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ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 55, 2007

MARY L. COLOE, Dwelling in the Household of God: Johannine Ecclesiology and Spirituality (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2007). Pp. xii + 226. $US26.95.

In Mary Coloe’s first book, God Dwells With Us: Temple Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2001) she argued that in the Fourth Gospel the symbol of the Temple applies initially to God’s dwelling in Israel, but shifts to the body of Christ and finally, in the absence of the physical Jesus, to the community. While her first study of the Johannine text showed that, by the end of the story, the community is the dwelling place of God, Coloe’s second book looks again at the same text, asking: if the community is the dwelling place of God, how does it imagine itself? This leads her into an investigation of the theme of the community as a “household.”

The analysis of the Gospel that forms the major part of this book follows the narrative sequence of the text as we find it. Coloe reads the material on John the Baptist in the Prologue (1:6–8, 15) and 3:25–30 as a presentation of the Baptist as a witness to the identity of Jesus as the incarnation of God’s nuptial love of Israel, and the friend of the bridegroom, who sets the scene for the gathering of disciples into the household of Jesus. The first “days” of Jesus across 1:19–51 tell of the gathering of the household as the disciples come to Jesus. They are promised the sight of even greater things: a gathering of the future post-Easter disciples. At the wedding feast of Cana (2:1–12) the disciples see the glory of God, and are gathered into Jesus’ household with his Mother and siblings. Nicodemus struggles to understand what it means to be born anew from above in order to enter this household, but the discourses in 3:12–21, 30–36 show that new life has begun in the household.

In John 11 a community that perceives itself as the place of God’s dwelling must face the reality of death in the household. It must be sustained by Jesus’ word of self-revelation as the resurrection and the light: “While no longer sharing the privileged experience of the first disciples, future households of Christians are invited to believe that even illness and death are open to the power of Jesus’ word” (103). The anointing of the body of Jesus in 12:1–8 extends the imagery further. It carries the traditions of anointing in the original Temple to the anointing of Jesus as a liminal moment when Jesus will cross over into death and life. But the smell of the anointing fills the whole household. Jesus’ household will join him in his final movement to his Father by means of “the hour.” The footwashing (13:1–38) allows the theme of welcoming into the household of God to be developed. What Jesus does, in the midst of lack of understanding, and promises of denials and betrayal, demonstrates the essential relationships within God’s household. There may be differences in roles and tasks, but there is an equality made possible by love. Love is the essential dynamism of any family, and as Jesus gathers his own (see 13:1), the process of “the hour” begins.

John 14:1–15:17 turns upon a profound exploration of the meaning and consequences of “dwelling,” an expression that dominates this part of the final discourse, especially 15:1–8. Here Coloe depends upon the very significant work of Klaus Scholtissek, In Ihm sein und bleiben: Die Sprache der Immanenz in johanneishen Schriften (Freiburg: Herder, 2000). No longer is the question of the establishment of the household the issue. Jesus is instructing his household on the nature of the intimacy and reciprocity that forms the mystical heart of the Christian community. The analysis of the Johannine text closes with an aggressive study of the experience of the disciples and Thomas in John 20:19–29. Picking up the obvious link with the “eighth day” in the text as a liturgical reference to the Day of Lord, Coloe draws on many sources, Jewish, Christian and Rabbinic, to argue that a number of elements within the structure of that dramatic encounter with Thomas are symbolic of the celebration of the Eucharist in the post-Easter community. From within this Easter household, Jesus speaks into the entire post-resurrection community of faith: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

Coloe has taken a risk by reading beyond what her earlier work had established and introducing newer hermeneutical tools. I am sometimes troubled by the structures that she finds in the text. They often appear to ignore obvious textual markers. For example, the four-fold use of the double “amen” in John 13 plays no role in the structure of that narrative, and the central statement I would trace in 13:19 is sidelined to form a parallel with 13:27–28. More difficult for many historical-critical readers will be Coloe’s use of later Rabbinic and Early Christian evidence. This is especially serious in her reconstruction of an early Christian Eucharist—in itself a speculative pursuit—on the basis of the resurrection appearances to the disciples and Thomas in John 20:19–29. I would also like to see further “controls” on the theme of “household” from a more historical-critical perspective. Coloe does not provide that, as that is not her primary interest. But if the Johannine community regarded itself as “the house of God,” did it exists historically as “a household”? How do the Johannine Letters fit into this situation?

This is an imaginative and provocative study that should engage the interest of all involved in the analysis of the Fourth Gospel and in the Theology and Spirituality of the New Testament. Methodologically and exegetically it is full of surprising challenges. But such has always been the case when courageous scholars face new frontiers.

Review by
Francis J. Moloney S.D.B.
Salesian Province Centre
Ascot Vale VIC 3032