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Isa 49

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Isaiah 49:1-71 Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the LORD called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name. 2 He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver. 3 He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.” 4 But I said, “I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing. Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s hand, and my reward is with my God.” 5 And now the LORD says— he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD and my God has been my strength— 6 he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” 7 This is what the LORD says— the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel— to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: “Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see and bow down, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

Psalm 40:1-111 For the director of music. Of David. A psalm. I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. 2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. 3 He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD. 4 Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. a 5 Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare. 6 Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced bc; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. 7 Then I said, “Here I am, I have come— it is written about me in the scroll. d 8 I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” 9 I proclaim righteousness in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips, as you know, O LORD. 10 I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and salvation. I do not conceal your love and your truth from the great assembly. 11 Do not withhold your mercy from me, O LORD; may your love and your truth always protect me.

1 Corinthians 1:1-9 1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge— 6 because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.

John 1:29-42 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 I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” 35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” 37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour. 40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter a).

THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PAUL TO THE
CORINTHIANS.

CHAPTER I.

The Divisions in the Church Brought to Light.

SUMMARY.--Greetings to the Church. Thanksgiving for the Grace of God. An Exhortation to Unity. Schisms Rebuked. The Sin of Honoring Human Leaders Instead of Christ. The Preaching of the Cross the Power of God to Salvation. Not the Worldly Wise and Proud, but the Humble and Lowly Converted.

1-3. Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ. Some of the Judaizing teachers, who had visited the church at Corinth after the departure of Paul, in order to lessen his authority, had asserted that he was not an apostle, divinely called like the Twelve. Hence, at the beginning, he asserts his apostleship, and refers to his divine call. See 1 Cor. 9:1, and 2 Cor. 12:12. Sosthenes, our brother. A Sosthenes is named in Acts 18:17, who was then the chief ruler of the synagogue at Corinth. The Sosthenes whom Paul associated with himself in the letter must have been well known to, and influential among, the Corinthians, and was probably the former chief ruler, who had been converted. Apollos, Priscilla and Aquila, all well known to the church, were at Ephesus with Paul (see chap. 16), but Sosthenes is chosen to appear with him in the salutation. 2. Unto the church of God. This designation of the church appears oftener than any other in the New Testament. To them that are sanctified. All of "the church of God at Corinth" were "sanctified in Christ Jesus;" that is, they were set apart from the world and consecrated to God. All Christians are "sanctified" in the sense of the term in the New Testament, and "called to be saints." The humblest Christian is a saint, as well as Peter or Paul. With all that in every place call, etc. The letter is intended for all Christians, as well as for those at Corinth. Call upon the name of Jesus Christ. Recognize him as their divine Savior. Both theirs and ours. The Lord of the saints everywhere as well as ours (8:6; Eph. 4:5). Since there is only one Lord and Master, all Christians should be brethren. 3. Grace be unto you. The favor of God; the divine blessing. This is the apostolical benediction. Peace. This is always an appropriate benediction, since peace is one of the greatest blessings, but was especially appropriate to a church which was torn by dissensions.

4-9. I thank my God always on your behalf. Before speaking of the faults which he must rebuke, he speaks of the grounds for praise and hope. He did not forget these, because there was [76] much that he could not praise. He could see their improvement on their former condition, as well as their present faults. A good example for all critics. 5. That in every thing ye are enriched by him. "The grace of God" (verse 4) had "enriched" them. In all utterance. The reference is especially, but not exclusively, to the supernatural gifts of tongues and of knowledge which were imparted to the early church. See 12:8-10; and 2 Cor. 8:7; 11:6. 6. Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you. It was confirmed by the fruits which it brought forth; their belief and the spiritual gifts which were bestowed upon some of them. 7. So that ye come behind in no gift. They were "enriched" by the grace of God, so that they were not inferior to other Christians in privileges. Waiting for the coming. They, like other Christians, were eagerly waiting for the return of the Lord to the earth. 8. Who shall confirm you. He will do his part to confirm you; give you strength to the end, that ye may be blameless in the day, etc. Free from blame when they are called to meet the Lord. 9. God is faithful. Hence he will faithfully discharge his part of the covenant. His promises may be relied upon. The fact that he had called the saints to fellowship with his Son, is proof that their salvation will be completed.

10-17. Now I beseech you, brethren, etc. How earnest and imploring is the Apostle's exhortation that they should maintain unity! That ye all speak the same thing. Have no distinctive party declarations. This is violated in the modern sectarian symbols and confessions. That there be no divisions. "No schisms," in the Greek. If there were none, and all "were perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment," all would "speak the same thing." There would be no variance in their declarations. It is evident, from what follows, that, while the Corinthians had not separated into various church organizations, they had formed several parties within the church. Organized sects, claiming to be "branches of the church," were unknown till centuries later. 11. For it hath been declared unto me. He candidly tells them how he had learned of their dissensions. Them which are of the house of Chloe. Whether these were her children or her servants, or whether she lived at Corinth and these members of her household had come to visit Paul at Ephesus, or whether she lived at Ephesus and these persons had made a visit to Corinth, these are all unknown. Chloe is not elsewhere name. 12. Now this I say. I explain more fully what I mean. He shows that there were four existing parties: A Pauline party, clinging to the founder of their church; a party of Apollos, who were probably carried away by their admiration of his Alexandrian philosophy; a party of Judaizer, who claimed to be following Peter, called here by [77] his Hebrew name of Cephas; and a fourth party, who claimed to turn away from all these human leaders, and to be only of Christ. 13. Is Christ divided? The church is "the Body of Christ" (12:12, 13). Can that body be cut into parts, and these assigned to human leaders? Was Paul crucified for you? The cross binds us to Christ alone. By baptism we are baptized in Christ's name, into his death, and into Christ (Rom. 6:3). 14. I thank God that I baptized none of you, etc. "The Corinthians hearing, believed and were baptized" (Acts 18:8), but the fellow-ministers of Paul usually administered the baptismal rite. Since some of the Corinthians were claiming to be of his party, he was glad that he had not personally baptized them, lest some of them should say he had baptized in his own name (verse 15). Crispus. Formerly chief ruler of the synagogue at Corinth (Acts 18:8). Gaius. See Romans 16:23. He was Paul's host at Corinth when the Epistle to the Romans was written. 16. I baptized also the household of Stephanas. This household was "the first fruits of Achaia" (16:15); Stephanas was one of the three Corinthian brethren then visiting Paul at Ephesus (16:17). There is no proof that this, or any other household named in Scripture, contained infants, but there is proof that most of them did not. "The household" does not mean the same as "the family," but those dwelling in the house; often the servants only. 17. For Christ sent me not to baptize. Paul does not intend to disparage baptism, but to say that, in the division of labor, the work assigned him was to preach, while others did the baptizing. If the common views of his physical condition are correct, he was hardly strong enough to do a great deal of baptizing. Not with wisdom of words. Instead of seeking eloquence or philosophical speculation, which might hide the cross, he told the simple story of the gospel in plain and simple language.

18-21. The preaching of the cross. The gospel of a Crucified Savior. To them that perish. Those who are unregenerate. Is foolishness. The Greek philosopher and the Jewish scribe scoffed at the thought of a Savior who had been crucified. They held that his crucifixion proved that he was not divine. Unto us who are saved. There are two sections of mankind--the unsaved and the saved. To the first, the cross is folly; to the second, the gospel of the Crucified One comes as the power of God. See Rom. 1:16. To the unsaved, the cross is a pillar of cloud; to the saved, a pillar of light. 19. I will destroy the wisdom of the wise (Isa. 29:14). By turning to the passage in Isaiah, its meaning is clear. God will put aside the wisdom and understanding of men; these will not save; but he will save by what the world called foolishness. 20. Where is the wise? The Greek philosophers. In Greek, the term "philosopher" means a lover of wisdom. The scribe? The scribes were the Jewish learned class. The disputer? etc. Probably the Greek teachers who "disputed daily" in the public places. Hath not God made foolish? etc. All their worldly wisdom is excluded from the [78] gospel. 21. For . . . knew not God. Worldly wisdom did not search out the true God. Intellectual speculation had done its utmost, and failed. Hence it was rejected, and the Divine Wisdom chose by the foolishness of preaching to save, etc. That is, by preaching what the wise and puffed up of the this world called foolishness. They called the gospel foolishness.

22-25. For the Jews require a sign. Not merely miracles, such as the apostles worked, but a sign from heaven (Matt. 12:38). They said, "Let Christ come down from heaven, if he be risen." And the Greeks seek after wisdom. While the Jews asked for a sign from heaven, the Greeks demanded a well-argued system of philosophy (Acts 17:18). 23. But we preach Christ crucified. Not merely Christ, but Christ Crucified; a Crucified Savior. Unto the Jews a stumbling-block. Because they had an entirely different conception of the Christ. Yet it was predicted that he should be "a stone of stumbling" (Matt. 21:42). Unto the Greeks foolishness. It seemed to the Greeks that a being who died so ignominious a death could not be divine. 24. But to them which are called. But to those who obey the gospel call, whether Jews or Gentiles, the Crucified Christ is found to be the power of God, and the wisdom of God. The gospel not only is found to be mighty, but wise in meeting the wants of the soul. 25. The foolishness of God. In one thing that men call foolishness, in Christ Crucified, there is greater wisdom than in all the philosophers, and though it seemed weakness of God to let Christ be crucified, yet the Crucified Savior is mightier than all the strength of men. If folly and weakness be of God, these will be wiser and stronger than men.

26-31. Not many wise men after the flesh. Paul now shows the weakness of the human instrumentality chosen to convert the world; not those the world called wise, not the mighty, not the noble, yet the work was moving on with wonderful power. 27. But God hath chosen the foolish things. Men whom the world would call foolish, with a gospel that it called foolishness; yet these "confounded the wise" and upturned the world's philosophies. 28. Base things. Those of lowly birth. Things which are not. People that the world would call "nobodies," and things that it counts as nothing. These are chosen to bring to nought things that are; the existing state of [79] things; the pagan religions, governments, and civilization; these were to be overthrown through the influence of the gospel. 29. That no flesh should glory, etc. That it should be shown that the power was of God. 30. Who of God is made unto us wisdom. "Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God" (verse 24), is wisdom to us. And righteousness. In him we are made righteous, and obtain sanctification and redemption. Christ is all of these to us. 31. He that glorieth, etc. (Jer. 9:23). As Christ is our all, imparts every grace that we enjoy, and bestows every blessing, there is no ground for glorying in Paul, Apollos or Cephas, but in the Lord alone.

Returning God's Call: The Challenge of Christian Living by John C. Purdy

John C. Purdy is a retired minister of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), which he served for 26 years as an editor of curriculum resource. He is also the author of Parables at Work (Westminster) and God with a Human Face (Westminster/Knox). Returning God's Call was published in l989 by Westminster/John Knox Press. This material was prepared for Religion Online by John C. Purdy.

Chapter 1: Hearers of the Call (I Corinthians 1:1-2, 9, 26a)

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Jesus Christ... to the church of God. . . to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours. . -. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. - . consider your call.

-- I Corinthians 1:1 -- 2, 9, 26a

What metaphor of the Christian life have you chosen? We act out the images we have of ourselves. The way we see ourselves as Christians determines how we behave. A picture is not only worth a thousand words, it is the parent of a thousand deeds. Do you see yourself a soldier in God's army? A sister or a brother in faith's extended family? A scholar in the school of Christ? A traveler along the Christian way? Each of these metaphors has served Christians well. William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, used the military metaphor with great effect; slum dwellers of nineteenth-century London found the discipline of a soldier to be strong armor against the pull of a former life. The ex-soldier Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, modeled his society after military ideas. There are Latin American priests who see themselves as chaplains to God's guerrilla army of liberation.

The idea of the Christian fellowship as a heavenly family housed on earth has a long history. The Shakers saw one another as brothers and sisters in a surrogate family; no wonder they were able so easily to adopt orphans into their communities. Roman Catholics call their priest Father; in their religious orders are Brothers and Sisters.

Life in Scottish Presbyterian parishes of a previous generation was very much like being in school:

The pastor was teacher in residence; sermons were long and scholarly; when the pastor visited a home, he tested the children's knowledge of the church catechism. Andrew Murray, a Scottish-trained missionary, named his devotional classic With Christ in the School of Prayer.

In Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan captured the imaginations of many generations with his image of the Christian life as a journey. In his contemporary novel The Blue Mountains of China, Rudy Wiebe tells the story of Mennonites who moved from Germany to Russia, China, Canada, and South America -- modern pilgrims in search of religious freedom. One of Wiebe's characters says, "You know the trouble with the Mennonites? They've always wanted to be Jews. To have land God had given them for their very own, to which they were called; so even if someone chased them away, they could work forever to get it back."

The New Testament is not limited to the images of soldier, sibling, scholar, or sojourner. It offers such metaphors of the Christian life as "ambassador for Christ" -- a favorite of evangelicals -- and "citizen of God's commonwealth," a favorite of social activists. Then there is the disciple, the member of Christ's body, the friend of Jesus.

It is the argument of this book, however, that these various metaphors are not as useful for our time as still another: hearers of the call. If we had to select one and only one way of picturing the life of the Christian, it would be the image of one who has heard and keeps hearing a persistent summons to belief and action.

When I was a child, playing hide-and-seek outside in the waning daylight of a summer evening, inevitably our front door would open and my mother's voice would call, "Jack, time to come in!" I would go on with hide-and-seek as though nothing had happened. To anybody passing by, I looked no different from my playmates. But I was different; I had been "called in"; everything was changed. In a similar way Christians -- who may appear no different from others -- have ringing in their ears God's summons to believe and to obey. Henry Thoreau said that some march to a different drummer. Christians do not hear a different drumbeat; they hear Jesus' distant but clear voice saying, "Come, follow me." It sounds over the whir of the lathe, the cry of a baby, the clink of coins, the curses of enemies, the whisper of success, the roar of the crowd, the nagging of conscience.

An Active Voice

You may object that the metaphor of hearers of the call is too passive, too quiescent. You remember the injunction of the Letter of James: "Be doers of the word, and not hearers only." But in scripture God's call is a powerful spur to action. Moses heard the voice of God in a smoking bush and went off to lead a people out of slavery. Amos left his sycamore trees at the summons of God. We assume that Jesus himself was called to his ministry.

In The Blue Mountains of China, Wiebe tells the story of a Mennonite farmer named Sam Reimer. One night Sam hears a voice saying to him, "Samuel, Samuel. . . I am the God of your fathers, the Lord your God. Go and proclaim peace in Vietnam." In perplexity, Sam goes to his pastor, who tells him to listen for the voice a second time. The next night the call comes again, but Sam cannot get anyone to believe that he has truly heard God's voice. His pastor won't believe it; neither will his wife or his fellow Mennonites. The Canadian government won't give him a visa to Vietnam; the inter-Mennonite Church Service Society won't help him. Sam's reaction to these rebuffs is to give up hope and die. On his deathbed he says to his wife, "When I heard the voice, I should of gone. Left a note and gone. When you know like that, are chosen, you shouldn't wait, talk. Go."

Fritz Graebe was a civil engineer with the German army in World War II. He said that after witnessing the mass murder of Jewish civilians in the Ukrainian town of Dubno, he heard his mother's voice, saying, "And Fritz, what would you do?" He was not disobedient to that inner call. Fritz Graebe contrived to save the lives of hundreds of Jews.

The prophet Jeremiah tells the inner pain of not obeying the call of God:

If I say, "I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,"
there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.
- Jeremiah 20:9

Right for Our Times

What is so timely about the metaphor of hearers of the call? It has several considerable advantages. First, as we shall demonstrate, it is an extraordinarily rich metaphor; it is applicable to a whole range of settings -- family, piety, economics, missions, stewardship, enmities, caring ministries, marriage. No other single biblical metaphor has such range. The soldier metaphor is fine for warring against injustice, but "Onward, Christian Soldiers" is not to be hummed when you sit down with your spouse to discuss household finances. Family metaphors don't help with civic responsibilities. The scholar metaphor is useful for worship and Bible study, but books like Andrew Murray's With Christ in the School of Prayer don't have much to say about faithfulness in the workplace. The sojourner metaphor, too, is hard to reconcile with domestic responsibilities.

Hearers of the call also puts us in direct line with Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets, and the apostles, all of whom have this in common: They were summoned by God to fulfill the divine purpose.

Hearers of the call has a particular resonance in our culture, dominated as it is by the mass media. All of us are audiences for television, computer networks, radio, and publishing. We are constantly being studied (by researchers) and wooed (by advertisers and politicos) through the mass media. We live in a world that increasingly organizes us into audiences and wants to deal with us as audiences. Russell Baker, writing in the New York Times (September 30, 1987), said, "Since 1952, the electorate has been treated by politicians less and less as an electorate and more and more as an audience." If we are indeed treated more and more as audience, one of the primary ethical tasks of our time is to sort out the various appeals to our ears.

The metaphor of hearers of the call has one additional advantage, which will be referred to in more detail in chapter 11: It applies to the church as a collective as well as to the individual Christian. One of the considerable threats to the health and welfare of Christianity in our generation is a tendency to individualism. Carl Dudley characterizes the religious attitude of many young adults as "believing but not belonging." This is American individualism at its most typical. If we are to overcome the tendency of our age to privatism, we need metaphors that suggest collective as well as individual obedience and commitment.

We shall test the usefulness of hearers of the call by examining ten "calling" narratives from the Gospel of Matthew. This Gospel is particularly useful for our purpose, for it contains a number of accounts in which Jesus is represented as issuing summonses to various persons: calling fishermen to leave their nets; calling those same fishermen to take up the cross, follow a life of humble service, and go into the world with the good news of the kingdom. Some scholars say that Matthew was written as a Christian handbook, a manual of discipline. If so, that makes it particularly useful as a source for examining various calls to discipleship.

Another feature of Matthew invites the attention of those who want to invest discipleship with new meaning: The Gospel is structured of five large chunks of Jesus' teaching, each preceded by narrative. John Meier calls these five discourses "the five pillars of the Gospel." The author of Matthew was most likely a Jewish Christian leader of the church in Syria in the late first century A.D., writing at a time when the church had split from the Jewish synagogue and was struggling to define itself. The five pillars and their accompanying narratives suggest that the Gospel writer saw Jesus as a new Moses: As Moses called Israel to leave Egypt and go adventuring in the wilderness, where he delivered to them the commandments of God, so Jesus calls the church to a new obedience, "to boldly go where no one has gone before," in the famous words from Star Trek.

In keeping with the notion that hearers of the call is a collective metaphor, we shall invite to the discussion four authors of popular commentaries on the First Gospel: Jack Dean Kingsbury, an American Protestant and author of Matthew in Proclamation Commentaries (Fortress Press, 1986); David Hill, a Britisher, author of The Gospel of Matthew in the New Century Bible Commentary (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972); John P. Meier, an American Roman Catholic, author of Matthew in the New Testament Message Series (Michael Glazier, 1980): and Eduard Schweizer, a Swiss, author of The Good News According to Matthew translated by David Green (John Knox, 1975). Quotations from these four books will be indicated by the author's name and the page reference in parenthesis.

Christ as God's Call

One further consideration remains, before we look at specific narratives in Matthew. What particular force or import are we to assign to a call from Jesus Christ? Is a call something like a sermon, in which we are exhorted to a new kind of behavior? Is the listing often calls from Jesus an attempt to replace the Ten Commandments with a new table of moral requirements? Is a call something like an invitation to join a party, which we may accept or refuse depending on our mood?

The answer lies in the identity of the one who issues the call. There are various ways in which the identity of Jesus in Matthew's Gospel is described. Some see Jesus presented as the divine Son of God (Kingsbury). Others see him presented to the reader as the Son of man, who will return at the end of time to judge everyone for his or her deeds (Meier). Some see Matthew's Jesus as "Messiah and Son of Man and supremely Lord of the Church" (Hill, p. 43).

As Hans Frei points out in a series of essays in Crossroads, a person's identity is revealed in what he does, how he enacts his intentions. The Jesus we see in Matthew's Gospel is the person who is perfectly obedient to the will of God, so that the one who calls us is the one who himself hears and truly obeys the Father's will. His verbal summons is at one with the example of his life. He is the one of whom the apostle Paul wrote, "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:5 -- 8).

John 1:29. The next day John seeth Jesus. Here Jesus first appears, in person, in John's account, who omits all the details given by Matthew and Luke of his earlier life. He was now thirty years old, and came from Galilee to Jordan to be baptized of John. This interview was after the baptism (verse 33), and probably after the Temptation. Behold the Lamb of God. Innocent like the lamb, to be offered as a lamb, "led as a lamb to the slaughter" (Isa. 53:7). The lamb was commonly used as a sin offering (Lev. 4:32), and when John points to Jesus as the Lamb of God he can only mean that God had provided him as a sacrificial offering. The sin of the world. Not of Jews only, but of Gentiles. John points to Jesus as the world's Savior.

30. This is he of whom I said. See verse 27. Was before. Existed before I was born.

31. I knew him not. Knew not that God had chosen him to be the Christ. He knew, however, that he should be manifested in some way through his baptism.

32-34. I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove. See Matt. 3:16, and notes. It was revealed to John that the Christ would thus be revealed. Indeed it was the anointing of the Spirit that made Jesus the Anointed, the Christ.

35. Again the next day after, John stood, and two of his disciples. In verses 19-28, the account is given of the visit of the priests and Levites, sent by the Sanhedrim to John. "The next day" after this, John sees Jesus and points him out as the Lamb of God, giving a discourse of which, in verses 19-34, we have a synopsis. On the "next day" after this, the third day after the deputation of the Sanhedrim, and the second after the return of Jesus from the wilderness, Jesus stood with two of his disciples. One of these two, we learn from verse 40, was Andrew; the other, we have reason to believe, was John, the apostle.

36. Behold the Lamb of God! On the preceding day John had recognized Jesus in a public discourse as "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world." Now he personally points the disciples to him. [327]

38. Rabbi. A term meaning teacher, or master. Where dwellest thou? These disciples had followed at the bidding of John. Their question implies a desire to be in the company of Jesus.

39. It was about the tenth hour. Counting from six o'clock, the first hour among the Jews, the tenth hour would be four P. M.

40, 41. One of the two . . . was Andrew. Afterwards an apostle. He has the honor of being one of the first two disciples of Jesus. Findeth his own brother Simon. Simon Peter. In true missionary spirit Andrew at once and first sought his own brother. We have found the Messias. The Christ promised by the prophets. Messiah is the Hebrew word meaning the same as Christ.

42. Thou shalt be called Cephas. A Hebrew word meaning stone. Peter is the Greek form.

John 1.29-42
2nd Sunday after the Epiphany - Year A

Other texts:

  • Isaiah 49-1-7
  • Psalm 40-1-12
  • 1 Corinthians 1-1-9


To me it almost feels like an intrusion to have the lesson from John thrust into the year of Matthew. Next week we will hear Matthew's account of Jesus calling the first disciples. This week we hear from John. There are some important differences.

THE IMPORTANCE OF WITNESSES AS SIGNS TO JESUS

The Gospel of John is a book of "signs" -- namely things, events, and people who point to something else. Such "intermediaries" are generally necessary in this gospel in order to come to faith. Even Jesus is a type of intermediary as the logos -- the "Word" or "Revealer" of God.

I think that this is the theme and purpose of the entire gospel: "These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name" (20:31). This gospel itself is a "sign" to point us to the Messiah, who is a "sign" who points us to God. As O'Day (John, NIB) states about this gospel: "... the story of Jesus is not ultimately a story about Jesus; it is, in fact, the story of God." [p. 524]

An indication of the intermediary-ness of the fourth Gospel is the use of martyreo ("bear witness"). The verb occurs once in Matthew, once in Luke, none in Mark, and 31 times in John (five times in chapter 1; verses 7, 8, 15, 32, 34). Similar statistics exist for the noun martyria ("witness"): three times in Mark, once in Luke, none in Matthew, and 14 times in John (twice in chapter 1: 7, 19).

We are told that "John came as a witness to bear witness to the light, so that all might believe though him" [1:7].

However, John's first witness is not about the Light, but about himself when the Jews sent priests and Levites to question him (v. 19). First of all, he talks about who he is not: He is not the Christ; he is not Elijah; he is not one of the prophets (vv. 20-21). Secondly, he talks about who he is: "The voice crying in the wilderness. . . ." (v. 23). Sometimes we need to be reminded that we can't just be against something (e.g., "Just say 'No'"), but we also need to be for something (e.g., "What are we saying 'yes' to?")

The first half of our text is centered on John "witnessing" to the reader about Jesus with five images.

  • Here is the Lamb of God
  • who is taking away the sin of the world." (1:29)
  • The one who existed before John (1:30-31)
  • The one on whom the Spirit descends and rests (1:32-33)
  • "This is the Son of God." (1:34)

Without "witnesses" we would not know the one who is coming and who stands among us (1:26-27). Even John needed the divine "witness" in order to "know" who Jesus was. Twice he says that he did not know him (1:31, 33), but God "points out" Jesus by the Spirit who descends and remains on him, so that John can say in v. 34: "I [emphasized] have seen and have witnessed that this one is the Son of God." (Variant readings have "Chosen one of God".) In the synoptics, it is God who declares Jesus' sonship at his baptism. Here it is John.

The sign was the Spirit coming down and remaining on Jesus. meno ("remain") is an important word in John, occurring in 33 verses, while it appears in 11 verses in the rest of the gospels. While it is most frequent in John 15 (7 verses), it is found in our text five times. Twice in reference to the Spirit remaining on Jesus (vv. 32-33) and twice in reference to where Jesus is "staying" and the first two disciples who "stay" with Jesus that day (vv. 38, 39).

Perhaps we might refer to this word as "staying power". Jesus is not like the ecstatic, charismatic type prophets upon whom the spirit comes and goes. The Spirit remains with him. The first disciples have "staying power". They don't come and go (at least on that first day).

"COME AND SEE"

In the second half of our text, John witnesses to his two disciples who then follow Jesus. One of them, Andrew, witnesses to his brother Peter. In the following story, Jesus finds Philip without a witness, but then Philip finds Nathanael and witnesses to him about Jesus. Generally, a witness is needed to help others "see" Jesus. In fact, these two events may indicate that one cannot adequately follow Jesus without also extending the invitation to others.

The invitation, "Come and see," is given twice (1:39, 46). The essence of our witness is to state what we have seen and believe and then to invite others to "come and see." For John, faith begins by responding to the invitation to "come and see." The same words (in English, but slightly different in Greek) are uttered by the Samaritan woman to the people, "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?" (4:29)

The same combination of words is used at the end of the gospel: Mary comes and sees that the stone has been removed from the tomb (20:1). Peter and the other disciple come to the tomb and look in and see. The one sees and believes (20:3-8).

What will people "come and see" in our congregations? Will they see that we are Jesus' disciples by the way we love one another (13:35)? Will they see that we have heard Jesus word so that his joy is in us and our joy is complete (15:11)? Will they see us pointing to ourselves, our own achievements and hard work or will they see us being proper symbols and witnesses, pointing to Christ?

It was Jesus who turned and first spoke to the two disciples of John who were following him (1:38). It is Jesus who speaks first to Simon (1:42). It is Jesus who finds Philip and speaks to him (1:43) -- not like the national "I found it" campaign of a few years ago. It is Jesus whose words draw out Nathanael's good confession (1:47-49). We can never loose sight of the primacy of God's gracious acts that evoke our response. Yet, Andrew's witness to Simon is, "We have found the Messiah" (more about "finding" later).

I have two fears for the future of the Christian church. One is that we will fail to be witnesses -- people willing to invite others to "come and see". I am becoming more and more convinced that invitational-ness needs to be part of faith. One of the differences that faith should make in our lives is the desire that others -- especially those without a religious faith -- might also share in and benefit from the relationship God offers through Christ. If we are not willing to invite others into this experience, what does that say about our experiences with Christ and with our church?

I've had people tell me about good restaurants, barbers, optometrists, etc. A member has repeatedly encouraging me to go to his Kiwanis Club breakfast meetings. Since I have gone a couple times, he is now asking if I would like to join. (I understand that there is a prize for the member who recruits the most new members during the year.) Why isn't there the same fervor over inviting and encouraging people to come and participate in our church activities? Let me suggest that there are three broad areas that are likely to influence our non-inviting-ness.

(1) Our culture which suggests talking about religion is taboo. (Why shouldn't we un-taboo it? We certainly won't be thrown in prison or executed like the earliest believers were.

(2) Our selves -- there may be things about our selves that dampen our enthusiasm for inviting others into the faith.
(a) Some may argue that we are shy and don't talk to people, but I bet that any person, shy or otherwise, would count the number of people they speak to each week, they would be surprised how many opportunities they have to say something about their faith.

(b) Some may feel that religion is a private matter and shouldn't be shared with others. That, to me, is a false understanding of Christianity. It has always been personal, but never private. Salvation is a gift from God that is meant for the whole world.

(c) Some may not feel that they have much of a personal faith to share. Their experiences with God (and the church) are mostly habit, part of their culture, something their families have always done for generations. Why they believe? Why they attend worship? Why anyone else should "come and see" are questions they just don't ask themselves.

(3) Our church -- I'm afraid that there are many congregations that offer little or nothing worth inviting others to: worship services that are comfortable for the long-time members, but confusing to guests, I think that planners, when appropriate, need to give more thought to questions like, "How can we organize this program/meeting/activity so that our members will want to and be encouraged to invite other people to attend?" When planning a potluck, is the time set that is most convenient for the members, or a time that would encourage members to invite others to participate in the feast? Do we even think of a potluck as an activity to which we should invite friends, relatives, neighbors, etc.? How different would our annual meetings be if we wanted members to invite friends to the event? Certainly the reports about past activities would not be long and boring reports, but perhaps a Power Point presentation showing the faces of people the church had helped over the past year, pictures of happy children in Sunday school classes, a grieving widow surrounded by supporting people, etc. The presentation would proclaim loudly and clearly that God, through our ministries, is making positive differences in people's lives. In addition, annual meetings, however they are conducted, should also spend as much time on future plans as they do on the past. (A congregation that is always looking backwards will have a hard time moving forward.) How often have we received invitations from someone we don't know over the phone, to come and watch a presentation about the wonderful things a new company or venture is planning to do -- and we are given the opportunity to participate, to get in on the "ground floor," to buy into the program -- or into a new time share condo? While I don't expect many annual meetings to change because of this note, I use that as an example of re-thinking church programs, considering them to be vehicles that motivate members to invite others to "come and see".

My second concern about the future of the church that we will fail to provide the proper "stuff" for the invitees to see. All the gimmicks to get members to invite others are meaningless if there is nothing substantial for them to receive. Whether it is a loveless and joyless gathering of people; or a worship service that is full of life and energy that might attract hundreds each week, but fails to center on and point to Jesus; neither will give the people (whether members of visitors) "what they are seeking" -- namely, the One who is seeking them.

ANDREW

Three times Andrew is doing something in John -- and each time he is bringing someone to Jesus! First, his brother, Simon (1:40). Then, a boy with five barley loaves and two fish (6:8); and finally, "some Greeks" (12:20-22), which signals the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified.

Andrew is never mentioned just by himself. Twice he is called Simon Peter's brother (1:40; 6:8). We are told that Philip came from the city of Andrew and Simon (1:44). Andrew and Philip go and tell Jesus about the Greeks (12:22). It may be that being named as the first follower of Jesus was the first time that he had ever been first in anything. It seems likely to me that he was always living under the shadow of his more flamboyant brother. It also seems to me that our congregations are full of more behind-the-scenes "Andrews" than flamboyant "Peters" who seem to get all the credit. ("Peter" occurs in 32 verses in John -- 8 times as many as Andrew.) One doesn't have to be a "Peter" to be an effective follower and witness to Jesus.

A DIFFERENT "CONVERSION"

Next week, we will hear Jesus calling the four fishermen (from Matthew). With that call, they give up their work as fishermen to follow Jesus, but in the Fourth Gospel the first disciples give up a previous religious commitment as disciples of John [O'Day, p. 530]. There is a sense in John that the battle is more between two religious commitments -- "the Jews" and "the Christians" -- than a movement from irreligious Jewish (or Gentile) sinners (e.g., fishermen and tax collectors) to Christian forgiven sinners.

I think that in our day, we need to take seriously the other (religious) commitments calling our members. There is religious legalism. There is the cheap grace antinomianism. There are followers of astrology and horoscopes in our congregations. Statistics that I've read indicate that there is a strong religious or spiritual commitment among Americans. In my mind, the great revival that is needed in America is not a conversion to Jesus Christ -- (although there are many who need that) -- but a conversion to the church, the communion of saints. The self-centered, "I can be a Christian by myself," or the "me-and-God" religion needs to be replaced with "I need the body of Christ and the body of Christ needs me for us to live faithfully."

"FINDING" OR "BEING FOUND"?

I don't like "finding" language, e.g., "We have found the Messiah," or, as a local pastor wrote in a newspaper article, "That's were I found God." Yet, that is present in our text and the following events.

The word heurisko (from where we get "eureka") is used in vv. 41, 43, & 45.

v. 41 Andrew finds Simon and says to him:
"We have found the Messiah," (which is translated "Christ").

v. 43 Jesus finds Philip and says to him: "Follow me."

v. 45 Philip finds Nathanael and says to him:
"The one whom Moses in the law and the prophets wrote,
we have found, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth."

Francis Moloney (The Gospel of John, Sacra Pagina) takes issue with some of these comments:

Andrew has told Simon, "We have found" (heurekamen), and this is not true (v. 41). The Baptist pointed his disciples toward Jesus, and they followed (vv. 36-37). They were invited by Jesus to come and see, and they did what they were told (v. 39). The initiative for their presence with Jesus and their understanding of him does not belong to them. A lie has been told, and this is further reinforced by Jesus' words to Simon. Once Andrew led Simon to Jesus he looked at him and spoke to him. The initiative is entirely with Jesus. [pp. 54-55]

While I wouldn't go as far as Moloney in calling Andrew a liar, I think that part of the problem is that "to find" misses some of the meaning of the word heurisko. This word is used five times in these three verses. Theologically, I'm not sure we can talk about "finding" God. If God were to hide from us, I don't think that we could find God (see John 7:24-26).

The first two (and most common definitions) given by Lowe and Nida for this word are: (1) "to learn the location of something, either by intentional searching or by unexpected discovery;" and (2) "to learn something previously not known, frequently involving an element of surprise"

It is the aspect of "unexpected discovery" or "surprise" that isn't translated well by our word "to find," which, I think, conveys more of the sense of "intentional searching."

According to the legend, the ruler Hiero II asked Archimedes to find a method for determining whether a crown was pure gold or mixed with silver. One day when Archimedes stepped into his bath and noticed that the water rose as he sat down, he ran out of the house naked shouting, "Eureka! Eureka!" (= "I have found [it]" -- forms of the same verb).

If you want a sort of scientific explanation of what he "found," you can read the next paragraph. If you're only interested in the significance of this "bathroom" illustration, you can skip the next paragraph.

The way to determine whether or not a crown was pure gold was to compare its weight to its volume. If one had 1 pound of gold and 1 pound of silver (one would be very rich <g>) and submerged them in water. The silver would make the water rise higher than the gold, because it is less dense than gold. Or, if one had two crowns, of the same volume -- that is, each made the water rise the same amount. A pure gold one would weigh more than one mixed with silver.

Archimedes did not "find" this truth by searching after it -- although he may have spent days thinking about a solution to the problem. His "find" came as an unexpected surprise. It's almost as if the truth found him more than he finding the truth. It was something that was there all the time. He may have noticed the rising bathtub water hundreds of times before, but its significance didn't "click" in his brain until that "eureka" moment.

I'm not sure that Andrew "finding" Simon or Philip "finding" Nathanael should be understood exactly the same way as them "finding" the Messiah. The latter would be more like Archimedes' discovery; it was an unexpected, non-anticipated surprise of Jesus breaking into their minds -- perhaps a metanoia -- a "mind changing" event.

Note also that in both instances where Jesus is the object, the subject is "we" -- "We have found . . . " Who are the "we"? Does John intend just a historical understanding of "we" or is this also his own (and his community's) confession about Jesus?

THE LAMB OF GOD WHO TAKES AWAY SIN

Throughout our text, numerous titles for Jesus are given. First, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (1:29)

The three principal suggestions for the background of this image are:

(1) It could be the apocalyptic lamb. In the context of final judgment there appears in Jewish apocalyptic the figure of a conquering lamb who will destroy evil in the world. This image fits well with John's eschatological preaching. However, this image doesn't fit as well with the "taking away sin of the world" description of the lamb.

(2) It could be the suffering servant who is "like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent" and who "bore the sin of many" (Isaiah 53:7, 12).

(3) It could be the paschal lamb, whose blood saved the Israelites from death by the destroyer (Exodus 12:21-23).

Raymond Brown in his commentary on John presents arguments concerning these background images (1) whether or not John the Baptist actually had them in mind; and (2) whether or not the gospel writer actually had them in mind. I think in terms of preaching, we can present these (as well as some others) as our Christian understanding of Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Note that "sin" is singular. As Brown suggests, the plural "sins" refers to sinful acts, while the singular refers to a sinful condition. The other instance of airo (take away) being used with sin(s) is 1 John 3:5 where both the plural and singular are used: "You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin."

Mohoney also notes that this Lamb is "of God." He is not our lamb. He is not our offering. Mohoney concludes: "Jesus is not a cultic victim but the one through whom God enters the human story, offering it reconciliation with him. As so often in the fourth Gospel, an old symbol is being used in a new way" [p. 59].

THE PRE-EXISTING ONE

Although not specifically titles, John presents Jesus as the pre-existing one (1:30-31). Perhaps as an apologetic against John the Baptist sectarians. It was a problem then and can be today when the "witness" or "sign" becomes more important than the one they are pointing to. If ministers or churches or denominations or the Bible or even the Holy Spirit become more important than Jesus, then they have failed to be proper witnesses to the greater One.

THE SPIRIT-FILLED ONE

John also presents Jesus as the one on whom the Spirit remains (1:32-33). He doesn't give an account of the baptism -- again, perhaps as an apologetic against the Baptist sectarians -- but he includes some of the same results. The coming of the Holy Spirit on Jesus and a voice declaring him to be the Son of God (1:34). In this case, it is the voice of the "witness" John the Baptist, rather than a voice from heaven.

OTHER TITLES

The two disciples call Jesus "Rabbi," which John tells us means "teacher" (1:38). Literally, though, "rabbi" means "my great one" or "my lord/master". There is no evidence that this was used as a title prior to 70 AD, thus an indication that the Gospel was written after that date.

Andrew tells Peter, "We have found the Messiah," which is also interpreted in the Gospel as "Christ". Both words mean "Anointed One" (1:41).

In the following paragraph (1:43-51), these titles are given.

  • the one written about by Moses and the prophets
  • Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth
  • Rabbi
  • Son of God
  • King of Israel
  • Son of Man

A very lengthy sermon or doctorate thesis could be written just on the titles in John 1. A wide range of Christologies is included in these few verses. Yet, do these first disciples fully understand who Jesus is? Do these titles reflect more of their own expectations of Jesus than of the mission to which God is sending his son?

Perhaps in most congregations, it might be more effective to ignore all the different possible christological implications of these titles, and simple tell a story about little Andrew who responded to the invitation to come and see and then did his own small part to spread the knowledge of the Messiah to his brother and throughout his town.


Brian Stoffregen, Marysville, CA
e-mail: b.stoffregen@worldnet.att.net
ICQ #18545384

First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages from the Lectionary

Epiphany 2

William Loader

Epiphany 2: 20 January John 1:29-42

John’s version of the familiar story of Jesus’ baptism has interesting twists. The words are being set to new music. To this point in John the author has been taking great pains to set John the Baptist in his proper place. 1:20 is so full of repetition in making sure we hear that John was not the Christ that we are left wondering what was the big issue. Something of the same concern is present in our passage. We hear John twice say that he did not know or recognise Jesus (1:31 and 33). As listeners we should by now be very clear: John the Baptist played a very subordinate role and should never be confused with Jesus or be set on the same level. Why the fuss?

There was a problem. It may have been that some did indeed see John as the superior and Jesus as the inferior. Luke tells us of people who knew only John the Baptist’s baptism, including Apollos (Acts 18:24 - 19:7). The Mandaeans, some of whom have come to Australia as asylum seekers from Iraq (and have doubtless also gone elsewhere), have traditions which include a higher regard for John than for Jesus. The great New Testament scholar, Rudolf Bultmann, noting also a similar use of imagery, argued that these traditions may well reflect the kind of context which the author of the fourth gospel had to grapple with. We now find that imagery more strongly represented in Judaism of the period. Nevertheless the major emphasis on putting John into the right perspective doubtless does reflect a problem, perhaps existing communities, but certainly the fact that Jesus was closely linked with John and began as his junior. Our passage also suggests that some of Jesus’ disciples swapped to Jesus from John.

So there is a kind of theological politics going on in the passage which could obscure other main features, as theological politics often do. The main feature is Jesus, portrayed here as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. ‘Look, the lamb of God’ occurs twice: 1:29 and 35. But what did it mean? It depends what you had for breakfast, so to speak. If you have been feeding on traditional ideas of messiahship (and they have been on the table since 1:19 in many shapes and sizes and will continue to dominate for the rest of the chapter) then you might most naturally think of the image of the lamb or sometimes, the ram, who will emerge victorious over God’s enemies and drive out sin. The Book of Revelation assumes such associations when it hails Jesus as the lamb, even as the slain lamb (5:6,12). John’s gospel uses messianic imagery to underline its message that the Father sent the Son to overcome evil and darkness with light and truth.

Someone coming from thoughts about Jewish sacrifices and feasts might think of the Passover lamb. Those hearing the fourth gospel many times would remember that it alone portrays Jesus as dying at the time when the Passover lambs were killed (18:28; 19:31) and describes his dying in terms which echo Passover imagery (19:29,36). The link would be that Jesus brings an act of deliverance. Others might think of the daily sacrifice or generally of sacrifices, which increasingly came to be interpreted as dealing with sin, though most had other functions originally. Or the ram caught in the thicket might come to mind from Gen 22 and thus a link between God’s beloved son and Abraham’s beloved son, Isaac. If we can guess at the author’s intent, I think it was more likely to have been the messianic imagery given what we have heard so far, but perhaps with a hint of the Passover.

Imagery in John is always subordinate to the main theme. The main theme is that in Jesus we are to see and hear the Son whom the Father sent to offer us a relationship which will bring life to us and our world. That is the melody which is played throughout whatever the instrument. Messianic instruments in John reflect their origins in royal courts, but the theme is now the same as from those which have their origin in the lofty traditions of wisdom and the divine word with which the gospel began.

The same applies to the Spirit and to the indirect account of the baptism. The event functions in the story as a means of recognition of who Jesus is: it is the way that John the Baptist recognises that Jesus is the one whom he was inspired to predict. The imagery of baptising with Spirit does not reappear, but in substance will come into effect when the risen Jesus breathes the Spirit on his disciples. But the Spirit is also part of the orchestra playing the same tune, perhaps the conductor, if one will, especially in the period of the Church and certainly the inspiration for the writing of the gospel. In the fourth gospel the Son has been empowered from the beginning, so that the baptism and descent of the Spirit are more a statement about what is than a change.

1:35-42 offers us a model of how to respond - and a model for any who might cling to John the Baptist. The author is winking at us when he reports the would-be disciples’ question about where Jesus stays. This is one of many occasions when we are meant to smile in recognition of deeper meaning. Where does Jesus live, indeed!? Perhaps John has totally reworked Mark’s story beyond recognition, so that no traces are left of calling Andrew and Peter from mending their fishing nets. Perhaps he does not know the story. Perhaps his is closer to historical reality and Mark’s, more symbolic. Certainly he knows something about Peter’s special naming. Matthew does, too, but in a very different setting (16:16-18). Or is this theological politics again: making sure Peter is given prominence but not too much? John is very political.

There is always a lot happening in John’s gospel with multiple meanings and layers of interpretation. But out of the complexity emerges a clear theme. It is in this Jesus that we encounter the being of God in invitation to us to belong. That belonging is not something static but a relationship with an agenda: ‘that they might have life and have it in abundance’. Its obverse is also clear: taking away, getting rid of, confronting, disempowering the sin of the world. ‘The sin’ by definition is what destroys life and relationship. When we let that note linger, we can hear through it not only the cries of the human heart but also the cries of all humanity in the pain of violence, injustice and evil. John’s gospel is like that: giving us key central themes of life and light, death and darkness, but we have to unpack them if they are not to remain remote and abstract. The theme of incarnation also becomes our hermeneutical task if we want

The Beginning Holds the Future

Baptism of the Lord (A), January 13, 2002
Readings: Is. 42:1-4, 6-7; Ps. 29; Acts 10:34-38; Mt. 3:13-17

“Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased” (Is. 42:1)

The baptism of Jesus, the epiphany and the wedding feast at Cana form in the church’s liturgy a triptych of public manifestations of Jesus. Though the word baptism suggests a ritual, the main themes of the readings are God’s commissioning and manifestation of the one who will “establish justice upon the earth” (Is. 42:4).

The reading from Isaiah is the first of the four great Servant Songs (Is. 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12), which describe a figure chosen by God to proclaim justice through tenderness rather than force, and who will ultimately be lifted up not in triumph but in shame and disgrace and give his life as an offering for sin (Is. 53:12). Though Old Testament scholars debate the identity of the servant—perhaps a prophet, a symbol of the suffering people, or a hoped-for royal figure—the application of these texts to Jesus forms one of the oldest theologies found in the New Testament.

The baptism of Jesus has distinctive characteristics in Matthew. Only Matthew recounts John’s resistance, “I need to be baptized by you.” This reflects the growing concern of Matthew’s community to exalt Jesus over John (see 11:10-15), as well as to clarify that John’s baptism was for sinners, to symbolize repentance. Jesus states that his baptism is “to fulfill all righteousness,” which is somewhat of an exegetical puzzle. “Righteousness” scarcely means observance of the Torah, since the Torah contains no prescript on baptism. A better translation would be “to bring to fullness all justice,” which would envision Jesus as continuing the mission of the servant (see Mt. 15:11-21). Jesus is one who begins to show the way in which men and women will be made right or just before God and with fellow humans. This initial public appearance of Jesus prepares for the final heavenly assize, when people will be called just or unjust on the basis of their care of the suffering and marginal of the world (Mt. 25:31-46).

Matthew emphasizes that in Jesus a new communication is opened between God and men and women. The heavens open, the Spirit descends like a dove hovering over the earth (recalling Gen. 1:2), and a voice from heaven resonant of the creative word in Genesis proclaims, “This is my beloved Son.” In Mark and Luke the voice proclaims, “You are my beloved Son.” Matthew alone stresses the public character of the baptism. In this way a Markan adoption is turned into an inaugural commissioning.

In light of Jesus’ final mandate to his disciples to “baptize all nations,” early Christian interpreters quickly came to view Jesus’ baptism as prefiguring their own baptism. Today we should recall that baptism is both adoption into the very life of God and a mission to proclaim justice in the land, to be a light for the nations, open the eyes of the blind and free prisoners from their dungeons (Is. 42:7). What an awesome task for a little baby. But it is not really for him or her; it is rather for those who bring the child to baptism and are commissioned to renew their life of faith and form their “beloved” son and daughter, so that they too may work to bring justice to its fullness.


Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), January 20, 2002
Readings: Is. 49:3, 5-6; Ps. 40; 1 Cor. 1:1-3; Jn. 1:29-34

“Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God” (Jn. 1:34)

This year the period between the end of the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany season and the beginning of Lent is brief. There are just four Sundays as we begin “ordinary time.” These initial readings continue the manifestation of Jesus with John the Baptist’s witness of Jesus. The readings are also united around the theme of vocation, which prepares for the narratives of the call and initial formation of the disciples on the coming Sundays. The Old Testament reading presents another Servant Song of Isaiah, in which God commissions the servant to be a light to the nations, and the initial verses of 1 Corinthians recount Paul’s call “to be an apostle of Christ Jesus.”

Though the Baptist is the herald of Jesus’ arrival in all the Gospels, his altered role in John reflects that Gospel’s distinct theology. Three times in the Prologue (Jn. 1:7, 8, 15) John’s role is to offer testimony about Jesus, which is completed by his final words in the Gospel (3:22-30). John’s Gospel also makes clear that the Baptist is subordinate to Jesus; he is not the light. The one who comes “ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” And though John speaks of Jesus’ baptism, he does not actually baptize Jesus. John’s farewell is, “He must increase; I must decrease.”

Today’s Gospel is a preview of the major themes of John’s Gospel, in which Jesus is on trial by worldly powers arrayed against him. John appears as a witness for the defense who offers true testimony about Jesus. Jesus is the Lamb of God, which recalls the memory of the servant as the lamb led to death in Is. 53:7, and Jesus is the paschal lamb sacrificed for the sin of the world. The text does not say “sins” but “the world’s sin,” which evokes the motif of the world as the place of rejection and opposition. The Baptist says that Jesus existed before him, and that God revealed to him that the one on whom the Spirit comes down and remains is the Son of God.

Today’s Gospel is both a preview of Johannine theology and a summons to faithful witness. Despite the vocation of the Christian to find God’s “footsteps” in the world, worldly powers and values are often in conflict with Christ’s teachings. Being a witness for the defense today involves speaking the truth about Christ, but always with that attitude that “he must increase; I must decrease.”

John R. Donahue, S.J.

praying with scripture

  • Pray about how your baptism is a commission to “bring forth justice to the nations.”
  • Soberly pray about that “sin of the world” that is rampant today.
  • Think of ways you can be a witness for Christ in your daily life.


The Beginning Holds the Future

Baptism of the Lord (A), January 13, 2002
Readings: Is. 42:1-4, 6-7; Ps. 29; Acts 10:34-38; Mt. 3:13-17

“Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased”
(Is. 42:1)

The baptism of Jesus, the epiphany and the wedding feast at Cana form in the church’s liturgy a triptych of public manifestations of Jesus. Though the word baptism suggests a ritual, the main themes of the readings are God’s commissioning and manifestation of the one who will “establish justice upon the earth” (Is. 42:4).

The reading from Isaiah is the first of the four great Servant Songs (Is. 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12), which describe a figure chosen by God to proclaim justice through tenderness rather than force, and who will ultimately be lifted up not in triumph but in shame and disgrace and give his life as an offering for sin (Is. 53:12). Though Old Testament scholars debate the identity of the servant—perhaps a prophet, a symbol of the suffering people, or a hoped-for royal figure—the application of these texts to Jesus forms one of the oldest theologies found in the New Testament.

The baptism of Jesus has distinctive characteristics in Matthew. Only Matthew recounts John’s resistance, “I need to be baptized by you.” This reflects the growing concern of Matthew’s community to exalt Jesus over John (see 11:10-15), as well as to clarify that John’s baptism was for sinners, to symbolize repentance. Jesus states that his baptism is “to fulfill all righteousness,” which is somewhat of an exegetical puzzle. “Righteousness” scarcely means observance of the Torah, since the Torah contains no prescript on baptism. A better translation would be “to bring to fullness all justice,” which would envision Jesus as continuing the mission of the servant (see Mt. 15:11-21). Jesus is one who begins to show the way in which men and women will be made right or just before God and with fellow humans. This initial public appearance of Jesus prepares for the final heavenly assize, when people will be called just or unjust on the basis of their care of the suffering and marginal of the world (Mt. 25:31-46).

Matthew emphasizes that in Jesus a new communication is opened between God and men and women. The heavens open, the Spirit descends like a dove hovering over the earth (recalling Gen. 1:2), and a voice from heaven resonant of the creative word in Genesis proclaims, “This is my beloved Son.” In Mark and Luke the voice proclaims, “You are my beloved Son.” Matthew alone stresses the public character of the baptism. In this way a Markan adoption is turned into an inaugural commissioning.

In light of Jesus’ final mandate to his disciples to “baptize all nations,” early Christian interpreters quickly came to view Jesus’ baptism as prefiguring their own baptism. Today we should recall that baptism is both adoption into the very life of God and a mission to proclaim justice in the land, to be a light for the nations, open the eyes of the blind and free prisoners from their dungeons (Is. 42:7). What an awesome task for a little baby. But it is not really for him or her; it is rather for those who bring the child to baptism and are commissioned to renew their life of faith and form their “beloved” son and daughter, so that they too may work to bring justice to its fullness.


Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), January 20, 2002
Readings: Is. 49:3, 5-6; Ps. 40; 1 Cor. 1:1-3; Jn. 1:29-34

“Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God”
(Jn. 1:34)

This year the period between the end of the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany season and the beginning of Lent is brief. There are just four Sundays as we begin “ordinary time.” These initial readings continue the manifestation of Jesus with John the Baptist’s witness of Jesus. The readings are also united around the theme of vocation, which prepares for the narratives of the call and initial formation of the disciples on the coming Sundays. The Old Testament reading presents another Servant Song of Isaiah, in which God commissions the servant to be a light to the nations, and the initial verses of 1 Corinthians recount Paul’s call “to be an apostle of Christ Jesus.”

Though the Baptist is the herald of Jesus’ arrival in all the Gospels, his altered role in John reflects that Gospel’s distinct theology. Three times in the Prologue (Jn. 1:7, 8, 15) John’s role is to offer testimony about Jesus, which is completed by his final words in the Gospel (3:22-30). John’s Gospel also makes clear that the Baptist is subordinate to Jesus; he is not the light. The one who comes “ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” And though John speaks of Jesus’ baptism, he does not actually baptize Jesus. John’s farewell is, “He must increase; I must decrease.”

Today’s Gospel is a preview of the major themes of John’s Gospel, in which Jesus is on trial by worldly powers arrayed against him. John appears as a witness for the defense who offers true testimony about Jesus. Jesus is the Lamb of God, which recalls the memory of the servant as the lamb led to death in Is. 53:7, and Jesus is the paschal lamb sacrificed for the sin of the world. The text does not say “sins” but “the world’s sin,” which evokes the motif of the world as the place of rejection and opposition. The Baptist says that Jesus existed before him, and that God revealed to him that the one on whom the Spirit comes down and remains is the Son of God.

Today’s Gospel is both a preview of Johannine theology and a summons to faithful witness. Despite the vocation of the Christian to find God’s “footsteps” in the world, worldly powers and values are often in conflict with Christ’s teachings. Being a witness for the defense today involves speaking the truth about Christ, but always with that attitude that “he must increase; I must decrease.”

John R. Donahue, S.J.

praying with scripture

  • Pray about how your baptism is a commission to “bring forth justice to the nations.”
  • Soberly pray about that “sin of the world” that is rampant today.
  • Think of ways you can be a witness for Christ in your daily life.

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