Thursday, October 17, 2013

Beginnings - John 1:20-51

This is the beginning of my paraphrase of AB Bruce's classic: The Training of the 12.

This section of John’s gospel is one of small beginnings that have grown to greatness. Here we see the infant church in its cradle, the earliest blossoms of Christian faith, and the humble launch of the mighty empire of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even large and powerful movements are obscure at their launch. This was very true at the start of the movement we call Christianity. This meeting of Jesus with five humble men: Andrew, Peter, Philip, Nathanael and another unnamed disciple looked like a very insignificant event when viewed from the lens of world history. The event at first glance seems too trivial to make its way into the gospel narrative. We don’t see any formal call to the great office of apostleship, or even to the beginning of uninterrupted discipleship. The most we see here is the start of an acquaintance with and faith in Jesus on the part of a few individuals who eventually would become his constant companions and ultimately His apostles. Interestingly, there is no mention of these events in the other three Gospels. Really, the events seem so small and trivial that the question is not, why did the other gospel writers not mention them? But, why did John think it worthwhile to relate such small, minute incidents, especially in such close proximity to the grand and inspiring passage with which he begins his Gospel? Upon reflection we realize that events that may seem insignificant to us may be very important to the feelings of the person who personally experienced them.

What if John was the unnamed fifth person who became acquainted with Jesus on that day? That would make a huge difference between his perspective and that of the other Gospel writers. If they knew of this incident at all, they would only know them second hand. If John was present, it would not be surprising that he remembered with such vivid emotion when he first saw the Word who became flesh. John would have considered the smallest details of that meeting to be unspeakably precious. First meetings are as sacred as last ones, especially first meetings followed by momentous history and containing prophetic omens of the future. There were plenty of such omens in connection with the first meeting between Jesus and the five disciples. John the Baptist had been the first to give Jesus the name “Lamb of God” – a term exactly descriptive of Jesus’ earthly mission and destiny. Nathanael’s doubting question, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” was an ominous indication of the future unbelief awaiting the Messiah. This whole episode must have been an incredibly happy omen to the aged apostle who recorded it. In light of all of this, we ought to give ourselves wholeheartedly to the study of this simple passage with the attitude of people who make pilgrimages to sacred places because this ground is holy. 

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