by Ellen Sims
text: John 1: 29-42
On third Sundays we offer a contemplative service of prayers experienced in several ways–including enacted prayers at four different prayer stations. Below I share my brief commentary on the Gospel reading (with some background comparing John and Matthew’s gospels) followed by a description of our four prayers stations for this particular service.
REFLECTION ON TODAY’S GOSPEL TEXT
Although the lectionary this year (year A) relies mainly on Matthew’s Gospel, it will occasionally draw from John’s, as happens today. Having offered a recent introduction to Matthew’s themes, let me contrast those with characteristics of John’s. The fourth Gospel was written as much as a generation after Matthew’s and at a time when infighting within Judaism had intensified to the point of schism: the traditional Temple-centered Jewish leadership versus the sect of Jews naming Jesus as Messiah in a reform movement. In this process the Jesus followers of John’s community speak of Jesus in more spiritualized, mystical ways, and John’s language is more elevated. Here are other basic contrasts between Matthew (our primary Gospel text for Year A) and John:
Jesus speaks in long discourses rather than parables
Jesus speaks in “I am” sayings (metaphors like “I am the bread of life” or “the Good Shepherd”)
Jesus speaks against “the Jews”
Jesus speaks about himself
Jesus performs “signs”
Jesus tells many parables
Jesus does not speak in “I am” sayings
Jesus speaks against the scribes, Sadducees, Pharisees
Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of Heaven
Jesus performs miracles
Especially relevant for today’s reading is evidence of conflict between followers of John the Baptist (leading his own reform movement within Judaism–which likely included Jesus for a time) and followers of Jesus. John’s followers needed to hear that John the Baptizer had authorized Jesus’s ministry. The Gospel of John describes Jesus’s baptism and the calling of Jesus’s first disciples in ways that underscore John attesting to Jesus’s superiority and encouraging some of his own followers to follow Jesus instead, a way the author of John might be declaring not only Jesus’s superiority to John but also telling John’s followers that their leader was pointing the way to God’s ultimate prophet and, indeed, the Messiah.
Let’s look more closely now at today’s Gospel text for some simple themes that might shape our prayers in today’s prayer service. As I mentioned, according to John’s Gospel, the very first followers of Jesus had been followers of John—who directed them to Jesus as “the lamb of God.” Andrew and another disciple of John began following Jesus. Literally they were trailing after him.
Imagine this. Was the duo inconspicuously ducking behind palm trees when Jesus would turn back to see whose footsteps he was hearing? Did Andrew and his companion become the equivalent of groupees who were always in the front row seats for the latest Jesus speech? Did they follow him over a period of time—or did Jesus turn and address them within the first few minutes after they plodded down a dusty road? We don’t know. But his question was not “Why are you following me?”—the obvious question. It was: “What are you looking for?”
Their answer? They didn’t have one. They replied with another question: “Where are you staying?” Maybe they didn’t know what they were looking for or didn’t have the words for it—but evidently they thought Jesus represented what they were looking for because they immediately wanted to know where HE was staying. They didn’t want to lose sight of him.
His answer? He didn’t say, “I’m staying with a friend who lives a mile down this road and take a left at well.” He said, “Come and see.”
Jesus’s words for us today might be:
“What are you looking for?” and “Come and see.”
The Jesus we meet in John engages us. He’s not a figure to study in a detached way. He’s a living presence to seek and to see, to follow and to observe, to emulate and to know.
1. Prayers that express what we are looking for. Take a slip of paper and pen from the baptismal font and state what you are looking for –maybe here at Open Table or out in the world or deep within yourself. Try to express in one sentence the yearning of your heart as you feel it today. As you write it, try to imagine you are saying this to Jesus, who has asked you with great sincerity: “What are you looking for?”
2. Prayers that challenge us to be a place where others can “come and see” Jesus. On the flipchart list ways we can be a place where people can see Jesus.
3. Prayers that connect us to the mystery that is the life and death and life eternal of Jesus the Christ. Before receiving the bread of life and dipping it into the cup of salvation, pray that the Light of Christ will help you see where God is at work in the world and show you where you may join in that work.
4. Prayers for the ongoing mission of Christ’s church. As you share from your personal resources, give thanks for what you have and for the privilege of sharing with others.