Listen to the audio of today’s Reflection:
Jesus the Lamb of God
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 the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God”
Today’s gospel reading tells about the moment when John the Baptist first identified Jesus as the one whose coming he was sent to announce. There are a couple of things about this passage that are pretty interesting to think about.
First of all, many Bible scholars believe that the Gospel of John, the source of this reading, was published somewhere between the years 90 and 100 AD. That would mean it was published about sixty or seventy years after Jesus died on the cross, rose from the grave and then ascended to heaven.
If that’s really the case, then the Gospel of John was written either by John when he was very old, or by John’s disciples after he died, to make sure they preserved what John had passed along of the life and teachings of Jesus.
For those of us who live in the 21st century, it might make us suspicious about a document that was written down so long after the events it reports – in this case, so long after Jesus’ earthly life. But we should probably restrain our skepticism about that. The culture of the ancient Near East was largely an oral culture. Most of what people knew about the world was passed along to them orally. And in an oral culture, people learned to be pretty scrupulous about passing along what they were taught. It wasn’t like that game we play at parties where a sentence is whispered around a circle and is totally corrupted by the time it gets to the end. In an oral culture, the sentence at the end of the circle might well be exactly as it was whispered at the beginning.
Which suggests that in the case of the Gospel of John, the central teachings of Jesus, and in this case of John the Baptist, would be preserved with great care. Church tradition says that John the Apostle was a member (with James and Peter) of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples. In fact, John is thought to have been the one identified in the New Testament as “the beloved disciple.” So he would have been in a position to hear a very ‘inside account’ of the life and teachings of Jesus.
In this part of John’s gospel we’re reading today, John the Baptist is quoted as saying that his understanding that Jesus was the Messiah was not something he arrived at by his own reasoning (or by family lore, since they were relatives). Rather, John says, the fact that Jesus was the Messiah was a direct revelation by God, communicated by the appearance of the dove at the time of Jesus’ baptism.
For us as followers of Jesus twenty centuries later, this is kind of significant, I think. Contemporary people (and maybe especially Presbyterian types like us) want to figure things out with our own brain-power. Obviously, it’s important that we think and reflect on things, that we thoughtfully study the things of the faith. But it’s also true that some of the deepest truths of the way of faith are revealed to our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
I suppose that points to the reason for our practice of praying a “prayer for illumination” before we read the scriptures in worship. Part of the challenge of the life of faith is to open our hearts in prayer, to acknowledge before God that our own earthly wisdom is not adequate, and to ask God to reveal his truth and his will to us, just as he did to John the Baptist.
That might be an especially fruitful discipline for us during this season of Lent. Maybe one great thing to ‘give up for Lent’ would be our great faith in our own ability to figure out the truth for ourselves.
If we can learn to open our hearts and minds to the illumination of the Holy Spirit, maybe we’ll find ourselves empowered to share with others the simple message John proclaimed: “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”
Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for the faithful witness of John the Baptist, and for his willingness to receive and share your revelation, so that he really could prepare the way for Jesus into the life of the world. Open us up to that revelation, as well, so that we can join in the work of preparing a way for Jesus into our world. Amen.
Grace and Peace,
(The other readings for today are Psalms 27 and 102; Deuteronomy 7:6-11; and Titus 1:1-16.)