Episode 14: Receive
The Word came to its own people, yet its own people
failed to receive this Word. But whoever receives the
Word, this Word grants them the ability to become
children of God, this is given to those who believe in
the name of the Word, (John 1:11-12)
From its opening, the Gospel of John draws a sharp distinction between two responses to The Word, receiving or not receiving. A simple examination of the Greek term for receive proves difficult since the classical Greek lexicon-dictionary lists 40 distinct contexts which influence one’s understanding of this word. Reception of the Word implies accepting, welcoming, greeting, and even embracing this “Word at the beginning” in a variety of situations.
One overarching context for this two-sided option in John 1:11-12 appears within the realm of hospitality in the Ancient Near East. Considered the highest virtue to be practiced in several ancient cultures, hospitality implies acceptance, welcome, greetings, and an embrace in the sense of making the distant traveler part of the family. Although the topic of ancient hospitality is too broad for this venture, the image of welcoming an unknown individual into the community might serve as the most suitable framework for understanding the importance of the word, receive.
In the Old Testament
The story of Abraham and the three visitors at the oaks of Mamre provides one of the most positive stories of hospitality, of receiving travelers, in the Old Testimony. The activities of Abraham include greeting, welcoming, and embracing in the form of words, water to wash their feet, bread to refresh them and food prepared for them. (Genesis 18:1-8)
The prophet Jeremiah provides two examples of the opposite response, failing to receive what is provided.
They have returned to me, but with their back instead of
their face, even though I taught them from the morning
hours, yes, I taught them daily, yet they were not
listening to receive my instruction. (Jeremiah 32:33)
The Lord says, “Go, tell the men of Judah and those
living in Jerusalem, ‘Will you not receive instruction
and listen to my words?’” (Jeremiah 35:13)
The inhabitants of Judah at this time, at the conclusion of the independent monarchy, are being chastised for failing to receive the voice of their God, a receptivity revealed through subsequent obedience.
Elsewhere in the Gospel of John
Following John the Baptizer’s final comments regarding Jesus’ necessity to increase and his own need to decrease in popularity, a brief passage appears with the same perspective as the Prologue. It describes the one who is above all and comes from heaven.
He gives witness to what he has seen and heard,
yet no one receives his testimony. The one who
receives his testimony confirms that God is true.
Again, we see the contrast between those who receive and those who don’t. The center of contention appears to be found in the words of this one from above. The next verse clarifies the value intrinsic to his testimony.
For the one whom God sent speaks God’s words,
for God gives the Spirit without limit. (3:34)
As with the prophet Jeremiah, the concern in this passage revolves around whether those listening will actually receive God’s words. In the Gospel of John, God’s words are found in The Word, the Word with God at the beginning.
Jesus further clarifies what is to be received in John 17.
Now they understand that everything you have given
me is still yours; because I have given them the words
which you gave me, and they received these words and
truly understand that I came from your presence and
they believe that you sent me. (17:7-8)
The focus on receiving remains on the words, or better yet, on The Word. The description in John 1 indicates a similar focus; “The Word came to its own people, yet its own people failed to receive this Word. But whoever receives the Word,” (1:11-12a). Episode 8 discussed the idea of Believing, which is the next step after receiving. Or, to use the language introduced in the Abraham story, embracing someone only occurs after you have greeted and welcomed them.
In the evening following Jesus’ resurrection he appears in the midst of a room where his followers have gathered behind shut doors. Jesus greets these friends with words of peace, reminds them that he himself had been sent by the Father, and now commissions them to go out as those sent in his service. Finally, When he had spoken these things, he breathed on them and spoke to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit; (20:22). In this final occurrence of the Greek word, lambanō, two items appear which need to be received. Jesus’ followers must first receive his words-that he is sending them out in his service-and they must also receive the Holy Spirit. It is difficult to hear this interaction without hearing an echo from the Prologue.
the Word grants them the ability to become children of
God, this is given to those who believe in the name of the
Word, children not of blood nor of the will of a person
nor by the will of a man, rather born of God. (1:12b-13)
Some common threads appear within the experience of receiving, that is, within the activities of accepting, welcoming, greeting, and embracing as understood within the framework of hospitality. The most highly colored thread deals with the words of God. These serve the purpose of instruction. These require hearing, a biblical concept which has less to do with sound waves affecting the eardrums and more to do with the external activity resulting from the power expressed by these spoken words. This bright thread is surrounded by several complementary colors which identify the person of Jesus-one sent by God, one who comes from above.
Receptivity is often thought of in a primarily passive sense, that is, one doesn’t have to put forth much effort to receive something. Yet, this is actually a false perception of the concept. Receptivity does imply that the initiative and origination rest somewhere else; but receiving is definitely not passive when viewed within ancient hospitality social codes. In order to receive the “Word with God,” one must also take action to greet, to welcome, and even to embrace the entire essence of this Word. The one who receives cannot accept a smaller portion of what is brought while refusing other parts. Instead, receiving describes an all or nothing type of activity. The positive side to receiving Jesus can be, and often is, understated. When one receives the “Word with God at the beginning” one also receives what the Word brings: life and light. No longer must one wait in darkness, waiting for the light of day, before going forth in service as Children of God. Those who receive the Word realize the Light for humanity has come, splitting the darkness forever.
TAKE 5 MINUTES MORE
Receiving means much more than simply having something delivered to us or done for us. Receiving requires attention and action on our part. We must move from a passive receptor to an active one. Receiving includes greeting, welcoming, and embracing.
Consider the following questions:
• What change can I implement in order to truly greet God and his activity in my life?
• What actions would I expect in someone else who is welcoming me, yet I do not perform when welcoming the words of Jesus to my life?
• What actions of my own indicate that I have fully embraced someone or some new insight? How might I engage in the same activity with regard to the Holy Spirit provided by God?
Be certain to write down one thought that comes to mind ask you reflect on these questions.