John 1: 29-42
It’s confusing. In John’s Gospel there’s more than one John. There are three to be precise. In his opening chapter John the Evangelist focuses on John elsewhere known as the Baptist, as witness to the messiah. But there’s also a third John lurking in the background – John the Beloved Disciple of Jesus. Despite the Tradition, it’s clear that John the Evangelist is not John the Beloved Disciple. The Evangelist is writing in the 120’s, a period beyond the normal lifespan of the Beloved Disciple. So, John the Evangelist is someone who stands in the tradition of the Beloved Disciple, and as a young man probably knew him personally.
John’s gospel opens on the majestic panorama painted in the Prologue before plunging us into the opening moments in Jesus’ earthly ministry. The evangelist known as John fills this opening chapter and actually the whole of his gospel with word allusions and metaphors indicating the mysterious connections between Jesus and the fulfilment of Old Testament expectations of the Messiah.
We can tie ourselves up in knots trying to decipher just what these allusions and metaphors meant for the Evangelist John and his community. But so much of John remains mysterious.
For instance, John alone uses the metaphor of the Lamb of God. Taken in the context and period in which he is writing this is a peculiar metaphor for Jesus. The practice of Temple animal sacrifice is by this time but a distant memory. John’s metaphors are arresting and in chapter one we have two on display – Lamb of God and God the Son. Lamb of God as well as God the Son -new titles for Jesus deeply resonated in the imagination of the early Church and thus eventually found their way into the mainstream of orthodox Christology, i.e. the branch of theology that relates to the identity, and nature of Jesus.
Chapter one is a story set over three days. Day one the Jewish elders come to interrogate John (the Baptist) during which he identifies Jesus as the messiah because of what he has seen and can bear witness to. Day two, John’s out an about with two of his disciples – one of whom is Andrew the brother of Simon Peter. When Jesus walks by and John points him out as the Lamb of God, curiosity gets the better of Andrew and his unnamed companion, who follow Jesus asking him where he is staying? Jesus replies come and see. Andrew then recruits his brother Simon. In the section following this passage on the next day – day three Jesus journeys to Galilee where he encounters one Philip who then recruits his friend, Nathaniel (Bartholomew) and tells him he has seen the messiah.
John is showing his readers how discipleship happens and how it works. One person’s curiosity leads to discovery of Jesus. This discovery is then shared with a friend and they both begin to follow Jesus.
Jesus and his new disciples are now in position on day three for the first of John’s great signs – the wedding at Cana of Galilee which opens chapter two. John is not telling his readers about the call of the first disciples as much as he is showing them how discipleship works – you notice, you become curious, you ask, and then respond to the invitation to come and see, you then tell your friends what you’ve found and invite them into the same process.
John’s Gospel is a gospel for our own age precisely because John the Evangelist addresses a mixed community in tension; a community comprised from different constituencies.
- There are the former disciples of John the Baptist, hence the Evangelist’s emphasis on the initial role of John (the Baptist) in the first chapter.
- There is a strong contingent of Samaritans as evidenced by the story in chapter four where the Samaritan woman he encounters at the well is the first to recognize his true identity.
- There are gentile spiritual seekers. Later in 12:21 we read that some Greeks come and ask Philip: please sir, we want to see Jesus.
- There are Jews who have openly split with the synagogue
- There are Jews who still faithfully attend the synagogue but also secretly hang out with John’s ragbag of a Christian community on Sundays.
John’s task is to speak to the inner tensions in a community made-up of factions, each with their own slightly different history and take on Jesus; all seeking to hold together against the backdrop of an unremitting hostility from the Jewish authorities represented by the emergence of rabbinic Judaism.
Consequently, the internal tensions within the Johannine Community in the early decades of the 2nd-century are too great for there to be a commonly recognized authority. John’s community is a flat hierarchy community. It seems to have no recognized leaders apart from the guidance of the Evangelist in his gospel. For instance, John never mentions the teaching authority of the apostles as the community leaders so evident elsewhere in the New Testament. Everyone ins John is simply a disciple. All disciples are equal sitting under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit. There are no sacraments, no doctrine, only the willingness to be led by the Holy Spirit in the way of love.
The community of John the Evangelist comes to be known as the Beloved Community in which the golden rule is given by Jesus in chapter 13:35 when he tells the disciples to love one another, for by this the world will know them as his disciples.
Come and See, See what? Come and see a community characterized by the quality with which its member love one another. Now there’s a rare and seeming unworkable thing!
I believe that in the world of 2020, Episcopalian Christians with our tolerant and inclusive understanding of Christian community have something to offer our nation torn asunder by so many bitterly held divisions.
Our Presiding Bishop, The Most Rev. Michael Curry chanel’s the message of John the Evangelist; inviting us to the renewal that flows from reframing ourselves as the contemporary Jesus Movement, a modern-day Johannine community embarked on the Way of Love.
The Way of Love involves seven practices:
- Turn – pause, listen, and choose to follow Jesus.
- Learn – through reflecting on Scripture each day, esp. on Jesus life and teachings.
- Pray – dwell intentionally with God daily.
- Worship – gather in community weekly to thank, praise and dwell with God.
- Bless- share our faith unselfishly – one might suggest unselfconsciously- in order to give and serve.
- Go- cross boundaries, listen deeply and live like Jesus.
- Rest -receive the gift of God’s grace, peace and restoration.
The Way of Love is a very Johannine project flowing naturally out of our Anglican love for the Gospel of John. As a historic community, Anglicanism like John’s community has some experience of holding together internal tension within a spirit of right relationship rather than an emphasis on right belief under a strong and centralised hierarchical authority structure.
Our only obligation is to Come and See! Are we willing?