Tag Archives: John the Baptist

What Are You Looking For?

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.’  John 1:35-39.

In the Daily Office today, we read the Gospel of John, which again offers us a fine reading for the season of Epiphany.  Once again, we encounter John the Baptist, this time on the day after Jesus’ baptism.  As Jesus passes by, John again announces that Jesus is the Lamb of God.  

Rather than stepping into the spotlight, John  illuminates Jesus.  That phrase, “the Lamb of God”, would have carried immediate connotations for his Jewish audience.  The Passover operated as the pivot point for the Jewish people’s understanding of their salvation, and the Passover meal was lamb.  John thus bears witness that Jesus offers their deliverance. 

Andrew and another of John’s disciples hear this startling announcement and begin following Jesus.  The next passage provides us with insight into the kind of man Jesus was.  John doesn’t record Jesus announcing his ministry in a dramatic proclamation.  Jesus doesn’t attract his disciples with miracles or a sermon or a sales pitch. There’s nothing ecstatic or charismatic in his response. A friend of mine has recently convinced me that all forms of ministry (teaching, preaching, liturgy, outreach, and evangelism) are, at their core, pastoral

Jesus’ first question to the disciples reveals his pastoral nature:  “What are you seeking?  What do you think is missing?”  The world brims with people who are looking for something:  God, happiness, wealth, enlightenment or something new and exciting.  Each of us who claims to follow Christ, however, should regularly ask ourselves that very question:  “What are you looking for?”  If our response is something other than Jesus, we might want to reorient our pursuits.  Jesus’ question may call to mind God’s first question to mankind, “Where are you?”  Gen. 3:9. 

The disciples then ask Jesus, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”  That translation leaves a bit to be desired.  Their question wasn’t so much “Where are you spending the night?”  Rather, they wanted to know where Jesus lived, where he dwelt, where he “abided.”  We would do well to think here of another passage in John’s Gospel:  “Abide in me as I abide in you.”  John 15:4.  The disciples aren’t asking so much about geography as they are beginning to probe his teaching, his “yoke”, and his idea of relationships.  Jesus’ remarkable response, “Come and see”, will shape the lives of his disciples forever. 

In the Gospel of John, the word “see” always involves something more than one might understand initially.  The Greek word orapo connotes more than visual observation.  It suggests spiritual vision, insight or understanding.  Jesus thus invites these two disciples to follow him, understand and find what they are looking for.  He’s extending the same invitation to you, and to me.

Pax,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

 © 2012 James R. Dennis

 

The Last Prophet

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father.  But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’  They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him.He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God.  Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea.  All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.  Luke 1:57-68.

In today’s Gospel reading in the Daily Office, we find the story of the birth and naming of John the Baptist.  This bit of Scripture provides us with a wonderful Advent reflection on  John, who our Orthodox brothers and sisters call The Forerunner.  It’s a remarkable story.

As you’ll remember, John’s father (Zechariah) was a priest.  The angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, explaining that his wife Elizabeth would bear a son named John, a son who would turn the people of Israel’s hearts to the Lord.  When Zechariah expressed his disbelief, he was struck dumb. 

For months, Zechariah remains dumb-struck in this God-imposed silence.  (Sometimes, it seems, even God wants priests to remain silent.)  We shouldn’t judge Zechariah too harshly, though, because nothing that was happening was….well, natural. I sometimes think Zechariah was struck dumb mostly because he continued to cling to his hopelessness, even when his better angels told him there was good cause to trust God and hope for a better world.

Although tradition dictated that the child would bear a family name, Zechariah insistently scribbled on a writing-tablet:  “His name is John.”  Scripture teaches that Zechariah’s speech returned immediately, and he proclaimed that God’s redemption of his people was at hand.

The story provides several important Advent messages.  First, Elizabeth (who was elderly and barren) will produce a child, just as a world which had become stale and ordinary and barren of meaning will produce something completely new.  Zechariah, speechless through his disobedience, recovers all that he has lost by listening to the Lord.  (He recovers his speech at his son’s circumcision, a rite which operated as a sign of the covenantal relationship between the people of Israel and the God who chose them.)   Within the loving covenant God calls us into, life springs up in the desert, and all we’ve lost will be recovered.

The story serves as an extended metaphor for what’s going on in the Incarnation.  God is breaking into this broken, handicapped, barren world.  He is re-defining what is “natural”; in other words, re-making all of creation.  This isn’t just an ocasional miracle in a world that otherwise remains the same.  With apologies to the advertising industry, “This changes everything.”

The birth of John, often referred to as the last of the Old Testament prophets, signals that God is redeeming and reclaiming all of creation.  It teaches that we cannot rely on the old rules or our old expectations anymore.  Thus, during this time of year when the days are shorter and the darkness seems to dominate time itself, we light an Advent candle.  We know things are about to change.

Shabbat shalom,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2011 James R. Dennis