Epiphany 2 • John 1:29–42a • January 16, 2011
by Bruce Schuchard
Because They Have Seen?
Seeing is believing. Or so the saying goes. In the gospel of John, however, there is much to be said for the suggestion that what the gospel is meaning to extol is hearing not seeing. If one is to see what only the mind and the heart—what only the “eyes of faith”—can see about Jesus; if one is to know who Jesus really is and what it is that the Lamb of God has done to take away the sins of the world (1:29), one must have ears that are ready to hear what eyes can in no way see. “Have you believed, because you have seen?” asks Jesus (20:29). Or has something else happened? Something more? From beginning to end, St. John’s gospel consistently and compellingly indicates that something else must indeed happen if any are to know Jesus of Nazareth (1:45–46) as God and Lord (20:28).
So early on, on the day that Jesus first appears in St. John’s gospel (1:29–34; cf. 1:19–28), he appears to the one whose purpose in life was to do no more and no less than to testify to the coming one—the greater one—so that all might believe through Jesus (1:6–8). So when the testifier “saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me’” (1:29–30), the testifier said this because he knew that Jesus was not just greater but was, in fact, the long-awaited, much-anticipated greatest-of-all one (ὅτι πρῶτός μου ἦν, 1:30; cf. ὁ πρῶτος in Rv 2:8; 22:13). He said this—he knew this—about Jesus not because he had seen it in Jesus. He said this because someone had already told it to him, because he had already heard it from God himself. At first, declares the testifier, “I did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, so that he (the greater one) might be revealed to Israel” (1:31). “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him” (1:32). But even then “I did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’” (1:33). Then, and only then, did he know him. Then, and only then, did he proclaim, “this is the Son of God” (1:34). From the Father to the testifier a word is spoken, a word is heard, so that it might be taken to heart and believed, so that it might in turn be repeated, so that it might be heard again and again and again.
The First Followers of Jesus
So the next day, “John was again standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as Jesus was walking by and said (again), ‘Behold, the lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’ And they said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’” (1:35–38). For, at the behest of their former teacher, John, at his word (cf. 3:29–30), their wish was to go—to stay—with this greater one; their wish was to ally themselves with him, to be his disciples. And so Jesus “said to them, ‘Come and you will see.’ So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him” (1:39). From John to his own disciples (the first of Jesus’s disciples) a word is again spoken, a word is heard, so that from these to others it might be repeated, it might be heard, again and again and again.
The Subsequent Followers of Jesus
So, “One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ). (And) He brought him to Jesus” (1:40–42). In other words, he continued the pattern of repeating what he himself had heard to others so that they too might hear, so that they too might be brought—might come—to Jesus. For “the blessed” are those who believe not on account of what they have seen (20:29), which can only take a person so far, but on account of what they have heard, “on account of the word” (17:20) that is given so that it might be passed from generation to generation until the day that finally all will be blessed to “see him just as he is” (1 Jn 3:2). For now, however, it suffices—for now it is everything—that “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these things are written so that (hearing them!) you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing, you may have life in his name” (20:30–31).