On the Sunday after we celebrated “The Baptism of the Lord,” the lectionary gives us… the baptism of the Lord. Sort of.
More precisely, we have John the Baptist recognizing Jesus as “the Lamb of God.”
Plus other stuff. It’s all cool, and very different from the same material in the other Gospels.
The events of John 1:29-42 take place over at least two different days. (Cf. verses 29 and 35, “The next day…”) As well as the baptism, we have the calling of Jesus’ first three disciples.
The versions of Matthew, Mark, and Luke look at these and so many stories through the same eyes — thus they are called the “Synoptics.” And their versions are often the most familiar. We can gloss right past the ways John’s version of things is different.
All the Synoptic Gospels tell the story in similar ways:
- John is out baptizing.
- Jesus comes and is baptized.
- The Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove.
- The voice of the Father from heaven declares Jesus to be his Son.
John 1:29-42 clearly has the same event in mind.
- John is out baptizing.
- Jesus comes near.
- John the baptist tells us that he saw the Spirit descending as a dove (verse 32).
- John the baptist tell us that he heard a voice saying the one on whom the Spirit/dove rested would baptize with the Spirit (verse 33).
The one really odd thing? John’s Gospel neglects to mention the act of Jesus’ baptism.
And here it is John the Baptist, not the voice of the Father, that proclaims that Jesus is God’s Son.
And I myself
and have testified
that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:34 NRSV)
Result? The revelation of the Trinity is softened in John’s version, as is Jesus’ identification with ordinary people in baptism, and his attempt to “fulfill all righteousness.”
And strangely, here John the Baptist emphatically does not previously know Jesus (verses 31 and 33). Remember how in Luke they are relatives, and John actually recognized Jesus in utero?
Significance of these differences? Hard to say.
John’s Gospel emphasizes John the Baptist more strongly, and the Baptist’s identification of Jesus not only as “Son of God” but as “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
The phrase “Lamb of God” sounds very “Old Testament,” but it doesn’t actually occur there. The closest parallel is in one of the “Servant Songs” of Isaiah:
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7 NRSV)
The differences between John and the Synoptics are greater in the scenes that follow. It is the story of the calling of Jesus’ first three disciples.
The Synoptic version is familiar.
In Matthew’s version, Jesus goes walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and meets a group of fishermen at work. They are two sets of brothers. First Jesus calls Peter and Andrew to follow him, then he calls James and John, the Sons of Zebedee. They abandon nets, boats, and poor old Zebedee, and take off with Jesus. (See Matthew 4:18-22.)
Luke’s version is more dramatic: Jesus was preaching to a crowd by the lakes, and borrowed Simon’s boat to be able to speak from a few feet away from the shore. Then, as a fabulous parting gift, he gave the four, who are explicitly business partners, a miraculous catch of fish. While they are full of wonder, he asks them to come and follow. (See Luke 5:1-11.)
All of that has a way of sticking in our minds.
But John tells a very very different story.
Andrew, in John, is already a seeker — he’s a disciple of John the Baptist (verse 40).
He and another disciple are with John the Baptist when Jesus — having been baptized the previous day? — passes by again, and a second time John the Baptist identifies him as “the Lamb of God” (verse 36).
Andrew and his friend leave John the Baptist behind, and begin to follow Jesus instead.
It sounds as abrupt as ditching Zebedee in the boat, but I suspect this is exactly what John the Baptist was trying to bring about. After all, he said the previous day that Jesus “ranks ahead of me” and rather than “baptizing with water”, Jesus “baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” In fact, John’s own ministry, he said, was all to reveal Jesus. (Verses 30-33.)
The timeline is a bit unclear, but it seems that Andrew’s first act after connecting with Jesus was to go get his brother Simon, also son of John, (whom Jesus renames Cephas, or “Peter Johnson”).
Peter is no unenlightened fisherman here. Like Andrew, Peter seems to be a seeker. He may not have been a disciple of John the Baptist, but he was eager for the coming of the Messiah. So eager, in fact, that as soon as Andrew said Jesus was The One, Peter dropped everything and came along. (Verses 41-42)
There is, however, no mention of nets, boats, or even fishing — not till after the resurrection (cf. John 21:3).
One could go through some contortions to harmonize these things, but the differences are not on matters of theological substance. That is, no doctrine hangs on them one way or the other. They are only a bother if you expect the New Testament to have been written by modern historians with a penchant for precise and documentable chronology. (Hint: it wasn’t.)
The thing to meditate on here, however, is the conversation between Andrew and Jesus. In a way it’s pretty ordinary. But I wonder if Jesus was doing his usual thing of always meaning something slightly deeper than what was obvious.
Jesus, true to form I’d say, starts with a question. Andrew and his friend, Mr. A. Nonymous, come up and Jesus asks,
What are you looking for?” (John 1:38 NRSV)
An obvious question. But counter to expectation.
Remember in the Synoptics, Jesus goes looking for the disciples, and asked them to follow? That fits with the idea that Jesus seeks and saves the lost, loves us first, calls us out of darkness etc.
Here, however, Jesus was going about his own business, and these two would-be disciples came to seek him.
There’s comfort there for those who grow up in the faith and were never very lost, and for those who find their way to Jesus through their own arduous searching.
Our conversion narratives aren’t wrong. They are just more like Andrew’s than Paul’s.
Maybe, whether we are deep in bad choices or on the road to find Jesus, when we get near him he starts with a searching question:
What are you looking for?
Are you looking for peace in your heart? A mission to commit to? Riches and fame? Love? A shattering encounter with the living God?
He asks us to look at our hearts and our minds and figure out just where we are and just where we are going.
We need to tell the truth about what we are seeking — in life, or in Jesus, or whatever.
Start out with an honest answer to what we are looking for, and maybe he can begin to work with us. He does tend to take us just as we are — then he takes up the holy process of remaking us into who we are supposed to be.
But these two guys take a pragmatic approach.
Rabbi…where are you staying?” (John 1:38 NRSV)
We just want to hang out with you, Jesus. John said you are the Lamb of God or something. We need to get to know you. Where you headed?
And again true to form, Jesus doesn’t quiet answer.
I mean, he could have said
Capernaum. That’s where I live.
Instead he invites them to become witnesses:
Come and see.” (John 1:39 NRSV)
He doesn’t yet ask them to bear witness. That will be the call when he leaves them after the resurrection. He calls them to witness something — to see for themselves.
Once they follow to see where he’s staying, they will see what he is doing, and they will see how he changes their lives, and they will see how he changes others’ lives.
Once they do it, once they
Come and see,
they will have some first-hand knowledge. They will be able to be his witnesses
in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
That’s his call, always, of course.
We are called to follow him, of course. But why? To imitate him? Only partially.
More important we are to come and see — to witness Christ in action so that we can be changed and bear witness.
Come close enough, and hang out long enough, that you actually know about Jesus first hand. Then you tell what you know — as an eyewitness. That’s his simple plan for evangelism.
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Steve Niccolls says
Wondering will you discuss the differences between John’s version of Andrew and Peter being called compared to Matthew’s version next week. (This week I am preaching on Philip and Nathanael and next week I am preaching the Matthew lectionary passage.)
Gary Neal Hansen says
Hi Steve —
I was dealing with some of the differences here, and since the Matthew version is next Sunday’s Gospel I’ll deal with it from that angle next time. (Hopefully closer to Monday this time!)
Thanks for your interest.