John the Baptist’s witness to Jesus initiates a chain of testimony as his disciples begin to share with others what they have found.
29[John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward 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 baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John 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 baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I 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).
There’s a popular worship service around Good Friday that focuses on the seven last words of Jesus – phrases uttered by Jesus as he hung on the cross, and died for our sins. But not much attention is paid to his first recorded words. The words according to John that came at the outset of his ministry on earth, after he was baptized by John. Jesus says, “What are you looking for?” “Come and see.” Simple. Straightforward. Friendly. To the point and direct.
The first words of Jesus – according to John’s Gospel – are words of invitation and curiosity. These words invite conversation and relationship. These words draw us to Jesus. The first two disciples follow Jesus because John told them check that guy out, and then they tell others to “come and see”…so they come, see, follow. So instead of the traditional “Jesus calls the first disciples” story, which we’ll look at next week – this is a story of people telling their friends, telling their neighbors, Come and see. Don’t make a decision yet. Don’t think you already know what you’ll see. Figure out what you’re really seeking and then come and see where I’ve found that.
Jesus’ invitation to come and see has rippled outward as Andrew invites Peter and, over time, Peter will invite countless others to come and see the one they believe is the Messiah. Jesus invites us and we invite others. Notice, Jesus employs no coercion, no threat, no intimidation, but instead says something that is second-nature to anyone wanting to introduce a friend to a new movie, book, or band: come and see. Anyone can say it. But for many reasons we don’t say it. We don’t extend that invitation. But we’re afraid that people will say no. And many will say no. Because they’ve seen already – and what they saw they didn’t like. But did they come to see Jesus or see the Church?
There are good reasons many say no to the Church. Tops on most people’s list are hypocrisy, violence, and intolerance. In the name of God’s love Christians have slaughtered Muslims, Jews, and Native Americans. We have attacked and abused people of color, women and LGBTQ persons. Clerical sexual abuse has devastated thousands of families. And whether Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant, fellow Christians have persecuted each other with similar cruelty. Christians have burned books, defended the dubious, supported pseudo-science, and avoided hard questions. It’s no wonder many say no thanks to church.
John preps us for Jesus question. Here’s what you’re looking at – in case your own filters got in the way. This is a lamb. God’s lamb to be specific. Let’s look through John’s eyes first.
Here’s the two things we know about Johns insistence that this is the lamb of God. Love and sacrifice. God is the shepherd – the good one to be precise, not one of those bad ones that abuse sheep or leave them unprotected, or exploit then. God cares for all his sheep. And they are all HIS. Lambs also calls to mind the idea of sacrifice. But maybe not in the way we assume. First, in those days, bulls, goats, and adult sheep were the typical animals used in sin offerings — not lambs. Second and more decisively, later in the story, John (the Gospel writer, not the Baptizer) implicitly identifies Jesus with the Passover lamb.
In first-century Jewish life, the Passover lamb wasn’t a sin offering or atonement sacrifice. Rather, the lamb was a ritual remembrance of the Exodus story in which a lamb’s blood protected the ancient Israelites from death, thereby making possible their liberation from Egyptian enslavement (liberation from sin and its constraining, oppressive, death-dealing effects. This lamb is a liberator, not a pawn in some quid pro quo sacrifice.). As a name for Jesus, then, “the Lamb of God” is less about satisfaction for sin or atonement and more about
This season is both one of asking – what are we looking for? And who is this Jesus? For those who know him and love him – we follow him.
Sr. Joan Chittister, benedictine nun, theologian and author writes in her book The Liturgical Year about Ordinary time, another name for these Sundays and time between the major feasts of the church. She writes that “the liturgical year is how we live the life of Jesus day after day until one day it finally becomes our own. We become the message of it. We grow into the life of it…. The world around us tells us that life is about money, security, power, and success. Yet the Gospels tell us that life is about something completely other. Real life, the Gospels tell us us is about doing the will of god, speaking for the poor, changing the lives of widows and orphans, exalting the status of women, refusing to make war, laying down our lives for the other, the invisible and the enemy.”
It is in these days, we see the lamb, the son of God, revealed most clearly, an epiphany if you will. We need this revelation year after year in our lives. We need this turning of time, this turning to scriptures to reveal to us both the questions of what we are looking for – and who is this lamb. It will be in the asking of the questions, that our deepest needs are met and fulfilled. What are you looking for? Amen.