Saturday, October 26, 2019

Life in Christ and Getting a Job

Saint Peter Chrysologous was a bishop of the early church, a preacher so skilled in his presentation of the Truth that he is known as the "Doctor of Homilies." He was born about 350 years after the resurrection of Jesus and lived about 70 years, finally as Bishop of Ravenna, a city in northern Italy and the capital of the Western Roman Empire. His preaching probably drew large crowds in that populous city. Maybe it was a mega-church.

But maybe his crowds were smaller because St. Peter Chrysologous spoke simple and direct Truth about what it means to be transformed rather than conformed to the ways of this world. This morning the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours included this paragraph from one of his homilies. (This screen shot is from the Universalis APP.)

Well, those are not personal qualities that we would tend to point out and brag about on our applications for employment in the 21st century are they? They are somewhat other worldly. It is fascinating to me that this comes on the heels of reading, just this week, an inspiring book about the Monks of Mepkin Abbey and the philosophy which guides their personal and business lives. And, yes, they are in business, formerly poultry and eggs and currently mushrooms. So, I suppose that if one wanted to join the Monks, to be employed, so to speak, at Mepkin Abbey, those qualities recommended by St. Peter Chrysologous are the ones that would offer a chance of success.

I'm keeping this post short like Father Peter's famously short homilies. For better explanation and understanding of how it is not only possible but beneficial and even life-changing to follow his counter-cultural advice in the 21st century, buy and read Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks. Having visited them several times and having participated in service projects there, I can vouch for its truth. You can download it to your Kindle from Amazon for about $10 and read it in three or four hours. Then you may want to read it again. I certainly need and want to do so because I have a way to go to follow Father Peter's sound advice.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Baptismal Sticking Points


When I was received into the Catholic Church in 2011, it was after a few months of weekly meetings in a membership class on Catholic theology and practice, preparation for and reception of the sacrament of reconciliation (confession), and presentation of documentation of my April 15, 1951, baptism at the First Baptist Church, Maryville, TN. I had been eight years old and had “walked the aisle” on March 30, 1951, in response to the traditional Baptist end-of-service invitational hymn, probably on the first or second of the unknown number of verses of “Just as I Am,” and confessed faith in Jesus as my savior and asked to be baptized and received into the church. That simple process is a key element of Baptist “liturgy.”

To be asked to provide that ancient history was a bit surprising to me at the time because I knew that the baptismal practices of Catholics and Baptists were quite different, and that my former Baptist church would have required re-baptism of former Catholics wanting to become Baptist. Here are brief summaries of the key beliefs of the two.

Baptist Baptism

  1. Only for “believers” who have reached the “age of accountability” and “made a decision” for Christ
  2. By total immersion in water
  3. An act of obedience and testimony by the believer
  4. Symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and the believer’s death to sin, burial, and resurrection to new life in Christ.
  5. May be repeated if some new level of commitment or conversion is reached or if the baptized person feels his or her conversion at the initial baptism was not sincere (enough).

Catholic Baptism

  1. For any who have never been baptized and desire entry into the Church, the Body of Christ, following a period of instruction about the faith.
  2. For the children, even infants, of Baptized and Confirmed believers who promise, in faith, to instruct and raise those children and infants in the faith of the Church. Full membership in the Body of Christ requires Christian Education and the Sacrament of Confirmation at an accountable age.
  3. Immersion is fine but not required. Baptism must be by water, with right intent, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
  4. An act of Grace by the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, through which the baptized are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God.
  5. Done once only since the effectiveness depends only on the Grace of God and not on the person baptized or the person doing the baptizing. To doubt is an expression of lack of faith. (Baptism done by force, with wrong intent, in some name other than that of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or in lemonade or beer instead of water, is not considered valid. Throughout Sacred Scripture, washing with water is always a symbol of cleaning and removal of sin.)

The bottom line is that Catholics take the act of Baptism, done properly and with proper intent, very seriously and will not re-baptize Christians who have been so baptized. Catholics do, however, welcome the chance to educate and Confirm such persons in the Catholic faith. The results of that process depend on The Holy Spirit at work in the lives of all involved.

Reconciling the Two

I have never doubted the validity or sincerity of that innocent and childlike “conversion” and baptism I experienced at age 8 in the Baptist Church, but I have learned that conversion is not a “once and done” thing but a life-long process of learning and serving, examining and confessing, and increasing commitment, a process that I have observed both Baptists and Catholics experiencing.

I remember an insightful statement by a Lutheran seminary professor: “Don’t be concerned about whether you have crossed some imaginary or subjective line. Just focus on making progress in the right direction.” 

To oversimplify a bit, I would say that the line to be crossed is key in Baptist theology while Catholic theology focuses more on continually moving in the right direction toward the holiness commanded by Jesus. I suppose that is why Catholics are accused by the “faith alone” adherents of “works righteousness.” Well, anyone familiar with the New Testament will know of lots of uses of such imperatives as study, work, endure, persist, fight, finish, etc. as well as to instances of failure or falling away by believers. And all those “works” can be done in perfect (or even imperfect) faith.

At least two things we Catholics and Baptists can agree on are:
  1. Baptism is important
  2. We are saved by grace through faith and it is not from us but is a gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8)
Catholics just see more complications and more divine mystery in the underlying processes and identify even whatever good works we may do as not of ourselves but as gifts of God.

What About Those Other "Denominations?"

And then there are the Orthodox, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of God, etc. understandings of Baptism. Below are some official statements from church websites. At most of the links there is much more explanation than the simple screen shots I have posted.

Southern Baptist




Lutheran (ELCA)


Presbyterian (PCUSA)


In spite of the varied understandings of the practice and meaning of the Sacrament of Baptism, we all agree that it is the entry point to the Christian Church, the Body of Christ. We can probably also agree that there is just one Truth. We just don't agree exactly on what that one Truth about Baptism is. 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

The Gospel of John Movie (2003)

This dramatization of The Gospel According to St. John is a work of art, beautifully staged and acted, the words coming directly from Sacred Scripture, the American Bible Society’s Good News Bible, nothing omitted and nothing added. A viewer can read along with the movie. Simply summarized, it is a pure proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, God incarnate. It begins with creation, placing Jesus, the Word, with God and actually being God, at the creation, and ends with his post resurrection, pre ascension, appearances to the disciples. Scottish actor Henry Cusick and Canadian actor Daniel Kash are excellent as Jesus and Simon Peter. Christopher Plummer is the narrator.

I don’t remember when I first heard of the movie or watched it, but I found it very helpful a dozen or so years ago with Lutheran Confirmation classes of students around age 12. They were spellbound. And I found it to be a perfect aid and conversation stimulator in an Adult Bible Study of John’s Gospel.  The faintest praise I have read is an Associated Press quote on the DVD box: “Thought Provoking Entertainment.” I suggest it may also be, for some viewers, Life Changing Entertainment resulting from belated realization of who Jesus was and is and what He did and does, and what He asks of his followers.

This Wikipedia article gives details of backers, artists, cast, and musical score and points out the one controversial and sometimes questioned scene in the movie, the silent presence of Mary Magdalene at the Last Supper. I would guess she was not present there, but the Gospel of John certainly considers her a prominent member of the close followers of Jesus. And, in writings of the first century and earlier, it was not unusual to omit mention of women. The scene at the Wedding at Cana, Mary, Mother of Jesus, instructing the servers to “Do whatever he tells you,” the dialogue with the woman at the well and her resulting evangelization of her community, the interactions with Mary and Martha, and the important role of the women at his resurrection all speak to the importance and prominence of the women followers of Jesus.

Check out the movie. If you get through Jesus’s dialogue with the Samaritan Woman at the Well in John Chapter 4, I predict you will be hooked and will end up watching the movie more than once. And of course, it is no longer necessary to buy the DVD (photo above) since the movie is free on Amazon Prime (Average Rating of 4.5) and on YouTube as well.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Pentecost 2019 - Eight Years Catholic


I was received into the Catholic Church at Pentecost 2011 and, in 2016 wrote a blog post titled Pentecost 2016 – Five Years Catholic. Three years later, I wrote this one without first reading the earlier one. There are a couple of common themes and some new current thoughts, but I just enjoyed going back and reading the earlier one and think it was better. I believe there is a lot of truth in the (approximate) words of Flannery O’Conner: “I don’t know what I think until I read what I wrote.” But, here goes with the current thinking.

Becoming Catholic

It is common among Catholic Christians, and Christian Catholics, to share how and when and why we became Catholic. Some are so-called “cradle Catholics,” born to Catholic parents, baptized and confirmed in a Catholic church, perhaps educated in Catholic schools and married in a Catholic ceremony and sometimes with little knowledge about or interest in other Christian faiths. 

Some are convicted, converted, and reborn former atheists or agnostics drawn into the Church by the Holy Spirit. 

And many are "converts," former Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian, Pentecostal, or whatever Christians who became convinced that the Catholic Church, with all its warts and wounds and problematic history, really is the Church that Jesus established and left people in charge of when he returned to the Father and is the Church with which they want to be in full communion. They too  usually credit the Holy Spirit with motivating their move.

The Question of Authority

Many in that latter group had come to believe that the Catholic Church has divinely assigned authority, under Holy Spirit guidance, over theological issues and argue that the Church is not a democracy subject to the whims of its “members,” many of whom may be still more conformed to the world than transformed by the Holy Spirit. (And, yes, some Catholic leaders with that authority have been imperfectly transformed also, but they still bear the responsibility and are accountable for their actions.) 

I have generally put myself in that “looking for authority” group, having been baptized Baptist and having served and worshiped in Baptist, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches, experiencing some discomfort with so-called Baptist Distinctives, Presbyterian Predestination, and Lutheran open discussion and votes on current theological issues such as  requirements for ordination and holy matrimony. 

In my case, that search for authority was not based on belief that the Catholic Church majesterium is and always has been right all the time or to relieve me of responsibility for having a well-informed and well-formed conscience, but to acknowledge the authority and to say to those Catholic leader/servants, “It is your responsibility to open yourselves to The Holy Spirit and to understand, explain, and defend true theology. Get to work!”

Building Christian Unity

There is a second key issue I sometimes forget that increased my interest in the Catholic Church, and that is the fragmentation of and competitive squabbling among Christians and the resulting damage to the witness of the Church. I was reminded of it by the Daily Mass readings for June 6, 2019. 

First was from Acts 23:6-11. The “Jews,” the Chief Priests and the whole Sanhedrin, Pharisees and Sadducees, had been assembled to confront Paul, recent Christian convert and troublemaker, and hopefully hasten his martyrdom. But Paul was a very smart guy, a Jewish Roman citizen, well-educated and familiar with the Hebrew scriptures and all the political and theological current issues.

Paul went right to the dividing issue, resurrection, which the Pharisees believed in and the Sadducees rejected: "My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees; I am on trial for hope in the resurrection of the dead." With that comment, the unity of the anti-Pauls was destroyed: "When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the group became divided. “Martyrdom delayed! 

And then, in the Gospel reading, there was this from Jesus’s “High Priestly Prayer,” part of his John 17 farewell to his disciples: Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed saying: "I pray not only for these, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me."

Note the last phrase, the evangelistic purpose of Christian unity: “…that the world may believe that you sent me.

I first got interested in the idea of Christian unity while living in Japan (1992-1995), enjoying worship and service at St. Paul’s International Lutheran Church, and seeing the confusion, in a nation that was 2% Christian, caused by the multiplicity and diversity of mostly western groups claiming the name of Christ. I specifically remember a co-worker telling me that, yes, his relative is a Christian, a Mormon, and another co-worker, asking me what is going on when he sees a Christian church in the USA on TV and someone is putting his hand on another’s forehead and the latter then falls to the floor unconscious. Well, how does one explain away those difficulties people face in believing that the Father sent the Son?

So, a second important reason for my interest in Catholicism, beyond the structure and authority, was that I wanted to cast a vote in favor of Christian unity by submitting to and being received by the Church that Jesus established and left someone in charge of, promising the Holy Spirit as guide.

Moving in the Right Direction

I have no expectation that all Christians are going to join together in the Catholic Church anytime soon, but I do have a reasonable expectation that all Christians, Catholics included, may eventually obey the two Greatest Commandments and replace criticism and competition with love for each other. After all, the key theologies expressed in the Nicene Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, both recited at every Catholic Mass, must be of primary importance and must provide some common ground that can keep most of us from arguing more complicated issues which may not be resolved for hundreds of years. 

Resolving Complicated Issues

The primary complicated issue is differences in understanding of The Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, Eucharist, that, as explained in John Chapter 6:52-71, has been a dividing issue since the very beginning. It may keep us from full communion but need not prevent cooperation in love and service. A key point for meaningful dialogue in the direction of Christian unity in Truth is that concerned Christians in all faith traditions should be able to respectfully explain not only why they believe as they do but also why those in other faith traditions believe as they do. None of the beliefs are without some, sometimes misunderstood or out-of-context, Biblical foundation.

The "Full Gospel" Church

I have some hope that more and more Christians will recognize that my occasional somewhat tongue-in-cheek description of the Catholic Church as the “full-gospel church” has some merit and will investigate. After all, we have The Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the promises of salvation and resurrection, the Greatest Commandments and Great Commission, The Great Cloud of Witnesses, the saints, daily and frequent Sunday Masses, Church Fathers, Martyrs, seven Sacraments, The Real Presence, Mary the Mother of God whom “all nations will call blessed,” Women’s Sodality, Men’s Knights of Columbus. St. Vincent de Paul Society, abbeys and convents, monks and nuns, pilgrimages, and enough optional personal practices of piety to suit any taste. 

Since Vatican II, we even celebrate Mass in the language of the people as recommended 500 years ago by Father Martin Luther. And, we offer bingo to seniors for fellowship and entertainment, though I’m not sure where that came from. Finally, we have the 700+ page Catechism of the Catholic Church which explains the faith in four sections (Creeds, Sacraments, Christian Living, and Christian Prayer), topics that should sound quite reasonable to any Christian and to any agnostic or atheist interested in Christianity. At least the last two should sound reasonable, and those are good starting points. 

Common Ground

Oh, and back to that first, perhaps confusing sentence containing the terms “Christian Catholics” and “Catholic Christians.” I intend the first to imply those cradle Catholics who are experiencing continuing conversion, spiritual growth, and perseverance and the second to imply Christians for whom reception into the Catholic Church has been one major event in their continuing conversion, spiritual growth, and perseverance. We all have something in common, wherever we are right now, the importance of sharing that continuing conversion, spiritual growth, and perseverance. 

Friday, March 8, 2019

The Penitential Psalms & Lent

Morning Prayer seems most beneficial when it results in some searching beyond the provided texts and “learning” of some new things about Sacred Scripture, theology, or Church history. The quotes around that word in the previous sentence suggest that I don’t usually remember much from such searches and depend on some personally written summary I can refer to later. There is joy in organizing and summarizing information in a way that will be useful. So, here is one such simple summary.

Today (3/8/2019), one of the Morning Prayer readings is Psalm 51. I was inspired (or inclined) to look it up in the Catholic Study Bible, 2nd Edition (NABRE) and found this commentary: “A lament, the most famous of the seven penitential Psalms…” The first word of Psalm 51 in Latin is Miserere (have mercy).

For the record, here are the seven Penitential Psalms including a key phrase from each:
  • Psalm 6: Have pity on me Lord, for I am weak (vs. 3)
  • Psalm 32: Then I declared my sin to you; my guilt I did not hide (vs. 5)
  • Psalm 38: I acknowledge my guilt and grieve over my sin (vs 19)
  • Psalm 51: Have mercy on me God, in accord with your merciful love (vs. 3)
  • Psalm 102: Lord, hear my prayer; let my cry come to you (vs. 1)
  • Psalm 130: But with you (Lord) is forgiveness and so you are revered (vs. 4)
  • Psalm 143: Show me the path I should walk, for I entrust my life to you (vs. 8b)

All seven have traditionally been identified as Psalms of King David, famous for his adultery, murder, disobedience, and love of and by God.  No wonder these Psalms are associated with and used during Lent!

I was aware of the Penitential Psalms but not of the first documentation of Christian recognition of them nor of recognizer Cassiodorus, sixth century monastery founder and author of Exposition of the Psalms. An interesting quote is in this link about the exposition: “Cassiodorus, like many patristic commentators, saw the psalms as the necessary starting point for Scriptural study: one should learn the psalms first, he suggests, and only then move on to the New Testament, for they serve as preparation for it.” Anybody out there who has “learned the Psalms?”

And according to this link, the seven were part of Jewish liturgy as early as the third century and have sometimes been associated with the Seven Deadly Sins.

And below is some penitential music, Miserere Mei.

Friday, January 25, 2019

THE Bible Story

Many of us raised in a Christian church know lots of Bible stories. We know about the sins of Adam and Eve, Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac, the leadership of Moses and Joshua, Samuel's anointing of Saul and David, David's killing of Goliath, the wisdom of King Solomon, the birth and ministry of Jesus, the resurrection story, Paul's Damascus Road story, problems in the early church, etc.

But we may be unable to see the forest for the trees and not have a clear view from the 50,000 foot level of how all those stories comprise THE BIBLE STORY, the theology of the Christian faith, the narrative that begins with the creation stories of Genesis, continues with the choice of a people and promise and arrival of The Messiah, Jesus Christ, and ends with experiences of the early Church, the continuing "Body of Christ." All that story can rightly be called The Gospel, the good news, focused on Jesus Christ, God in flesh, Savior of the world.

The reason for always keeping THE BIBLE STORY in mind when we read Sacred Scripture is that it keeps us from going off on tangents, from grabbing verses or stories out of that overall context and drawing misleading lessons from them. No matter how deeply we dig, we must always remember the big picture, the context, and make sure our conclusions and positions make sense in that overall context of theological truth.

The chart below is an attempt at visual presentation of THE BIBLE STORY, from the pre-creation chaos, through the revelation of God, to the one holy, catholic, and apostolic church, the continuing Body of Christ, into which we are invited today. Here is not just one verse out of context but thirty one, carefully chosen to illustrate the major parts of that important story.

Since the chart is not readable in this post, it is broken into three sections below for improved legibility. There are a title block, a left side, BC so to speak, and a right side, AD so to speak. To download and print the entire document in readable size and resolution, use this link.

Title Block

I'll begin with two fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church about the Bible, and about the relationship between the Old and New Testaments.

Left Side (BC)

The left side of the chart covers creation to the prophetic promises of the Messiah, the Anointed One, the King, Jesus Christ.

The theological truths taught in the ancient creation stories are that God created all, His creation was good, and that humankind messed it up. Then God chose a people out of the resulting chaos and revealed himself to them as not one of many gods (polytheism), not even the most important god of many (henotheism), but the one and only God (monotheism). And then prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah began to announce the promise of a Messiah and a new way of living, of being washed clean, of the end of war. These sixteen verses are chosen to illustrate that revelation of God resulting in realization by the people.

Right Side (AD)

The right side of the chart covers the incarnation, God in flesh, the ideal King, fully God and fully human, coming and dwelling among us. He heals and teaches and gathers followers, disciples, some of whom become apostles. He teaches prayer, the greatest commandments, the Great Commission, and promises the Holy Spirit. He establishes and teaches the Sacraments. Then he returns to the Father and leaves his Apostles in charge. Under the promised guidance of the Holy Spirit, they build, lead, and guide the early Church, dealing with issues as they arise, under the promised Holy Spirit.

And that is THE BIBLE STORY, admittedly over-simplified, illustrated by just thirty one verses. Anytime we take deeper dives into Sacred Scripture, it is helpful to remember where we are in this miraculous story and make sure we consider that context in our search for understanding.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Gospel According to St. John: Unique

I'm not very skilled at digging deeply into Sacred Scripture, finding new meaning and writing paragraphs about a verse or two. But I love looking at the Bible from a 50,000 foot view, so to speak, and detecting patterns, themes, characteristics, and differences. So, here are thoughts and observations about the Gospel According to St. John which St. Augustine apparently Tweeted was "shallow enough for a baby to wade and deep enough for an elephant to swim."

The chart below is an illustration of a simple difference among the Gospels, what they say about the ancestry of Jesus.

Mark is the earliest and shortest and has a wonderful beginning: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ." So, if we had any doubt about what the Gospel of Jesus is, Mark makes it clear. Mark doesn't, however, say anything about the birth or ancestry of Jesus. He just gets right to what happened.

Matthew, generally viewed as a Gospel targeted at a Jewish community, has a beautiful birth story with wise men and flight to Egypt and traces Jesus's ancestry back to the patriarch Abraham, who begat Isaac, who begat Jacob, who begat the heads of the 12 tribes of Israel.

And Luke, generally viewed as targeted to a community of Gentiles, relates the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Benedictus, and traces the ancestry all the way back to Adam, father of all.

The writer of John had more time to think about the theology of Jesus and a Trinitarian God and copied the first words of Genesis, placing Jesus "In the beginning," with God, and the same as God, at the creation.

Word counting is a great way to identify major themes in books of the Bible, and it is truly wonderful if one has software such as Bible Works which will do all the counting. Here are some important words in John, in each case having as many or more appearances in that Gospel than in the other three combined. A good way to explore use of these words is to use an online searchable Bible to find the uses of the words and meditate on them.

The "I I am" (which looks like 11 AM) deserves special consideration because the double emphasis, use of the pronoun "ego" which translates "I" even with the inflected verb (eimi) which translates alone as "I am" is understood by scholars and theologians as a reference to God identifying himself, at the burning bush, to Moses as "I AM." (Exodus 3:13-14) Every religious Jew hearing that phrase from Jesus as in, "I AM the way, the truth and the life," heard it as a claim to divinity. Believers bowed in awe and unbelievers charged blasphemy.

It is worthy of note also that the word usually translated as testify or bear witness is the Greek word from which we get the English martyr. For the early Christians, bearing witness as Stephen did often resulted in martyrdom.

A review of the use of "believe" can increase understanding of the fact that belief in john goes far beyond mental or intellectual belief to "believing in" or conversion or a change in direction of ones life. Here is an easy link to the list of 83 occurrences of "believe" in John.

John was written around sixty years or so after the resurrection, probably to a well-grounded Christian community that knew well the stories of the birth, baptism, and transfiguration, and the parables and celebrated the Eucharist routinely. Therefore those stories were not told again, though we do have John's remembrance of the baptism, the Last Supper with Foot Washing, and John 6 explaining the significance of the Eucharist.

We have already mentioned in the first diagram that only John begins the Gospel of Jesus at the creation. It is worthy of note that John includes no parables or exorcisms but is organized around Seven Signs usually followed by long discourses by Jesus about key principles of the faith. One thing we can be especially thankful for is that all four Gospels begin the resurrection story early in the morning or at dawn on the first day of the week, Sunday.

Below is an index of sorts of the content of John, chapter by chapter. The seven signs are in chapters 2, 4, 5, 6, 9, and 11. The three extended dialogues, Jesus with Nicodemus, Jesus with the Samaritan Woman at the well, and Jesus with the woman caught in adultery, in chapters 3, 4, and 5, are very interesting and simple while being theologically deep. Major events are in the third column. For a good story that could be expanded into a movie, read the Chapter 9 full "Crime Scene Investigation" aimed at identifying the culprit in the Sabbath healing of the man born blind. Jesus only appears at the beginning and at the end of the story. And, finally, the discourses which are all familiar to us from Gospel readings at Mass.

Jesus and his followers spent a lot of time walking an area of around 900 square miles. In the Gospel of John, that includes three trips between Galilee and Jerusalem. No wonder Jesus instructed them, in Luke's Gospel, to not carry anything with them. And no wonder that the writer of John declared that Jesus did many other signs not recorded in the Gospel.

The three trips "up to Jerusalem" are quite different from the single long journey in the other Gospels and are the basis for Church teaching that His ministry was three years. Note the two Bethany's, one across the Jordan where John baptized Jesus, and one a suburb of Jerusalem.

Here are 24 key verses from the Gospel according to St. John including presence of Jesus at the creation, the incarnation, teachings about Mary, use of "believe," and importance of the "I AM."

John – A Few Key Verses
 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
1:14  And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth.
1:29  The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
2:5  His mother said to the servers, "Do whatever he tells you."
2:11  Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.
2:19  Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up."
4:13-14  Jesus answered and said to her, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again;  14 but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
5:24  Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life.
6:35  Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.
6:56  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.
8:12  Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
10:14  I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me,
12:44-45  Jesus cried out and said, "Whoever believes in me believes not only in me but also in the one who sent me,  45 and whoever sees me sees the one who sent me.
14:6  Jesus said to him, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
15:1   "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
17:20-22  "I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,  21 so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.  22 And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one,
19:26-27  When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son."  27 Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
20:30-31  Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of (his) disciples that are not written in this book.  31 But these are written that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

Read the Gospel According to St. John at one sitting. It won't take that long, unless you start reading all the footnotes and references.