Narrative Lectionary Reflection
January 7, 2018
Do you remember when you met a specific friend? What about a boyfriend/girlfriend, spouse? You probably wanted to know more about this person and see them again.
Having friends, marrying a spouse all begins with wanting to know more about the person. When you are really into this person, you then want to tell others about this person
We don’t usually think of getting to know someone when it relates to God, as we learned in John1:1-18, God came in human form, in a way that made God relatable. What does it mean to get to know God? How did Jesus change how we connect with God? How do we tell others about meeting Jesus?
Today, we look at Jesus’ calling of the first disciples and what it tells us about God and about what it means to follow Jesus.
Engaging the Text
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is really greater than me because he existed before me.’
In the study of the first part of John 1, we said that it was a different birth story than what is found in Luke. When it comes to Jesus’ baptism (which some churches will be commemorating this Sunday), we see the same pattern showing how different Luke is from the other gospels. The Synoptic (Matthew, Mark and Luke) show the actually baptism taking place. In John, we know there is a baptism, but we know this only because John the Baptist is sharing the experience of seeing Jesus be baptized.
32 John testified, “I saw the Spirit coming down from heaven like a dove, and it rested on him. 33 Even I didn’t recognize him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit coming down and resting is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and testified that this one is God’s Son.”
So, why don’t we see the baptism? The writer of John never says so, but there might be a reason that this event is shared by one’s account and not by showing the actual event. The point might be not to show the event, but to see one who witness the event tell others. This is a theme throughout the book of John where a character will tell others what they experienced.
That witness has an effect. In verse 35, John the Baptist sees Jesus and again calls him the lamb of God. Standing nearby are two disciples who hear what John says and follow Jesus. Maybe the reason we have the scene where John is recounting the baptism is that these disciples heard it and when John says it again, their curiosity is piqued. In John, one “hears” about Jesus before “seeing” him and that is followed by “believing” and finally “witnessing.” The two disciples heard about Jesus from John. When they see Jesus, they really “see” him, maybe not at this point as the Christ, but as someone they need to know better. This is indicated in verse 38. Jesus asks them “What are you looking for?” The two never answer the question, but instead respond with another question “Rabbi, where are you staying?” The Greek word for staying is menein, which means abide. The point in using menein is to indicate that the disciples want to have an intimate friendship with Jesus.
Throughout the rest of chapter one we see the same pattern of what we would now call discipleship: some receives a witness about Jesus and they in turn become witnesses of Christ. John witnesses to the two disiciples and they in turn become witnesses to their brothers, Peter and Nathaniel.
In meeting Jesus, people recognize who Jesus is. New disciples have a name to describe who he is: Rabbi in verse 38, the Messiah in verse 41, the son of God in verse 49 and the king of Israel in verse 51. While they use these titles, that doesn’t mean they totally understand Jesus. In fact, throughout the Gospel of John, people will struggle in trying to understand the identity of Jesus.
That might be why we have this little interlude about Nathaniel. His brother Phillip tells Nate about Jesus, but Nathaniel doesn’t immediately follow Jesus. He responds by saying, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” This shows that not everyone “gets” Jesus because of their preconceived notions. Nathaniel thought Galilee and Nazareth represented the backwater a forgotten part of Israel. The Pharisees in chapter 9 and Martha in chapter 11 and others discounted Jesus because of how they had already viewed Jesus.
Jesus ends the text by saying in verse 51 the heavens will open up and God’s angels will rise and fall with he Christ. That’s a 1st century version of saying, “You Ain’t See Nothin’ Yet.”
Most Christians who are part of the Mainline Protestant tradition tend to be allergic to evangelism. As theologian David Lose notes, people either have seen it done rather poorly (think the person who harranges people) or because we have learned not to talk about religion in polite company.
But today’s passage is basically evangelism. The people who witness Jesus aren’t pushing their views on others, instead they are simply telling what happened in their lives. It was up to those who heard to do something with this.
In our modern age, we as Christians are to be on the look out for what God is doing in our world and then be willing to tell others. Here is how Lose describes it:
And that may be the larger point of this story from the Fourth Gospel — that when it comes to our relationship with Jesus, our primary job is to see and share. Not threaten, not coerce, not intimidate, not woo or wheedle or plead, but simply to see and share.
John the Baptist does that here. He sees the dove descend upon Jesus and tells others what he sees. That’s it. Andrew later does the same. He tells his brother what he and John’s other disciples saw — the person they believe is the Messiah — and invites Peter to come along and see for himself.
Could it be that simple? At its heart, evangelism is noticing what God is doing in our lives, sharing that with others, and inviting them to come and see for themselves.
Why do I think that? Because this isn’t only what John the Baptist does, and it’s not only what Andrew does. It’s also what Jesus does. When Jesus notices some of John’s disciples following him, he asks them what they are looking for. They, in turn, ask where he is staying. He doesn’t give an answer. He doesn’t question further. All he does in response is make an invitation: “Come and see.”
Notice. Share. Invite. These are the three elements of evangelism, sharing the good news of what God has done and is still doing through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for us and all the world.
What keeps us you from sharing that you have seen Jesus? How could it make a difference in your community?
One note about evangelism and today’s text. Sometimes sharing the gospel is presented as a one-time event. That the disciples who listened to Jesus found all the answers. When Nathaniel gives his snarky response to his brother Philip, Philip responds by saying that “we have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote,” (verse 45). The verb tense used in the Greek is in the perfect tense which means you don’t meet Jesus once, but over and over again.
The 1987 song by the group U2, “I’ll Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” was a song that some pastors criticized because it seemed he didn’t really find Jesus.
But as writer John Jay Alvaro wrote it isn’t realistic to think that meeting Jesus once answers every question you have. He shares what it means to keep looking even when you’ve found Jesus:
I have a white little schnauzer at home. He has been with us for many years, most of our marriage and before the kids arrived. He is a fixture in the house, until he is not. Lately my kids have been leaving the back door open, and Albie the schnauzer slips out. Sometimes it will be up to an hour before we realize that he is gone. We always find him, but lately it has felt like we are looking for him a lot. He takes off down an alley or finds a new friend to walk beside for a bit. People around our neighborhood recognize him in part because they have found him in their yards, content to be in the sun and grass.
Every time my son finds a new treasure in the driveway or buried in some drawer, I know that it is only a matter of time before we are looking for his new precious-but-lost item. He will carry a shiny rock everywhere, until he sets it down and forgets to pick it back up. I have torn apart every room looking for a fragment of glass he is convinced is a space crystal. Losing his treasures is part of his having them.
Who are you looking for? Come and see.
Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century and the Federalist.