A Provocation: Second Sunday after the Epiphany: January 15, 2017: John 1:29-42

John 1:29-42
1:29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

1:30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’

1:31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”

1:32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.

1:33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’

1:34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

1:35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples,

1:36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

1:37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.

1:38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?”

1:39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.

1:40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.

1:41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed).

1:42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

A Question or Two:

  • What is “baptize with the Holy Spirit”?
  • What is “lamb of God”?
  • And, why do Andrew and the other follower call Jesus “Messiah?”

Some Longer Reflections:

Why did Andrew and the other follower of John conclude that Jesus was the messiah?

John has called him the “lamb of God,” but it is not clear what that means.  The phrase is not used elsewhere in the New Testament to refer to Jesus.  In fact, the phrase is not used anywhere else in the Bible to refer to ANYthing or ANYone.  But Andrew found his brother, Simon, and told him that they had found the Messiah.

Why?

The storyteller provides some things that may be hints:

  • John (who is introduced as coming from the side of God in the opening of John’s gospel) points them to Jesus, even if he does it with a cryptic reference.  Maybe that is enough.
  • They refer to him as “rabbi” when they meet him.  It appears to be important that he is a teacher.  In The City of God, E.L. Doctorow characterizes a rabbi as “someone who has done the reading.”  That can mean all sorts of things, but at the least it means that a rabbi is someone who is diligent in burrowing into the tradition.  If the storyteller agrees with Doctorow, Jesus impresses Andrew as being someone who has studied what it means to be Jewish.
  • When Andrew and his fellow disciple ask where Jesus is staying, he says “Come and see.”  The question is asked in mid- to late-afternoon, and the storyteller tells us that they stay with him that day.  As is frequently noted by commentators, evening is the time when students met with their teachers to study.  When Jesus says, “Come and see,” he makes it clear that he is taking on new students.  Perhaps that fact alone is enough to catch Andrew’s attention.  The Messiah, in other Jewish texts from the ancient world, is shown teaching Torah to all comers.
  • When Andrew tells his brother that Jesus is the Messiah, it seems to be the next day.  Just how long did the lesson go on?  All night?  That is not impossible, I suppose.  That might mean that Andrew’s conviction that Jesus is the Messiah is rooted in a long intellectual encounter.  Perhaps they studied and argued all night; perhaps they explored the tradition together until the sun rose again; perhaps the conversation was a sort of double-sided interview: Jesus examined Andrew as a possible pupil, and Andrew examined Jesus to assess his rootedness in Jewish tradition.

The storyteller gives us no more than hints, but those hints suggest that this narrative world is filled with people who listen and question carefully.  If that is what we are to take from this, then this is not a story that valorizes blind faith.  Andrew and his friend study with this new rabbi and only then draw the conclusion that his teaching is the act of God to turn the world right-side-up.

But if that is how we are to read this story, then we ought also to study the teaching of what passes for Christian faith today.  What might we look for?  Perhaps John’s gospel again provides hints.

But if it does, then we will have a difficult task before us.  John’s gospel (as Bultmann recognizes) has a certain scatter to it.  Not every voice speaks the same gospel.  I explore this at greater length in my commentary, Provoking the Gospel of John, but for now here is a quick sketch.

In John’s story, Jesus presents a picture of a God who loves the Cosmos, that lovely created Whole, and loves it as a whole, with all of its variegation.

But John also has Jesus reject the Cosmos.

In John’s story, Jesus encounters a woman who knows Torah and expects Messiah, even though she is a Samaritan, an outsider from whom “true believers” would expect nothing.

But John also has Jesus increasingly reject anyone outside his own increasingly small circle of followers.

Which shall it be?

Since we have to choose, I claim the open, embracing gospel as the voice of God.  I think that the story as a whole supports this choice, but I would choose it even if the decision were too close to call.  The world has too many religious people, too many political people, too many nationalists and supremacists, who are sure that salvation only comes to the pure and separated.  They gather in their little identity groups and plot vengeance on their enemies.  They ridicule outsiders and opponents.  They attack anyone who does not agree with them.  They claim the mandate to remake the world in their own pure image, to make it all great again.

We have had enough of such movements.  The Cosmos, that beautifully arranged, variegated Whole, will not survive the attacks of those who are too right, too sure, too angry to belong in the world.  When God acts to turn the world right-side-up, God does not do it by shattering it into shrapnel.

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One thought on “A Provocation: Second Sunday after the Epiphany: January 15, 2017: John 1:29-42

  1. “They claim the mandate to remake the world in their own pure image, to make it all great again.

    We have had enough of such movements.” //

    So true!

    Like

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