Why do we like the Gospel of John so much? Why, of the four Gospels, do we hand it out singularly in prisons, in airports and mission fields around the world?
I think it is because, unlike the other Gospels that offer a public perspective on Jesus' ministry, the Gospel of John offers a behind-the-scenes account of Jesus' more private moments with his disciples and friends.
The other three Gospels offer wonderful portraits of Jesus Christ, but it is only John that gives us the most intimate portrait of Jesus to be found in the Gospels -- Jesus as our friend.
We can become a friend of Jesus. We can be a friend of God.
In Jesus, God stepped down into time and experienced his creation as genuinely as could be imagined. It was not a supernaturally "staged" experience. Jesus' life was a genuine experience of life that we should be compelled to genuinely imitate.
Through Jesus, God knows how we live and feel. He could have come to Earth as an earthly prince, but he humbled himself into a peasant. He chose a life of poverty over privilege because he wanted to demonstrate fully his compassion for humanity.
For me, this abstract becomes concrete in a masterpiece like the Isenheim Altarpiece. The altarpiece, painted in the 16th century by German master Matthias GrÃ¼newald, was commissioned by Antonine monks for the chapel of their Alsatian hospital. A panel of this altarpiece depicts an anguished, gangrenous Christ on the cross, a Christ who would have resembled the patients cared for in that hospital. It is a Christ whom the patients could have seen on the cross as literally suffering with them in their horrendous condition known as St. Anthony's fire.
Perhaps the patients would have come to see the sublimely divine love of Christ as he suffered on the cross while at the same time taking on their affliction for them. Perhaps the passion of compassion would have been demonstrated fully for those patients in that hospital. Perhaps the Crucifixion panel would have reminded them of Jesus' words in the Gospel of John: "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends."
Jesus laid down his life for us. There is no greater act of friendship. There is no greater act of love.
David Averill is the youth pastor of Marvin United Methodist Church in Martinez.