Gospel for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (14 January 2018)
Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
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). (John 1:35-42 – NRSV)
“It is often said that the ‘call’ of the disciples in these verses cannot be reconciled with the Synoptic accounts (Mt. 4:18–22; 9:9; Mk. 1:16–20; 2:13–14; Lk. 5:1–11, 27–28). Traditional harmonization, which postulates that John’s account is a preliminary ‘call’, ratified by the later one reported in the Synoptic Gospels, is ruled out of court on the ground that John leaves no room for a second call. But strictly speaking Jesus does not ‘call’ his disciples at all in these verses (except possibly Philip: cf. notes on v. 43). They attach themselves to him because of the witness of the Baptist, and then because of the witness of the Baptist’s followers. Nor is this a representative abandonment of ‘other religions’ (Barrett, p. 179, referring to the work of E. Schweizer) in favour of Jesus: the first disciples are presented as rightly adhering to what the witness of John the Baptist means, not as abandoning him in favour of a new, ‘Christian’ religion. Indeed, the promptness with which the disciples, according to the Synoptic tradition, abandon their livelihood (whether the fishing business or a tax office) in response to Jesus’ explicit call, is psychologically and historically more plausible if that was not their first exposure to him or their first demonstration of fealty toward him. At this point in John, however, these fledgling disciples are still at the ‘Come and you will see’ (v. 39) stage, the ‘You shall see greater things than that’ (v. 50) stage.” (D A Carson, The Gospel according to John, Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991, 153-154.)
two of his disciples: One of those disciples, we are told, is Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. Who is the other one? The simple answer is that we do not know. However, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the unidentified disciple is the writer of the Gospel – John himself. Given that John the Baptist saw himself quite explicitly as someone preparing the way for the Messiah, it seems entirely logical for these two disciples to go and have a closer look at the one John calls the Lamb of God. “In the Fourth Gospel, the verb ‘to follow’ often means ‘to follow as a disciple’ (e.g. 1:43; 8:12; 12:26; 21:19, 20, 22). But this is not invariably the case: sometimes the verb is quite neutral (e.g. 11:31). It is possible the Evangelist is playing with both meanings: at one level, these two men were ‘following’ Jesus in the most mundane of senses, but at another they were taking the first steps of genuine discipleship.” (D A Carson, op cit, 154.)
what are you looking for?: This question has an obvious and almost trivial meaning, such as, “Can I help you?”. The question probably carries a much more profound meaning however, implying vocation. Jesus – implicitly and explicitly – asks this question of all his disciples: “What do you really want?” It is the sort of question a good teacher would ask, to get the student/disciple thinking at depth about what he/she is doing, inviting a more free commitment.
where are you staying?: This question also has massive implications, though it is hard to accept that the disciples would have had any but a slight inkling of those deeper implications. The verb menō – abide, remain, stay, reside, live, rest, continue etc – gains momentum, as it were, as the Gospel story unfolds. Menō is a most significant word for John. The word has already been used twice by John. In 1:32 and 33 he has spoken of the Holy Spirit coming down to “rest” on Jesus and “remain” with him. In 15:1-17 – the image of the true vine – the same verb is used no fewer than eleven times. Perhaps the best known use of the verb is found in 8:31-32 – “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (NKJV) And so the disciples saw where he was “staying” and the “remained” with him . . .
come and see: Again, the implications in this are profound, though we do not have to assume the disciples were aware of those implications at that time. “Seeing” and “light” imply faith and the mutual abiding that Jesus promises later. Like the question – “What are you looking for?” – the invitation to “come and see” is aimed at drawing the listener into true discipleship. The essential mark of discipleship is the desire to learn – to reflect and grow in awareness, to seek and be enlightened.
(Andrew) brought Simon to Jesus: The text is operating at different levels. Andrew is set in motion by the Baptist – “Look, there is the Lamb of God” – then by Jesus – “Come and see”. Then he brings his brother, Simon, to meet Jesus. We should not take this to mean that Andrew has fully grasped the significance of the Jesus as Messiah. Francis Moloney writes: “Once Andrew led Simon to Jesus he looked at him and spoke to him (emblepsas autǭ ho Iēsous eipen). The initiative is entirely with Jesus. He tells Simon who he is, where he comes from (son of John) and who he will be in the future (Cephas). Again the narrator adds a note, indicating a future that the reader of the Gospel may know came true: the man once called Simon son of John will become Cephas, Peter. The words to Simon are an indication to the disciples that there is more to a proper understanding of Jesus than finding in this rabbi the fulfillment of their messianic expectations.” (Francis J Moloney, The Gospel of John, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1998, 55.)
In the Gospel today – John 1:35-42 – we are told of the beginnings of a tradition of witnessing that vivifies our Christian faith. John the Baptist bears witness to the great act of God in Jesus, the son of Mary and Joseph, a carpenter from Nazareth; Andrew and the other (unnamed) disciple of John “(go) and see where Jesus abides” – they are taken hold of by the Presence that Jesus bears witness to; Andrew shares this with his brother, Simon Peter; then Philip – from the same town as Andrew and Simon Peter – encounters Jesus – perhaps also introduced by Andrew? – and he too is taken hold of by the Presence that radiates from the carpenter; Philip shares this with Nathanael who is deeply sceptical at first – “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” – but is soon convinced that the carpenter is more than a carpenter – he is the bearer of a Presence, the Presence.
Witness is an essential part of being a disciple of the carpenter, Jesus who is the Christ. Presence is an essential part of bearing witness. In fact, presence is the key to witness.
Pope Paul VI wrote beautifully of this in his remarkable Apostolic Exhortation of 1975:
"Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses." (Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975), #41)
“Above all, the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness. Take a Christian or a handful of Christians who, in the midst of their own community, show their capacity for understanding and acceptance, their sharing of life and destiny with other people, their solidarity with the efforts of all for whatever is noble and good. Let us suppose that, in addition, they radiate in an altogether simple and unaffected way their faith in values that go beyond current values, and their hope in something that is not seen and that one would not dare to imagine. Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst? Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one. Here we have an initial act of evangelization. The above questions will ask, whether they are people to whom Christ has never been proclaimed, or baptized people who do not practice, or people who live as nominal Christians but according to principles that are in no way Christian, or people who are seeking, and not without suffering, something or someone whom they sense but cannot name. Other questions will arise, deeper and more demanding ones, questions evoked by this witness which involves presence, sharing, solidarity, and which is an essential element, and generally the first one, in evangelization." (Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975), #21.)
Pope Paul also stresses the need for personal relationships, the authentic connection with the other, as the primary way of bearing witness: “In the long run, is there any other way of handing on the Gospel than by transmitting to another person one's personal experience of faith? It must not happen that the pressing need to proclaim the Good News to the multitudes should cause us to forget this form of proclamation whereby an individual's personal conscience is reached and touched by an entirely unique word that they receive from someone else.” (Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975), #46.)