followed. Andrew’s tempted to invite the stranger along but he doesn’t get the chance. Jesus turns abruptly.
‘Philip, come with us,’ he calls.
The follower stops. Thinks. Looks back as if he is going to make a run for it. Then he changes his mind and cautiously sidles up to them. They walk, they talk. The new guy is clearly warming up to this new Messiah. But as soon as they reach their destination he scoots off. John shrugs, thinking the guy is just a part-timer, but Jesus heads after him. Philip is clearly on some kind of mission, he’s hurrying with purpose, dodging others, shouldering a few as he scurries on.
‘Nathanael!’
Jesus stops as he hears the shout, steps back and watches the exchange.
‘We’ve found the Messiah It’s Jesus. From Nazareth. Joe’s boy!’
Nathanael can’t suppress his laughter.
‘Yea, sure! The Messiah? From Nazareth? You’re having a laugh, right?’
‘Nope. Come and meet him, you’ll see.’
Philip doesn’t have to drag his friend far. Jesus steps out of the shadows and they practically collide. They’re going so fast they nearly knock him over.
‘Wow! Slow down,’ says Jesus. ‘I can see you’re for real.’
‘What d’you mean?’ Nathanael’s face clouds over.
‘A true son of Israel. Actually I noticed you a while back, I spotted you under a fig tree.’
Maybe it’s because Philip’s primed him, maybe he’s just a little starstruck, maybe no one ever took time to notice him before. Whichever, Nathanael is made up.
‘Teacher!’ he gushes, ‘it’s true isn’t it? Phil’s right for once. You are the Messiah! You’re God’s chosen man!’
Jesus recoils a little.
‘Really? You think that because I spotted you? Easy, Nathanael. Slow down a little, you haven’t seen anything yet. Remember Jacob’s ladder, joining heaven and earth?’
Nathanael nods.
‘Well I’ll tell you this, there’s a new ladder in town. A new connection. Remember Daniel’s Son of Man? The justice guy? Yea? Keep watching, you’ll see him, he’s around. Look closely.’

Buy at Amazon (£3.53)