St. John on Sunday, January 18

This Sunday’s Gospel is a selection from the Gospel of John, specifically a passage that tells of two of John’s disciples becoming disciples of Jesus. To preach on this text can be made relatively simple: certainly to change one’s religious dedication and devotion in the light of new understanding (especially understanding of the truth) makes for ready and attractive preaching. But it is worthwhile to investigate the text of John, to uncover what John meant by the story as he reports it. Such a worthwhile though human study at least might deepen the message of what John gives the preacher in John 1, 35-42. 1. As Jesus passes by, John the Baptist notes to two of his disciples: "There is the Lamb of God". John had already used this title about Jesus, in v. 29; now we have a repetition of that title. At v. 29 John the Baptist fleshed out the title by adding that he is "the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world"; it is reasonable to use this clause at our v. 35: Jesus is the Lamb of God, the one who takes away the sin of the world. To call Jesus "the Lamb" is used by people who are used to the OT idea that the lamb is an excellent image of one who serves his master, even to death, and sacrificial death. Indeed, in the Jerusalem Temple four lambs were sacrificed every day, two in the morning and two at night. The famous "Suffering Servant" of Isaiah 53 is described as a lamb in his silently suffering to death. Thus, the disciples of John the Baptist are led by their master to look carefully at Jesus, the one, according to the estimate of John, who will take away the sins of the world. 2. These two disciples are religious people; they clearly agree with John the Baptist in the call for repentance, in the search for forgiveness, in the determination to re-establish, as far as human beings can, the covenant with God. Thus, John is not speaking to un-prepared psyches, to people who are not already looking for the forgiveness of sins and a longed-for return to God. These disciples are, in disposition, likely to follow the direction of John and follow Jesus; they are likely prepared for religious experience. 3. The politeness of the story’s characters undergirds the enthusiasm of two beings, that of the disciples and that of Jesus. Upon meeting the gentleness of Jesus, the disciples call him "Rabbi". This title intends to show how a religious, non-Christian Jew would approach a religious master. The title means to recognize the expertness of Jesus’ knowledge of the God of the OT and His Law. In this God and His Law lies what Jesus and these two other Jews have in common, to their very roots. The point then is that these disciples seek from Jesus an understanding of their Tradition, their God and His Law, which supports and encourages repentance and forgiveness as John the Baptist had already inspired in them by his own conviction and sinless, repentant, prophetic life. 4. The disciples leave Jesus with the conviction that he is Messiah. In this John the Evangelist pays homage to the eventual title most used by Jesus’ followers, a title which became, because of constant use, his last name: from Jesus the Christ to Jesus Christ. But more importantly, the disciples have understood from Jesus’ explanation of the Old Testament that he himself is the wisdom which typifies the Messiah for whom they longed: he ¬is the Messiah. The Gospel will show not only the wisdom characteristic of the Messiah, but also the expected power and holiness of the Messiah. Jesus is that Messiah. It is he who, to put it briefly, will bestow on Israel all the benefits God ever intended for His People, His covenanted People. 5. Enthusiasm leads Andrew to unite Peter with Jesus. The Evangelist skips steps, so that he arrives at the one point he wants to make here. The look of Jesus, so much more than a glance, sees Simon as one he is to call Peter, Rock. Why call him Rock? John offers no explanation, but the Christian Tradition, developed between the time of Jesus and the time of the writing of the Gospel of John, has long recognized Peter as the one, as Matthew would have it, who was the foundation on which Jesus would build his church. John Kilgallen, SJ
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