- Isaiah 49:1-7 & Psalm 40:1-11
- 1Corinthians 1:1-9
- John 1:29-42
The Epiphany Cycle
Over the next few weeks we will complete a longer than usual Epiphany cycle due to the relatively late date for Easter this year. As usual, the readings will mostly come from Isaiah, 1 Corinthians and the gospel of the year (in this case, Matthew).
During the course of Epiphany each year the lectionary invites us to reflect on a selection of Gospel “snapshots” of Jesus as the revelation of God.
The Year A lectionary texts for Epiphany are as follows:
- First Sunday after Epiphany (Baptism of Jesus): Matt 3:13-17
- Second Sunday after Epiphany (John’s disciples find Jesus): John 1:29-42
- Third Sunday after Epiphany (Jesus in Galilee): Matt 4:12-23
- Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (The Beatitudes): Matt 5:1-12
- Fifth Sunday after Epiphany (Light, Salt and Torah): Matt 5:13-20
- Sixth Sunday after Epiphany (The New Torah): Matt 5:21-37
- Seventh Sunday after Epiphany (Love of Enemies): Matt 5:38-48
- Last Sunday after Epiphany (Transfiguration): Matt 17:1-9
John’s disciples find Jesus
The way that the GJohn introduces the disciples into the narrative is quite unlike the more familiar accounts in the Synoptic Gospels.
Mark 1:16-20 sets the call in Galilee, and makes no mention of any previous affiliation of these persons with John the Baptist:
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea–for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Matthew simply makes minor adjustments to the details when taking over this tradition from Mark:
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea–for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. [Matt 4:18-22]
While Luke tells the story very differently, it remains a lakeside encounter in the Galilee:
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him. [Luke 5:1-11]
Presumably GJohn has connected the first of Jesus’ disciples with John the Baptist because that reflected something of the spiritual history of those who shaped the Johannine community, or perhaps because John had been posthumously pressed into service as something of a symbol within their tradition. There is no reason to think that GJohn has any access to reliable historical information, since the portrait of JBap in GJohn is entirely subsumed to the figure of Christ.
John the Baptist in the Gospel of John
It is interesting to note the way that GJohn represents John the Baptist.
Barnes Tatum [John the Baptist and Jesus. 1994:75-81] provides a helpful guide to the ten passages in GJohn that refer to John the Baptist.
He begins, however, by noting that GJohn never uses “the Baptizer” when referring to John. Immediately that alerts us to a different view of John within the Johannine community.
JBap appears twice in the poetic prologue to the Gospel:
1. John 1:6-8
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.
He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
2. John 1:15
(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said,
‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”)
A further four references to JBap occur in the first chapter of GJohn:
3. John 1:19-24
This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said,
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
“Make straight the way of the Lord,'”
as the prophet Isaiah said.
Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.
4. John 1:25-28
They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
5. John 1:29-34
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
6. John 1:35-42
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
The remaining references to JBap are as follows:
7. John 3:22-30
After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized — John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison. Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
8. John 4:1-4
Now when Jesus1 learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” — although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized — he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria.
9. John 5:30-38
“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me. If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that his testimony to me is true. You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth. Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But I have a testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent.
10. John 10:40-42
He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing earlier, and he remained there. Many came to him, and they were saying, “John performed no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” And many believed in him there.
When considering GJohn’s treatment of JBap in the light of these ten passages, Tatum notes that GJohn (unlike the Synoptics) has chosen not to interpret JBap as the fulfillment of Malachi 3:1 –
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me,
and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.
The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight —
indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.
Barnes Tatum continues:
Therefore, how has John presented JB? With singular focus, John presents JB as a witness testifying to Jesus’ identity as the One from God. Here JB appears quite differently than in Q. JB in Q asks whether or not Jesus is the coming one; and Jesus subsequently praises JB, but declares the least in God’s domain to be greater than he. JB in John has become the first Christian. Only on the basis of the portrayal of JB in John could the later church have made JB into a Christian saint, as the church did. (p. 79, emphasis original)
Because of this deliberate focus on JBap as a witness to Jesus, all other aspects of the historical activity of JBap are omitted or left understated:
- JBap does not proclaim a baptism of repentance and the significance of John’s baptism is left unexplained;
- There is no mention of John’s ascetic lifestyle;
- John’s arrest is mentioned in passing, but no details of his fate are provided
- 115 Johns Message – John 1:24-31
- 058 John Baptizes Jesus – John 1:32-34
- 485 Disciples find Jesus – John 1:35-42
Liturgies and Prayers
For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site
Other recommended sites include:
See David MacGregor’s Together to Celebrate site for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre.