29One day John saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” 31I, myself, did not know him; but I came baptising with water for this reason, that He might be revealed to Israel.’ 32John testified: ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptise with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptises with the Holy Spirit.” 34I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’
35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When 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?’ 39He 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. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). 42He 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).
Text ©The New Revised Standard Version, alt, Used with permission.
The fourth gospel doesn’t pretend to be a historical document, setting out the events of Christ’s life for us to follow. For that we must be eternally thankful as there are numerous contradictions and inconsistencies with other passages of scripture. It has often been said that The Bible is “The Word of God.” I would add “as perceived (mostly) by men, and written for men, in a patriarchal society”. History is nearly always written by the victors in battles, not the losers, so we should not be surprised by, or put off by, errors of fact and distortions or interpretations in writings of fallible human beings.
John was a cousin of Jesus, and would have grown up knowing him and interacting with him. I know my cousins to a certain extent but might be surprised by an approach from any one of them. To me, that is what is meant when John declares that he did not know Jesus. What we have here is a declaration of what John (the Baptist, not the gospel writer) saw at Jesus’ baptism, and there is no statement from God. Does it matter? No! Again, it’s not a historical document, but a theological one. It’s far more important that we recognise Jesus for who He is, and for what He does. Jesus is Son of God, human and divine.
It may sound like semantics, but when we declare, in the Nicene Creed, that Jesus became “truly human” we are only getting part of the point here. As a man, Jesus was truly human in every aspect, but when we look more closely at His actions and His way of thinking we must surely recognise that there was more to His humanity than Him being male. Considering Him ‘truly human’ because He was male denies the humanity of women. Time and again through scripture we have feminine images associated with God. If we say “fully human” we encompass those aspects of humanity which we normally link to women, without implying that Christ was a woman. Let’s not forget, too, that men and women were both made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27 – “God created mankind in His own image … male and female He created them”) so every aspect of being feminine is also an aspect of being human.
Translation is important when we want to convey an image. Tell the highlanders of Papua New Guinea that Jesus is “the Lamb of God” and you would get a blank stare because sheep are unknown in the area, so the image immediately fails. Talking of “the Pig of God” might work for them but not for us. To the disciples of John, “Lamb of God” would have been significant enough for them to want to follow Jesus, and that is what both Johns are seeking here.
Matthew 4:18, which we will read on 26th January, says that Jesus found Simon and Andrew casting their nets together, rather than Andrew being a disciple of John and then finding his brother Simon. It also jars a bit, here, that we are told Andrew’s brother was Simon Peter before Christ named Simon ‘Cephas’ – pronounced Kee-fass, but it’s not important. What is important is that they both left what they were doing to follow Christ. How often are we willing to do that?
Are we prepared to drop everything and follow in the footsteps of Christ? Are we so pre-occupied with doing things, like Martha, that we aren’t prepared to sit and listen to God speaking to us, like Mary? Are we prepared to do the hard things God wants us to do, or do we find reasons to refuse – like those who declined invitations to a wedding banquet? The Lamb of God was sacrificed for us so let us give thanks to God, and listen to Him.
If you are interested in the reflection on the passage from Isaiah set for Epiphany 2, see http://frends.biz/reflections/15th-january-2017/