2nd Sunday - Ordinary Time
Homily for 1.15.12
Today's Lectionary Gospel reading comes to us from St. John's Gospel, and it is the story of how Peter comes to meet Jesus. This is a good text, and what I want to do this morning is to tell the story as a way to crack open the text, presenting several themes that are present.
I suppose we should say from the outset that this is not the story of Peter's calling to follow Jesus, the Jewish Messiah -- that will come later. But it is the account of the circumstances surrounding how he initially meets Jesus.
In some ways it is a strange story, especially the dialogue between Andrew and the unnamed disciple (John?) and Jesus. But the story doesn't begin there, and neither does it begin with Jesus and Peter. Instead, we are introduced to the story by John the Baptizer, offering Andrew and his friend a somewhat glancing introduction to Jesus.
THEME 1: THE LAMB OF GOD
The text reads:
"John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, 'Behold, the Lamb of God.'"The Lamb of GOD is a curious metaphor for picturing Jesus. I often wonder what the biblically uninitiated must make of its meaning. Of course, it connects Jesus and the sacrificial, redemptive aspects of his ministry. That is, as those lambs were offered for sacrifice by the Hebrew priests in their cultic practice in the temple (read: their system of religious worship and ritual), so Jesus would be offered for the sins of the world. (Jn.1:29)
This tells us that GOD takes our sins seriously, doesn't it? And it also tells us that on the cross this world of idolatry and hate and violence and evil and greed, and all the rest, was faced fully by the "Lamb" and defeated soundly.
That is, there is a victory accomplished in the defeat and death of the "Lamb", a victory that frees the world not only to live again in the light, but brings together a people who are a "kingdom of priests", offering themselves in like manner as the "Lamb," so that the world will see and know that GOD has truly broken open the world and freed them to live a truly human life.
THEME 2: THE HUMILITY OF THE BAPTIZER
So, the Baptizer points his disciples to the Lamb. This is astonishing, really, for as we said during Advent, what preacher would point a choice follower to another's preacher’s ministry?
But, here we see that John recognizes his calling and that he is fully in agreement with his purpose, which is not self-aggrandizement. Instead, as John explains in the early part of his gospel:
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." (Jn.3:26-30)
He must increase, but I must decrease. His purpose must be on the rise, my purpose is to point you the way. His purpose is from the Father above, my purpose belongs from the earth below. He is the chosen one of GOD, I am not worthy to unloose his shoes.
He must increase, but I must decrease. Of course, no self-respecting post-modernist, and few if any church triumphant preachers would ever utter words like these. We are too settled on own self-worth and success to ever allow ourselves to be seen as less, or as eclipsed by another. So, the Baptizer stands deeply rooted as a biblical reminder that we each have a part; we each have a role in the kingdom. Some of those roles are small, ordinary and without fanfare. That is OK. And some are large and fraught with fame and peril. That is OK, too.
Each of us, however, whether our part is large or small, carries in our hearts the call to seriously and to sacrificially follow the Christ in the place and with the gifting we have been given. This means there are no little places and no little people.
THEME 3: FOLLOWING JESUS
And this calling to follow the Christ is nowhere more vividly illustrated than in the dialogue between Jesus and the two disciples who are in tow:
The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, "What are you looking for?" They said to him, "Rabbi" - which translated means Teacher -, "where are you staying?"How strange. Jesus asks of the two: What do you want? and they reply: “Where are you staying?”. Should we interpret this to mean: "We want to see if you have nice digs."? I think not. I think they are asking, "Can we come to your place and hang out with you?" To which the Rabbi replies: "Sure, come and see."
Whereupon these two followers of the Baptizer spend the afternoon with Jesus, at the end of which they understand Jesus to be the Jewish Messiah. Now, wouldn't you like to know what they discussed? Could it be, like the downcast disciples on the road to Emmaus:
"beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures." (Lk.24:27)?Whatever it was they left the afternoon convinced that they had met the Messiah.
Which got me wondering, if there is any way toward which post-modern disciples might spend an intimate time with the living, risen Jesus as well. And, I think there actually is a path toward a deepening of our relationship with the Christ. It involves a learning of the Christ, and then an intense focus, or a meditation, on the words and works of Jesus, as we listen for his calling and his new name for us.
THEME 4: BRINGING OTHERS TO JESUS
But the story doesn't end with Andrew finding the Messiah. No, Andrew, fresh off his encounter with Jesus, sets out to find his brother Simon:
He first found his own brother Simon and told him, "We have found the Messiah" - which is translated Christ -. Then he brought him to Jesus.
I love this picture. Not willing to leave his brother out of the good news, Andrew not only tells his brother about the Messiah, but, since he now knows where Jesus lives, he also takes Simon to meet the LORD.
This serves to remind us how most of us met the Christ -- through his people, through his church. This responsibility of life-proclamation for the church, therefore, is steep and dense. The church, as the reclaimed humanity, must demonstrate the character of Jesus -- self-sacrifice, and calling of Jesus -- reconciliation, if we are to even begin to advance the reality and the cause of the Christ in the world.
Said differently, the fact that the powers of darkness were back-broken and defeated on the cross and in the resurrection means little to those powers if we who name the name of the Savior do not live-out the reality of this victory. But, if we do, if we live in sacrificial service and an ongoing reconciliation, suddenly we find people strangely warmed by the message that Jesus, the crucified and risen Jewish Messiah, is LORD of the world! Far from fearing some sort of theocracy, people so warmed become attracted to Jesus and the Jesus-people because they find that these people know how to live; they know how to treat others.
Or, said still differently (and pointedly): Unless the church that Jesus founded cleanly cuts away its prejudice for other members of the body of Christ (people not like them) -- seeking reconciliation with other believers, and unless the church that Jesus founded sacrificially offers itself as a give-away for the poor and the "least of these", then we might as well shut-up and continue our accumulation of things and things and more things, and we might as well ride off into the sunset as the culturally captured sub-culture that we currently are.
John was standing with two of his disciples,
and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said,
"Behold, the Lamb of God."
The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.
Jesus turned and saw them following him and 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 you will see."
So they went and saw where Jesus was staying,
and they stayed with him that day.
It was about four in the afternoon.
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter,
was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus.
He first found his own brother Simon and told him,
"We have found the Messiah" - which is translated Christ -.
Then he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said,
"You are Simon the son of John;
you will be called Cephas" - which is translated Peter.