Brendan BYRNE. Life Abounding: A Reading of John’s Gospel. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2014. Pp.376. $39.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-3574-2. Reviewed by Shannon SCHREIN, Lourdes University, Sylvania, OH 43560
The Gospel of John is recognized for its rich theological themes and masterful use of symbol and metaphor in expressing the life and message of Jesus. Brendan Byrne, S.J. takes up John’s dominant theme, Life Abounding, and uses it skillfully as the lens through which the reader is invited to consider the depth of meaning expressed in the Fourth Gospel.
As a part of the text’s introduction, Byrne offers a little gem entitled “Read Me First”. It succinctly addresses major theological issues and literary devices that regularly occur, along with the challenges that readers will encounter in their exploration of the gospel. This is an excellent way to set the context for evangelist’s summons to read the text through the eyes of faith and thus grasp the deeper meaning that calls out to Christian believers. As Byrne points out in his commentary, John invites believers to see, like the blind man whose sight was restored, not only with their physical eyes, but with spiritual eyes that recognize God’s presence in all parts of life.
Not unlike the great Johannine scholar, Raymond Brown, the text comes alive through Byrne’s impressive exegetical skills. Each passage is enhanced with cultural and contextual interpretations, which bring the stories back to life while at the same time pointing to their contemporary significance. The meaning of every pericope is doubly enriched through the careful and thorough use of footnotes to annotate the text and to engage the reader. Who is the reader?
Byrne’s scholarly research and direct writing style make this book available to students, academic theologians, and retreat directors and perhaps most importantly to the “folks in the pews” who are hungry for a deeper understanding of scripture and its meaning in their everyday lives. Consider for example, John 9 the narrative of the Man Born Blind. Byrne examines this pivotal chapter in John in a variety of manners. First, he exposes the vivid symbols of light/darkness, blindness/sight and of understanding/closed mindedness as a means to help the reader see below the surface of mere physical blindness to the devastating result of spiritual darkness. Byrne then draws attention to the characters and their dialogues examining the fascinating structure of the blind man’s ascent into the light of faith and the Pharisees’ parallel descent into spiritual darkness. Readers are directed to see the fearful response of the blind man’s parents and the reflection they present of the Christian community’s lack of faith in the face of persecution from their own Jewish brothers and sisters. Byrne concludes with a reflection as he does with each chapter of the Gospel, noting that the narrative of the Man Born Blind “actually entails a heightened capacity to see and accept the truth.”
Byrne’s commentary on each chapter of the Fourth Gospel makes all the connections for the reader, highlighting repeated use of symbols, recurring themes and critical theological reflections. From the prologue to the post resurrection encounters John’s message is broken open to focusing on God’s self-revelation.