As the Father has sent me, so I send you

This coming Sunday is Pentecost with the gospel reading taken from the Gospel of John. The Fourth Gospel speaks often of Jesus being sent into the world by the Father: to do his will (6:38–39; 8:29), to speak his words (3:34; 8:28; 12:49; 14:24; 17:8), to perform his works (4:34; 5:36; 9:4) and win salvation for all who believe (3:16–17). That the disciples were sent to continue the words and works of Jesus is foreshadowed at various places in the Gospel.

Jesus urged them to lift up their eyes and see fields ripe for harvest, and told them he had sent them to reap where others had labored (4:35–38), he said those who believed in him would do the works he had done and greater works than these because he was returning to the Father (14:12); he told them, “I … chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you” (15:16), saying that when the Paraclete comes “he will testify to me. And you also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning” (15:26–27), and when he prayed for his disciples he said to the Father, “As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world” (17:18). This last text, which parallels 20:21, confirms that the sending of the disciples was ‘into the world’, i.e. with a mission to the world. The other texts reveal the essential content of their mission was to ‘harvest’ men and women for the kingdom by their witness to Jesus by word and deed, alongside the ongoing witness of the Spirit.

We are sent just as Jesus was sent – How and in what manner was Jesus, the Word of God, sent into the world? A great deal of our understanding of the Jewish theological interpretation of the Old Testament comes from original writings of the Hebrew scholars.  The Old Testament was originally recorded in Hebrew and then translated (with interpretative embellishment) in Aramaic – known as the Targumin.  For example:

  • Isaiah 52:13 (Hebrew) “See, my servant shall prosper..”
  • Isaiah 52:13 (Targumin) “See, my servant the Messiah shall prosper..”

In fact many of the OT citations in John are taken from the Targumins.

In Jewish understanding, the memra – Aramaic for the Word (dabar in Hebrew) -had several characteristics.  It means more than “spoken word”; it also means “thing”, “affair”, “event”, and “action”.  Because it covers both word and deed, in Hebrew thought, dabar had a certain dynamic energy and power of its own.  When connected to Yahweh it took on the divine.  Its energy and power were from God.  The Targuminic reflections on memra (Targum Onkelos) offers some insight into the meaning of the Word in Jewish thinking:

The memra was highly personified (e.g., Isaiah 9:8, 45:23, 55:10; Psalm 147:15)

When the word of God came to a particular prophet (Hos 1:1; Joel 1:1) it challenged the prophet to accept the word; when he accepted it it impelled him to go forth and give it to others and it became the word that judged men.

The memra was a means of making a covenant (e.g., Genesis 15:1; Exodus 34:10).

The word was is described in the OT as a light for men (Ps 154:105, 103)

The memra was life-giving (e.g., Dt 32:46-47)

   For the Psalmist the memra has the power to heal people (e.g., Ps 107:20)

Salvation was by means of the memra (e.g., Wis 16:26)

The revelation of God to his people came through the memra as His agent (e.g., Genesis 15:1; Ezekiel 1:3)

The memra was an agent of creation (e.g, Psalm 33:6; Is 55:10-11; Ws 9:1).  In Is 40:11 God says, “So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty.  Rather it shall accomplish what I want and prosper in the things for which I sent it.”

The memra was bearer of the judgment of God (Wis 18:15; Hab 3:5)

The memra was the agent of the theophany, or visible manifestations of God’s presence (Gen 3:2).   John uses this thought (Jn 1:14) in the use of the term “dwelling”, which loses something in the translation.  The Greek  literally reads “pitched his tent/tabernacle”, describing the place of God’s presence among His chosen people.  The Greek word for dwelling uses the same/near equivalent consonance sounds as the Aramaic work, Shekinah, meaning theophany.

From the opening Prologue of John we see the portrait of Jesus as the fulfillment of all of these Targuminic themes.  Jesus is personified (vv. 1-2), the agent of God and creation (v.3), the life-giver (v.4), the source of life and knowledge (vv.4-5), the maker of covenants (v.12), the means of salvation (v.16), the same as God and different (God and human natures), and the visible presence of God on earth.

The short answer to the question “How was Jesus sent in order that we be sent?” Is to be “memra” for others in your life.

Image credit: Fr. Ted Bobash,, CC BY-SA

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