Come and See: context

Ecce Agnus Dei - Francis Hoyland

Ecce Agnus Dei – Francis Hoyland

This coming Sunday is the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – the cycle of readings in which The Gospel according to Mark is the principal source of our Sunday gospels. That being said, our reading is from the Gospel According to John. In fact, regardless of which cycle of readings (A,B, or C), the “Second Sunday of Ordinary Time the Gospel continues to center on the manifestation of the Lord” with a gospel from John (General Introduction to the Lectionary, 105). It is done as a means of transitioning from the theme of “manifestation” highlighted in Epiphany to ordinary time readings – I suspect – because there are some years when the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on the Monday following the Sunday celebration of Epiphany (when Epiphany Sundays falls on Jan 7th or 8th). The reading for the 2nd Sunday ensures the theme is continued in the simple verse: “We have Found the Messiah.” Continue reading


TheAnnunciationSimilar, yet… In many respects our gospel (Luke 1:26-38) is similar to the annunciation of the birth of John. The angel Gabriel appears to announce the birth of the child, and the annunciation follows the pattern of birth annunciations in the OT: The angel says, “Do not be afraid,” calls the recipient of the vision by name, assures him or her of God’s favor, announces the birth of the child, discloses the name of the child to be born, and reveals the future role of the child in language drawn from the Scriptures. After their respective announcements, Zechariah and Mary each ask a question, a sign is given, and the scene closes with a departure. The similarity of structure and content between the two scenes invites the reader to consider the differences between them all the more closely. For example, the first announcement came as an answer to fervent prayer; the second was completely unanticipated. John would be born to parents past the age of child bearing, but the miracle of Jesus’ birth would be even greater. Jesus would be born to a virgin. The announcement of Jesus’ future role also shows that at every point Jesus would be even greater than his forerunner. Watch how these nuances are developed in the course of the details of this scene. Note this narrative comparison also punctuates the beginning of Mark’s gospel which has no infancy narrative: John the Baptist is not the Christ, not Elijah, not the prophet to come, and not worthy to loosen the strap of the sandal of the one who is to come. Continue reading

The Annunciation – context

TheAnnunciationLuke 1:26-38  26 In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, 33 and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Continue reading

Testimony: about yourself

john-the-baptistThe questioners from Jerusalem were in a difficult position. So far all they had elicited from John had been a string of denials; they had no positive statement to put in their report. Yet John was preaching, drawing crowds in the wilderness, and baptizing. They must have something to say about him. So they turn the matter over to John. Instead of making another suggestion they ask him what he thinks about himself. They must have some answer to take back to those who had sent them. Continue reading

Testimony: by John

john-the-baptistJohn’s testimony to Jesus will lead others to faith, but it is also offered as evidence in a trial. John’s interrogators in this passage are not curious passersby, but are a delegation sent by official Judaism (vv. 19, 22). The expression “the Jews” (hoi Ioudaioi, v. 19) occurs repeatedly in the Fourth Gospel and has a wide range of meanings. Its most common usage, as in v.19, is as a synonym for the Jewish religious establishment, which is the source of most of the opposition to Jesus’ ministry in John. Here it likely refers to representative from Jerusalem leadership who quite naturally are going to make inquiries about what may well be a new religious movement – especially if there are messianic claims. There was a history of such movements and claims leading to religious disappointment and political ruin. Once John the Baptist acquired a following, the questions were sure to come. The first one was simple and straight forward. Continue reading

Testimony: sent from God

john-the-baptistA man named John was sent from God (v.6) Into this overarching narrative of the grand plan of salvation, we have the curious insertion of John the Baptist. We should note that this fourth gospel never uses the moniker “the Baptist” or “the Baptizer” – in fact John is never called the “forerunner” or “herald.” John has one role and one role only: witness (v.7). Leon Morris suggests that this is a response to a late 1st century controversy about the role and place of John the Baptist in the story of Christianity. “We should recall that some had baptized in John’s name as far afield as Ephesus (Acts 19:3), and they may have gone further. The great Apollos is first introduced as one who “knew only the baptism of John” (Acts 18:25). Our author does not enter directly into controversy with such people, but he insists more than any of the other Evangelists on the subordinate place of the Baptist. One of the aims of this Gospel plainly was to show how clearly and consistently John had pointed people to Jesus.” (Morris, 78) John the Evangelist does not directly confront the claims of the Baptist’s followers, but he insists more than any of the other Evangelists on the subordinate place of the Baptist. One of the aims of this Gospel plainly was to show how clearly and consistently John the Baptist had pointed people to Jesus. Continue reading

Testimony: Advent context

john-the-baptistThe 3rd Sunday in Advent continues to feature John the Baptist as the herald and forerunner of the Messiah. The Reading for the Third Sunday of Lent is John 1:6-8, 19-28 (shown below in bold italics) – but it seemed good to me to also show the more continuous context of the Gospel according to John:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be 4 through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; 5 the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 A man named John was sent from God. 7 He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. Continue reading

The One Coming: John’s message

Baptism-Jesus“One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

John’s message is telescoped to focus upon a single theme, the proclamation of a person still to come who will baptize the people with the Holy Spirit. As seen in the Notes, it is not clear what Mark means by this expression, nor is it clear that John understands the very messianic terms he uses – at least in their fullness. In referring to this new Baptizer, whose dignity overshadowed his own, John avoided traditional messianic terms. The precise identity of the Coming One remained hidden, apparently, even from John. Continue reading

The One Coming: John

John the Baptist is a crucial figure in the history of revelation and redemption. In retrospect, his appearance in the wilderness was the most important event in the life of Israel for more than three hundred years. The absence of a prophet throughout this period had been interpreted to signify that the prophetic task was accomplished. Yet all clung to the hope that the “faithful prophet” would appear, the Prophet like Moses, whose coming would signal the events of the “last days” (Deut. 18:15–19; 1 Macc. 4:42–46; 14:44). The very fact of John’s appearance was an eschatological event of the first magnitude, and signified that the decisive turning point in the history of salvation was at hand. It was John, the preacher of radical repentance, who initiated the messianic crisis. To speak of the gospel of Jesus is to speak of the good news which began with John. Continue reading

The kingdom at hand: who comes

john-the-baptist11 I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.While vv. 8–10 may be understood at least in part as continuing the address to the Pharisees and Sadducees, now John’s address is specifically to those whom he is actually baptizing.

The superiority of the “stronger one” is explained in terms of two baptisms. John’s water-baptism is a preliminary ritual with a view to repentance, clearing the way for the real thing, the “stronger one’s” baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire. Water is an outward sign, but the work of the Holy Spirit will be inward. Since fire occurs in both v. 10 and v. 12 (and probably also by implication in v. 7 in the imagery of the snakes escaping the fire) as a metaphor for God’s judgment, it should probably be taken in the same sense here. The coming of the Holy Spirit will burn away what is bad and so purify the repentant people of God. (France, 113) Continue reading