for the second shortest book in the Bible, theologians sure have written a lot about the second letter of John…and most of their curiosity falls into two camps, both struggling to answer a simple question…
Was John writing a letter to an actual woman, or was he using the phrase “elect lady” as a metaphor for the church? (In case you were wondering, 3 John is the shortest book.)
To be fair, both camps lay out solid theological arguments, which I’ll leave you to explore, sample, and digest, with the help of Google and whatever commentaries you have handy. (Ironically, when I looked the question up in The Women’s Bible Commentary, the writer falls into the “He’s writing to the churches” camp. I had to chuckle a little, given that the commentary was intended to empower folks to see the Bible from a more female perspective, went the metaphorical route!)
One of the things I’ve learned over the years is when commentary–of any sort–tends to be in one camp or another…consider sitting with the original writing itself for a while. John’s second letter is so short that reading it in lectio divina fashion is easier than it is with with some of the Psalms. As I scanned it and then read it aloud repeatedly…a different notion about this letter emerged for me.
What if John’s intended audience was EVERY woman (or every person, for that matter)? What new insight is revealed, if I approach this as if he’d written it to ME, imagining John’s second letter as personally arriving in the mailbox, thanks to my friendly rural mail carrier?
Greetings from one presbyter to another, and to all the folks you’ve ever served as interim. Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from* Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, in truth and love.
I really enjoyed visiting you and the parish you’re now serving. It’s exciting to see a new spirit in the place since the last time I was there, and the ministries they are doing, and the smile on your face as you share your life with them.
At the same time, I know you get discouraged on occasion, when you envision the direction you’d like something you’re trying for the first time, doesn’t quite go as planned…or when it simply seems stuck in neutral. I find myself in those places as well, at times.
Of course, this isn’t exactly an original thought, but one that was given to us a long time ago, perhaps at the dawn of creation when God breathed life into nothingness…if we do nothing else, let us love one another. It’s easy to say, “It’s tiring trying to discern–even with God’s help, and the help of parish leadership–a new vision for a parish. I just need to step backwards and let someone else come up with the big picture.” You know this as well as anyone–bivocational life is complicated, and messy. It’s easy to get bogged down feeling like we’re somehow lacking in doing all the things God says we should be doing. All I can tell you is what Jesus said–”Love God, love your neighbor, and love yourself. ALL the commandments hinge on it, period, full stop.” Stick to that path, and you’ll be fine. They’ll be fine. You’ll ALL be fine.
You know as well as anyone there’s a lot going on around us in the world these days that claims to be “Christian,” but is anything but Christian. It feels like yelling into the wind sometimes, doesn’t it? All the same, God needs people like us to stand in that gap–people who believe–and live into– the notion that love has the power to overcome everything, even hatred that masquerades as Christianity. Believe me, it’s not popular (or fun) to stand in that spot. All the same, don’t let the loud voices in the world that peddle hate (allegedly in the name of Jesus) dominate the conversation. When you stay silent on this, they win. Remember that.
I could say a lot more in this letter, but it’s not the same as our visit, and, honestly, there’s a place where phone calls, texts, emails, and even letters in my own handwriting don’t cut it. I’m counting the days until we can F2F again.
Oh, by the way, the folks at your previous interim say “hi,” and they were all happy you’re having a great time, even though they miss you.
Keep the faith, my friend.
P.S. I really want to share some more of those chicken wings you ordered for us at Broadway Diner. They were awesome!”
I invite you to imagine your own letter from John–write it out, read it to yourself, then tuck it away somewhere, read it a year from now–and continue the conversation. What might John tell you a year from now, two years from now, five years from now?
Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri, as Interim Priest at Trinity Episcopal Church in Hannibal, MO.