Tuesday, January 14, 2014

It’s Him! The Lamb of God -- Lectionary Reflection for Epiphany 2A

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! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 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.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 
35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 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?” 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. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed. 42He 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).

                Back in my college days, Campus Crusade for Christ (now called Cru), launched an evangelistic effort utilizing the “I Found it!” slogan.   The campaign featured bumper stickers with the slogan and a telephone number.  You can imagine how this went – bumper stickers appeared in all manner of places, most having nothing to do with finding Jesus or salvation.  The campaign tried to appeal to our human search for spiritual peace, for as Augustine so cogently pointed out, “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”  As we continue this journey of discovery called Epiphany, we hear voices bearing witness that they have found the one they’ve been looking for.

                The lectionary takes back to the baptismal ministry of John.  Unlike in Matthew (last week’s reading was from Matthew 3:13-17), the Gospel of John doesn’t record the baptism of Jesus. Should we assume a baptism took place or not?  Whatever the case, in this scene Jesus is simply in the vicinity, walking toward and past John, but never really seeming to interact with him.  As for John, we see him involved in a ministry of witness.  He has made it clear that he isn’t the one the people are looking for.  Another is coming; one who will outrank him, the one he calls here the Lamb of God and the Son of God.  The one who is coming will baptize not with water but with the Holy Spirit.  The one who is coming, and is now here, is the one on whom John has seen the Spirit descend.  Did this occur in the context of baptism as Matthew suggests?  John’s Gospel doesn’t say.  But John the Baptists declares that his baptism is preparatory for the one who is coming. 

                He who is coming is declared to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  The question the passage raises, without offering answers concerns the way in which the Lamb takes away the sins of the World.  It is easy for us to read in atonement theory, but is this John’s intention?  John does make great use of the Lamb imagery, including noting that Jesus dies at the moment of the sacrifice of the Passover lamb.  And while the sacrifice of the lamb at Passover doesn’t directly connect to atonement for sins, the imagery of sacrifice is in the air.  In context we should see this moniker as a symbol of Jesus’ messianic calling.  He is the chosen one, the anointed by the Holy Spirit.  And so as Jesus walks by, John points him out and tells even his own disciples that this is the one they’ve been looking for.  He is the chosen one.   At that moment two of these disciples, one of whom is Andrew, leave John and attach themselves to Jesus. 

                Before we move to the next scene it would be good to stop for a moment and take in this scene.  John, according to this Gospel, has been given a ministry of preparation.  He seems to know this and understand it.  But surely the rapidity with which his own disciples abandon him for Jesus must hurt.  After all, he had committed his entire life to the service of God.  He had been that voice crying in the wilderness.  He had drawn crowds, but now all of that was slipping away.  He was but a witness pointing to another.  He had to decrease so that another might increase.  At the very least, you’d think that Jesus could stop by and have a chat, thanking John for all the preliminary work he’d done.  But we see none of that here.  Jesus moves into the forefront of the story, and John retreats into the shadows.

                What is clear in this reading is that John is expecting the Messiah to appear, and his disciples are looking for him as well.  They seem to believe that John will know when the chosen one appears, so why not stick close to him until the time comes when they can embrace the one they’ve been looking for. 

As they approach Jesus, he asks them:  “What are you looking for?”  And they respond by asking him – where are you staying?  In other words – we’re looking for you.  And Jesus answers come with me, and they follow.  And reading between the lines, it doesn’t appear that they looked back.    

If the reference to four o’clock in the afternoon suggests that when the end of the day had come, then the next scene occurs the day following.  After Andrew spends the night with Jesus, perhaps having a deep conversation about his message and ministry, he goes and gets his brother – Simon, whom Jesus will rename Cephas (Peter).     

                The message that Andrew delivers to Peter is key.  Andrew tells his brother that he had found the Messiah.  For the first time in John’s Gospel, Jesus is directly identified as the Messiah.  For Andrew the one Israel longed to see was in their midst.  The time of Israel’s renewal was at hand.  While Mark is rather coy about Jesus’ messianic identity, from the very beginning John wants us to know that Jesus isn’t just a prophet (he is that as well), he is the Messiah.   He is the one who will bring renewal to Israel. 

                But what is that we hear?  Do we hear a voice telling us to focus on our attention on Jesus – the Lamb of God, the Chosen One, the one who brings to us the Holy Spirit?  Do we hear the call to attach ourselves to this one who restores not just a nation but all of creation to right relationship with God?  Do we hear a call to join with Andrew in sharing the word with our neighbors – I’ve found the one we’ve been looking for, the one in whom our restless hearts will find their rest?  

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