John 1:29-42 – Second Sunday after Epiphany
January of Year A starts out awkwardly as we do-si-do with Matthew and John. Last week we heard Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism, and now this week we have John’s recounting of the baptism (we never actually see the baptism in John’s Gospel). And, in the midst of John’s account, we have the calling of Peter and Andrew (the first disciples along the way). BUT that will also be story we get from Matthew next week with the famous “I will make you fishers of men [people]” line.
So, how do we differentiate these weeks and preach on nuances that will give us the most sermon fodder and be the most meaningful for our people? One way is to lean on the different narrative styles of the writers.
Here in John’s account, there is beautiful room to tell a story of “being known.”
After we get the long prologue of John, we the reader should have little doubt as to who Jesus is: the Word, the light, the Messiah. But even though we have this beautiful poetic prologue, this opening scene with John the Baptist immediately has a profound intimacy. The prologue, being poetic and being an introduction is a just description and abstract. We have been told who Jesus is, but we haven’t really experienced who he is. Now, as the story really begins, we are going to see it and begin to feel it (think of the phrase “show don’t tell”).
John (the witness in John’s Gospel as opposed to “the Baptist” in the synoptic gospels) sees Jesus coming along the way. Now, our writer could just make John say, “Hey, this is the guy that I was telling you about.” But instead, John sees Jesus even more fully than what we received in the prologue. “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” It is John “The Witness” who sees the totality of who Jesus is and for what he came, pointing to the arc of the whole story. This is in contrast to the synoptic gospels. This Gospel writer does not put the proclamation of Jesus’ identity in the voice of God coming from the heavens. This gospel writer gives the proclamation to a human, indicating the importance of us, the reader, being able to (needing to) see who Jesus really is as well and proclaim his coming as well (to be a witness like John).
But before our lectionary ends, the identifying theme continues. The next day, John once again identifies Jesus as the “Lamb of God” but in this proclamation, Andrew and Simon (Peter) catch the feeling and begin to follow Jesus. The answer that Jesus gives their question of where he’s staying, “Come and See” points us in the direction of being witnesses to the story. But the introductory title that they begin their question with tells us a lot as well – “Rabbi,” they say. Jesus will play the role of their teacher, their guide along this way. Even though they know little about him, they already recognize his authority and wisdom, and it prepares us to lean into that throughout the story. But more importantly, as these two disciples begin to follow, Jesus looks at Simon and calls him by a name that sees all of who he is, “Peter.” The Rock, the foundation, the hard-headed devotee.
In this first scene in John, there is so much about identity and being known. Knowing Jesus through his role and title but also being known and being seen by Jesus for who we really are.
How can recognizing Jesus’ roles help us to get to know him better? Does seeing him as teacher help us to lean into his moments of teaching? Does seeing him as the Lamb of God help us to see his actions in connection with the Old Testament? OR does seeing him as the Lamb of God help us to distance the narratives of warrior/conqueror and look more deeply at his civil disobedience?
But we, too, have a part to play in this journey. Jesus’ naming of Simon Peter calls us to reflect on our role and identity in God’s narrative. What role is God identifying us for in our journey of discipleship? We don’t need to be the foundation of the church, the rock on which it’s built. But nor should we shortchange ourselves and presume to be lowly humans with nothing to offer the kingdom of God. What is God claiming us for and calling us to? How does God “see” us working to bring about the kingdom of God?
 Karoline M. Lewis, John, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2014), 16.