Friday, July 02, 2004

The Five Senses in the Gospel of John

John tells us in the introduction to his Gospel that the Word "became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory" (1:14). One of the ways that John conveys that experience to the reader is by describing how Jesus engages all five of the reader's senses. Here's how.

Seeing and hearing are two main themes in the book. Jesus is, after all, both the Word and the Light (1:1-5). Hearing the Son of God leads to resurrection (5:28-29), it identifies His sheep (10:4), and it identifies those who are not (8:43). It even brings about new sight for those who believe, as it did for the blind man in Jerusalem (9:1-7). Sight is important in that chapter, with those who are blind starting to see, and those who think they can see being revealed to be blind (9:41). There's other important seeing examples in the book, with the most important probably being 14:9 - "He who has seen Me has seen the Father".

The next three aren't as pervasive as sight and hearing, but do appear in strategic places. We're told in a few places that belief in Jesus involves "eating" Him, for His flesh is true food and His blood true drink (6:55). We're not explicitly told what He tastes like, but we're given an example earlier when Jesus turns the Old Covenant water into New Covenant wine. Indeed, the headwaiter at the feast praised the groom for its excellent taste- "You have kept the best until now" (2:10).

Then there's two smell passages that come juxtaposed in chapters 11 and 12. Mary fears that when Jesus rolls away the stone from her dead brother's tomb that it will stink, but that does not happen because Lazarus is quite alive (11:39,44). Then in 12 Mary pours her expensive perfume on Jesus to anoint Him for His death, and the whole house is filled with the fragrance (12:3). (These two smells obviously highlight a connection between the passages that should and will be developed elsewhere).

And the most intimate sense, touch, is the key experience for Thomas at the end of the Gospel. When Thomas encounters Jesus face to face, he is commanded to put his hands in Jesus' hands and side and feel that Jesus is indeed alive and not a ghost (20:27-28). Having done so, Thomas exclaims "My Lord and My God!", the climax of the book.

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