Wednesday, January 17, 2018

He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled


 After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized.  Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there.  And they came and were baptized.  For John had not yet been thrown into prison. 

Then there arose a dispute between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purification.  And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified -- behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!"  John answered and said, "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.  You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ,' but, 'I have been sent before Him.'  He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice.  Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled.  He must increase, but I must decrease.  He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth.  He who comes from heaven is above all.  And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony.  He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true.  For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure.  The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.  He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."

- John 3:22-36

In yesterday's reading, Jesus taught Nicodemus:  "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.  He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.  But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."

 After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized.  Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there.  And they came and were baptized.  For John had not yet been thrown into prison.  We should remember what a great figure John the Baptist was in his time.  He was widely recognized as a holy man.  Jesus' first disciples were earlier disciples of John the Baptist (that presumably includes John the Evangelist, writer of this Gospel).  At this point, their ministries overlap.  Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples did (4:2). 

Then there arose a dispute between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purification.  And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified -- behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!"   Again, as above, we remember that the Gospel tells us that Jesus did not baptize, but His disciples did (4:2). 

John answered and said, "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.  You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ,' but, 'I have been sent before Him.'  He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice.  Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled."  John the Baptist is called the friend (or "best man") of the bridegroom, while Christ Himself is the bridegroom.  The bride, my study bible says, is the Church, the people of God.  John here confesses his role in the coming of the Messiah.  He is the witness to the wedding of Christ and His people.  Therefore he rejoices in the celebration.  His joy is fulfilled:  His true place and identity in the Kingdom are complete.

"He must increase, but I must decrease.  He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth.  He who comes from heaven is above all.  And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony.  He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true.  For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure.  The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand."  My study bible tells us that John's humility expressed here serves as an example for all the faithful.  John renounces all worldly or earthly glory and reputation for the sake of Christ.  By allowing Christ to increase in him, John finds his true glory.  This is also a statement indicating the end of the old covenant.  John is the last and greatest of the Old Testament style prophets.  As the law vanishes, it is the grace of Jesus Christ that abounds.  John's declaration is also revealed in the liturgical calendar.  His birth is celebrated by tradition in the Church at a time when the sun begins to decrease in the sky (on June 24), while Christ's birth is celebrated when the sun begins to increase (December 25).

"He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."  Here John the Baptist echoes the teaching of Christ Himself (see verse 18 in yesterday's reading, above).   My study bible makes note of the absence of the word "alone" in this statement of faith.   John Chrysostom comments:  "We do not from this assert that faith alone is sufficient for salvation; the directions for living that are given in many places in the Gospels show this."  See also James 2:14-24.

There are a handful of occurrences in John's Gospel (and in one Epistle of John) where joy is spoken of in a particular sense of fulfillment.  Here, John the Baptist says, "He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice.  Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled."  He is describing his true role in the salvation plan of God, his relationship to the Christ.   It's important to note that it is in this context in which we read of the fulfillment of his joy.  At the Last Supper (in chapter 15) Jesus tells His disciples, "As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.  If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full" (15:9-11).  He then immediately gives them a new commandment:  "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (15:12).  The fulfillment of both Christ's joy and the joy of the disciples is in this love, this relatedness among then all, with Christ as the center, uniting all in love.  In chapter 16, still in the discourse of the Last Supper, Jesus addresses His imminent "Exodus," the Crucifixion, about which the disciples still know so little.  They have only His vague statement that He will leave them for a "little while" (16:16).  Jesus tells them, "Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full" (16:22-24).   Let us keep in mind that He is speaking of the greatest possible tragedy that is about to happen to them.  Again, the fullness of joy is in their relatedness to the Bridegroom, their place in His love and thereby His Kingdom.  This is the fullness of joy.  In John's First Epistle, there is similar language found.  He writes as a witness to the life of Christ, and " . . . that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.  And these things we write to you that your joy may be full" (1 John 1:3-4).  Again, the fulfillment of joy is in direct relatedness to Christ as the Center, in "fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ."  John the Baptist speaks paradoxically to our ears.  We associate happiness or joy with nominal ideas of success or winning.  But it is a question of what success really is, and what winning really is.  If we can only think in terms of competition with others, we will miss the point here.  Jesus tells us (also in John's Gospel as part of the Last Supper discourse), "In My Father’s house are many mansions" (see John 14:2-3).  The true perfection or completion or fulfillment of our joy is in that place that is prepared for us by Him, and clearly there is room for everybody in His Father's house.  There is no limitation on joy or completeness, even on the perfection implied in this completeness.  If we limit ourselves to the worldly perspective of what everybody else seems to be doing or chasing, we limit our own joy and our own sense of completeness or fulfillment.  We chase happiness in all kinds of places, but the fulfillment of joy is in return to Creator, in the place the Creator declares we are doing well.  That requires the kind of humility and the independence of thinking expressed by John the Baptist in today's reading.  That is, a kind of independence of thinking, or detachment, given to us as we are "taken out of the world" by the love of Christ and what that conveys within us and for us.  It requires a kind of strength that is given by the love of God.  It requires the love He is here to show us, to invite us into, and the discipleship He offers.



Tuesday, January 16, 2018

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life


"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.  He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.  But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."

- John 3:16-21

Yesterday we read that when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs that Jesus did.  But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.  There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him."  Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."  Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old?  Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?"  Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'  The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes.  So is everyone who is born of the Spirit."  Nicodemus answered and said to Him, "How can these things be?"  Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?  No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."  

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."  My study bible explains that Jesus is showing here the reason why the Son must be crucified ("lifted up" from verse 14, above, in yesterday's reading).  He declares that God's great love isn't only for Israel, but that it is for the world.  This single verse, it notes, expresses the whole of the message of John's Gospel, and even of all of salvation history.

"For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.  He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."  Jesus has come to save and not to condemn.  But human beings have free will.  This means that we are free to reject the gift.  Thereby we lose what He is offering through rejection.

"And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.  But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."  John ties the failure to accept spiritual truth with the rejection of salvation.  He links it to the desire to hide from the light that is Christ. 

Faith is trust.  The word for faith in the Greek of the New Testament is rooted in the word for trust.  It is important to keep this in mind when we think about the words here in John's Gospel.  To lack faith is to lack trust, to fail to put one's trust in Christ.  That teaches us first of all that the nature of faith is all about communion and relationship.  It conveys more than simple relatedness, because Christ speaks of communion or participation in something.  Through faith, we participate in His life, and thereby through Him, in the life of the Church, the communion of saints, the reality of the Kingdom of heaven.  (See Luke 17:20-21.)  Lacking this trust of faith means that we fail to participate in this life that He is offering; that is, the life of salvation, and the eternal life He promises to those who are with Him.  In this sense, rejection is condemnation.  It is the failure to accept the gift of the life that He offers to us.  The gift of this faith is the whole of the package, all of its inter-relatedness, its meanings and values, its life of the Kingdom, its participation in His truth -- and even more importantly, in Him.  That is where the abundance of life dwells (John 10:10).  John links the lack of trust of faith with the desire to hide from the light, to hide one's deeds from the reality of Christ's life.  That is, from the light His life offers to us.  Within the perspective of that light, everything we are falls into a stark clarity.  But the life He offers us is also designed to do just that, to help us to come more fully into union with Him, and to grow in the life of God that gives us everything that we are.  It is all of this that is rejected through the desire to hide from that light, the lack of trust in Christ.  If we but think a little about it, we can start to see that it is within this context that Jesus' greatest warnings come to His own disciples, about how they are to treat the "little ones" who are entrusted to them for His care (see Luke 17:1-2, and especially Matthew 18:6-11).  It is all about trust in Christ, and the acceptance of His light for our lives.  We are to shine His light in the world, so that others may clearly see and choose for themselves.  At any moment, at all times, we each have this choice of trust available to us.  Even -- and perhaps especially when -- all else has failed us, we have our hope in Him and our trust.  To lose this is to lose everything.  And we remember that should we keep others from doing the same, we aren't being the good stewards He asks us to become.



Monday, January 15, 2018

Do not marvel that I said to you, "You must be born again." The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit


 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs that Jesus did.  But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him."  Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."  Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old?  Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?"  Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'  The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes.  So is everyone who is born of the Spirit."  Nicodemus answered and said to Him, "How can these things be?"

Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?  No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." 

- John 2:23-3:15

 Yesterday we read that the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business.  When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers' money and overturned the tables.  And He said to those who sold doves, "Take these things away!  Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!"  Then His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up."  So the Jews answered and said to Him, "What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?"  Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."  Then the Jews said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?"  But he was speaking of the temple of His body.  Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.

 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs that Jesus did.  But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.   John's Gospel gives us three Passover feasts attended by Jesus during His ministry, between His Baptism by John the Baptist and His Passion (see 6:4 and 11:55).  This gives us a three-year span to His earthly ministry.

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him."   Although John has so far reported only one sign in His Gospel (at the wedding at Cana), his Gospel refers above to the signs which people saw who were at the Passover, and here Nicodemus also refers to multiple signs, and that they point to the presence of God.  My study bible says that Nicodemus believed that Jesus was from God, but that his faith was still weak.  He is a Pharisee, and he fears his peers, therefore he came to Jesus by night.  After this conversation, Nicodemus's faith will grow to the point where he defends Jesus before the Sanhedrin (7:50-51), risking his life and standing by making a bold public expression of faith and preparing and entombing the body of Christ (19:39-42).  By tradition of the Eastern Church, Nicodemus's memory is celebrated on the third Sunday of Easter along with the Myrrhbearing Women and also Joseph of Arimathea, who was another member of the Council.  According to some early sources, my study bible reports, Nicodemus was baptized by Peter and consequently removed from the Sanhedrin and forced to flee Jerusalem.

Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."   It is a rare revelation that Jesus has made to Nicodemus, affirming for us in some sense that which John has said earlier in our reading, that Jesus knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.  Although Nicodemus is a Pharisee, and member of the Council, there is a way in which Jesus entrusts Himself to Nicodemus through this teaching.  To be born again can also be translated in the original Greek as born "from above."  It clearly refers to the heavenly birth from God via faith in Christ (1:12-13).  This heavenly birth is what baptism is, and the adoption by God as our Father (Galatians 4:4-7). 

Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old?  Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?"  It is frequently reported in John's Gospel that Jesus' listeners misunderstand what He says in His teachings.  This is an important aspect of the Gospel.  It calls to our attention the depth and meaning of Jesus' words and speech, and it also tells us about how we learn and grow in our understanding.  (See 2:19-21; 4:10-14, 30-34; 6:27; 7:37-39; 11:11-15).  Christ uses each opportunity to elevate an idea from a superficial or earthly meaning to a heavenly and eternal meaning.

Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'  The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes.  So is everyone who is born of the Spirit."  Nicodemus answered and said to Him, "How can these things be?"  My study bible tells us that this birth of water and the Spirit is a direct reference to Christian baptism as well as the gift of the Holy Spirit which is given at chrismation.   Jesus' analogy to the wind is a play on words; again, it is an affirmation of the power of language at work through Jesus' speaking and teaching, and a reminder that Jesus is Himself the Word.  The Greek word pneuma/πνευμα means both wind and Spirit.  My study bible tells us that the working of the Holy Spirit in the new birth is as mysterious as the source and destination of the blowing wind.   So it is that likewise, the Spirit moves where He wills and cannot be contained by human ideas or human agendas.

Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?  No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven."  My study bible cites the commentary of St. John Chrysostom.  He writes that earthly things refer to grace and baptism given to human beings.  These are earthly, not in the sense of "unspiritual," but simply in the sense that they occur on earth and are given to creatures.  The heavenly things refer to the "ungraspable" mysteries of the eternal generation of the Son from the Father.  They relate to Christ's eternal existence before all time and to God's divine plan for the salvation of the world.  We must first grasp the ways in which God works among human beings before we can begin to understand any of the things that pertain explicitly to God.

"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."   And we delve here into yet another tremendous mystery, that of the Cross.  Moses lifted up an image of a serpent in order to cure the Israelites from the deadly bites of poisonous snakes (Numbers 21:4-9).  Here Jesus indicates that this particular miracle-working image prefigured His being lifted up on the Cross.  My study bible tells us that as believers behold the crucified Christ in faith, so the power of death is overthrown in them.  It says that just as the image of a serpent was the weapon that destroyed the power of the serpents, so the instrument of Jesus' death becomes the weapon that overthrows death itself.

The misunderstandings we encounter in John's Gospel are highly significant.  They highlight the power of language at work not only in the Gospels but throughout the text of all the Scriptures.  In like ways, the earliest Church Fathers would come to see the entire text of the Old Testament as prefiguring or expressing (through "Types") the truths, works, and Person of Christ.  All of this gives us an understanding of the fulfillment of the Old Testament through the New, and through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.  It is once again a testimony to the importance of how language works in us and in our lives, and its qualities of inter-connectedness for our understanding and enrichment, and the depth of spiritual life that grows through time.  Language, indeed, gives us a sense of relationship, so crucial to the communion within the Kingdom.  Meanings themselves become ties of participation within the life of the Church and of all those who live in Him, even tying us to the life of the Church and communion of the saints to come.  Today's passage illustrates the perspective given through John's Gospel, that life within this faith in Christ, and participation within the Kingdom, is not a "one time only" acknowledgment.  It is, instead, a continuum.  We are headed somewhere.  That is, the fullness of perfection is in a particular reality or realization of life, that of union with Christ.  We are either headed toward this place, or we may get caught up in things that distract us from this place.  And (typically) paradoxically, even those things that are meant to distract us from this fullness of being and realization of who we are in Him also work -- with God's help -- to spur us to that place and that fullness.  The Cross is the prime example of this fact of our faith and our true realization of identity in this place of Christ's life.  It is "a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks," as St. Paul writes.  There is no doubt that both the demonic and human forces who wanted Jesus dead were not attempting to help His followers in their faith!  But the Cross is the instrument of salvation.  It is the prime witness to Christ's work and life in the world, and to His message to us to follow Him.  And once again paradoxically, this "stumbling block" and "foolishness" also becomes a symbol that works in all levels within us, giving us a way to grasp our faith regardless of our present understanding or level of spiritual depth.  We are reminded as well that this is the way the text works, giving us infinite levels of access as well as infinite returns to find more there for us.  What that means is that each believer, regardless of background or level of education, regardless of sophistication or cultural initiation or depth of learning, has access to these realities and their profound mysteries that they signal.  Each works as a "sign" and they are meant for all of us.  Let us remember that it was twelve relatively uneducated and unsophisticated men who would bring the message to the world, and that it is the Spirit that truly quickens and brings all these things to mind -- that continues to work with the text, with the images and "types" we've been given, in order to help the whole of the Church, our communities, as well as each one of us, not only to come to this place of faith, but to work with us each moment of our journey.  The rich texture of our faith is hidden in plain sight in all of its manifestations, its services and hymns, its Scriptures, its inspired Tradition, its saints and prayers, and in the revelations we're given through Christ and the works of the Spirit in the world.  It is all meant for all the world through Christ.  This is where salvation really is, within this door given to us, by Whom everything is tied together.  We begin with Nicodemus today, and how Jesus questions that even a teacher of Israel cannot immediately grasp what He has to teach.  So we all start, and learn, and grow.  We are all on our way, even with the detours, to the place He has for each, and for all.



Saturday, January 13, 2018

Then His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up"


 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business.  When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers' money and overturned the tables.  And He said to those who sold doves, "Take these things away!  Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!"  Then His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up."

So the Jews answered and said to Him, "What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?"  Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."  Then the Jews said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?"  But he was speaking of the temple of His body.  Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.

- John 2:13-22

Yesterday the Gospel gave us its sixth day of Jesus' ministry.  On this day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding.  And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, "They have no wine."  Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me?  My hour has not yet come."  His mother said to the servants, "Whatever He says to you, do it."  Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece.  Jesus said to them, "Fill the waterpots with water."  And they filled them up to the brim.  And He said to them, "Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast."  And they took it.  When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom.  And he said to him, "Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior.  You have kept the good wine until now!"  This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.  After this (on the seventh day, completing the first week of His ministry) He went down to Capernaum, He, His mother, His brothers, and His disciples; and they did not stay there many days.

  Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business.  When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers' money and overturned the tables.  And He said to those who sold doves, "Take these things away!  Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!"  Then His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up."    In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) this event occurs at the end of Jesus' ministry.  Here in John it is placed at the beginning, in the first of three Passover festivals that Jesus will attend.  There exist patristic teachings that this event occurred twice.  Those who sold oxen and sheep and doves were trading in live animals which were to be used for sacrifices.  The money changers were trading roman coins for Jewish coins.  As Roman coins bore the image of Caesar, they were considered to be defiling in the temple.  My study bible tells us that the cleansing of the temple points to the necessity that the Church be kept free from earthly pursuits.  At the same time, each person is also considered a temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19), and therefore is a sign that our hearts and minds must be cleansed of purely earthly matters; that is, we do nothing separately from God and God's purposes for our lives and the good of the soul.  The disciples recall Psalm 69:9.

So the Jews answered and said to Him, "What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?"  Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."  Then the Jews said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?"  But he was speaking of the temple of His body.  Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.  First, we must once again note that in John's Gospel, the term the Jews is most frequently used to mean the leaders; it is accurate to think of the term as a kind of political one, denoting a certain party, in keeping with the events of the time of the writing of this Gospel (specifically the persecution of the followers of Jesus).  We recall once again that all the people in the Gospel are Jews, including Jesus, as well as the author of the Gospel, with very few exceptions.  Here John uses the term to refer in particular to the chief priests and the elders (see Matthew 21:23).  Since Jesus is not a Levitical priest, His authority to cleanse the temple is challenged by them.  Jesus is careful not to reveal Himself to scoffers, and so He answers here in a hidden way that His apostles understand when they remembered that He had said this to them:  the ultimate sign will be His death and Resurrection.  It became an intrinsic part of their faith, and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.

We so often discount the effects and significance of language.  But illustrated in today's reading is the power of language, and especially of the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.   After each event described in today's reading, there is an important connection made by His disciples through memory.  In the first event described here, the cleansing of the temple, His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up."  And after the description of Jesus' confrontation with the leadership over His authority to cleanse the temple, the text tells us that when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.   Memory and language play an intrinsic role in faith, and in many ways.  The language of the Scriptures works in what we may term a poetic way, but even the word "poetic" isn't full of the true depth that is at work here.  The connections made between memory and the inspired language of the Scriptures, or of a beautiful service or hymn, and particularly the word of Christ Himself,  are infinite in their potential and their effect.  What we read in one passage today will open up for us tremendous new and faceted meanings every other time we read or hear them, depending on our place in life and what we may be capable of receiving.  That Christ Himself is the Word teaches us something of the power of language; that the Word uses words to speak into existence that which we understand as the very foundation of reality says more than one can write in a paragraph or two, and particularly with a limited capacity to understand the mysteries of God.  What we can know is that His is the word that keeps on giving.  For thousands of years, the Scriptures recalled here continue to feed, to inspire, to lead, to give direction and help and succor.  Gratefully, we can read John's Gospel and note that the author of the Gospel, and in the inspiration by the Spirit at work in all of it, gives us specific illustrations of just how the word works, how this language and memory works to help complete and fulfill our place in Christ's life for us, and in the entire framework of the Kingdom into which we are invited and may participate.  One cannot discount the power of word and memory, and its central importance to our faith.  The earliest founders of the Church, in the earliest centuries of its establishment, worked even article by article to establish meaning and to give us its theological underpinnings that lie hidden in plain sight, so to speak, in the language of the word we've been given.  For our purposes, however, it is more important to understand the power of memory at work with the connections that the Scripture makes within us, and how recollection plays such a role in our faith and even in defining who we are.  It all forms a part of the connectedness of the life we're given, and the greater abundance of life that we're promised.  It is how we may experience that Kingdom, how it will continually come to connect with our present experiences -- and how time is no obstacle to meaning, to connection, and even to the love present in the word.  Let us consider the ways in which we are given that which sustains us, builds us up, teaches us meaning, and in which we may also find ourselves at any moment.  It is all given in love, and its connections and memory continue to bring us what we need.


Friday, January 12, 2018

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there


 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding.  And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, "They have no wine."  Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me?  My hour has not yet come."  His mother said to the servants, "Whatever He says to you, do it."

Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece.  Jesus said to them, "Fill the waterpots with water."  And they filled them up to the brim.  And He said to them, "Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast."  And they took it.  When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom.  And he said to him, "Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior.  You have kept the good wine until now!"  This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.  After this He went down to Capernaum, He, His mother, His brothers, and His disciples; and they did not stay there many days. 

- John 2:1-12

Yesterday we read that on the day following the one in which Jesus met Andrew and Peter, Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, "Follow Me."  Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.  Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote -- Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."  And Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"  Philip said to him, "Come and see."  Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said to him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!"  Nathanael said to Him, "How do You know me?"  Jesus answered and said to him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you."  Nathanael answered and said to Him, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!"  Jesus answered and said to him, "Because I said to you, 'I saw you under the fig tree,' do you believe?  You will see greater things than these."  And He said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."

 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.   Today's reading gives us the first of seven signs in John's Gospel.  These miracles are called signs by John to indicate that they point to something beyond themselves:  that the Kingdom of God has come among us in the Person of Jesus Christ.  On the third day is an expression that means "two days later" from the events in our previous reading (the expression includes that day in its count), but significantly gives us a resurrectional tone to today's reading.  This wedding takes place on the sixth day we're given in John's Gospel, and it parallels the creation of man and woman in Genesis 1:26-31.  In the Old Testament, marriage feasts symbolized the union of God with His Bride, Israel, or the people of God.  In yesterday's reading we were told that Jesus deliberately wanted to go to Galilee, where He begins His ministry.  Galilee had a large Gentile population, a sign that the Gospel will spread to all the world.  "On the third day" gives us a sense that the marriage of God and God's Church will be fulfilled in Christ's Resurrection.  There are other parallels here to the Resurrection account of John (20:1-18):  both involve a woman named Mary who makes an appeal, and in both passages the disciples are invited to witness.   Furthermore, my study bible notes, John's Resurrection account bears a striking similarity to Song of Solomon 3:1-5, once more showing unity between marriage and Christ's Resurrection.  Finally, by Jesus' presence at this wedding, He is declaring marriage to be holy and honorable (Hebrews 13:4).

Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding.  And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, "They have no wine."  Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me?  My hour has not yet come."  His mother said to the servants, "Whatever He says to you, do it."  This is an example of Mary's gift of intercession, upon which the faithful have since counted and invoked through their own prayers.  Even now, my study bible says, Mary continually speaks to her Son on our behalf and is our preeminent intercessor before His Throne.  We seek the prayers of Mary and other saints just as we would ask others whom we know to pray for us, particularly those noted for their faith and devotion.   All live in the communion of saints and in Christ.   We note Mary's confidence and faith in Him, as she tells the servants, "Whatever He says to you, do it.Wine is symbolic of life, and so my study bible notes that there are two levels of Mary's statement, "They have no wine."  First, marriage is not complete without the presence of Christ, and second, the old covenant was unable to bestow life even on the most faithful people.  Contrary to the way it may sound to modern ears and usage, Woman is a sacred title in Scripture.  It conveys deep respect and distinction (4:21; 8:10; 19:26; 20:13; compare to Genesis 2:23).  When Jesus asks, "What does your concern have to do with Me?" it is more literally in the Greek, "What is that to Me and to you?"   It's not a refusal of Mary's intercession, but rather a declaration that the time hadn't yet come for Christ to be revealed.

Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece.  Jesus said to them, "Fill the waterpots with water."  And they filled them up to the brim.  And He said to them, "Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast."  And they took it.  When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom.   The waterpots are made of stone because in accordance with rabbinical teaching, stone would not contract ritual impurity.  The number six is significant in today's reading; this is not only the sixth day of Jesus' ministry given in John's Gospel, but six is indicative of the Law.  It is one less than the perfect seven, and tells us that the Law, illustrated by the water reserved for purification, was incomplete, imperfect, and unable to bestow life itself.   This water is changed into wine, which symbolizes the old covenant being fulfilled in the new, which is capable of bestowing life.  The overabundant gallons of wine, my study bible tells us, illustrate the overflowing grace Christ grants to all.

And he said to him, "Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior.  You have kept the good wine until now!"  A patristic reading of this text sees the transformation of water to wine as prefiguring the transformation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist.

This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.  Jesus' glory (echoing John 1:14) refers both to Jesus' divine power shone in His signs, and also to His humble service to humankind, which will be shown most perfectly in the Cross.  In both ways, Jesus reveals that He is the One sent from the Father.

After this He went down to Capernaum, He, His mother, His brothers, and His disciples; and they did not stay there many days.  The final verse gives us the seventh day of John's Gospel narrative of Jesus' ministry, on which Jesus rests with His mother, His brothers, and His disciples.   It corresponds to God resting on the seventh day in Genesis 2:1-3.

Jesus manifests His glory, His signs begin for the disciples and even His family:  His mother and brothers (and we recall that the term "brothers" is used also to mean extended family).  Galilee, as my study bible notes, is a place of mixed populations, and Jesus' ministry begins there.  In this first sign, there are all kinds of hints about what will manifest to the world that has begun with a handful of people, and in relatively "quiet" moments.  But this sign will no doubt be spoken of.  A wedding is a public event, part of the life of community.  Even His disciples are gathered here; in John 21:2 we are told that Nathanel, reported in yesterday's reading (above) to have become a disciple, was himself from Cana of Galilee.  As Jesus' mother and extended family are present, as well as His disciples, this is entirely a community affair -- one in which presumably all present are tied to one another through varied relationships, both of family and region.  A marriage is the perfect symbol for the manifestation of Jesus' identity and the reality of the presence of the Kingdom.  As it is the symbol for the union of God with God's people, this is indeed a profound deepening of the understanding of the nature of our universe and our relationship to God.  It is the place where God's glory may be manifest, and the story of His love for us made clear.  In that union there is also a symbol of the entire communion of saints, and the true nature of our prayers.  When we ask for intercession, even in our forms of public worship, we never pray alone.  We pray with all those who live to Him, we worship even as the angels in heaven do so with us.  This is the reality of this community event, sanctioned by God, made possible through God's work in the world.  When we think of wedding, we often consider it a private affair, confined only to particular guests who are invited.  But a wedding is really an affair of a community, a joyful celebration to which all are called, and through which community becomes deepened and made more expansive.  Wine itself is the symbol of covenant; through today's story, we come to understand that it is the Lord who creates true relationship and sanctifies it.   Let us consider all that this truly means in God's sight, with God's help and active presence.  Let us also consider how God's glory manifests for us, in our communities, in our sacraments, and via our prayers.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man


 The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, "Follow Me."  Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.  Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote -- Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."  And Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"  Philip said to him, "Come and see."  Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said to him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!"  Nathanael said to Him, "How do You know me?"  Jesus answered and said to him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you."  Nathanael answered and said to Him, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!"  Jesus answered and said to him, "Because I said to you, 'I saw you under the fig tree,' do you believe?  You will see greater things than these."  And He said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."

- John 1:43-51

In yesterday's reading, which comprises the second and third day of the story of Jesus' ministry, we read that John the Baptist 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 is preferred before me, for He was before me.'  I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water."  And John bore witness, saying, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him.  I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water."  And John bore witness, saying, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him.  I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.'  And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God."  Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples.  And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, "Behold the Lamb of God!"  The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.  Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, "What do you seek?"  They said to Him, "Rabbi" (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), "where are You staying?"  He said to them, "Come and see."  They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day (now it was about the tenth hour).  One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.  He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which is translated, the Christ).  And he brought him to Jesus.  Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, "You are Simon the son of Jonah.  You shall be called Cephas" (which is translated, A Stone).

The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, "Follow Me."  Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.  Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote -- Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."   John gives us the following day in this beginning of his Gospel, making this the fourth day parallel to the creation week of Genesis.  In today's reading, Philip and Nathanael are called to discipleship, having been previously disciples of John the Baptist.  They see Christ as the true Light, the One who was revealed in the Old Testament, a lesser light.  It parallels the establishment of the lesser and greater lights governing the night and the day on the fourth day in Genesis 1:14-19Nathanael is also known as Bartholomew. 

And Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"  Philip said to him, "Come and see."  Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said to him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!"   Nazareth (and Galilee itself), we will read later on in scathing comments by the Pharisees, was not looked at as being at all distinguished in spiritual terms (see John 7:52).  Here, even Nathanael, who is also a Galilean (from Cana), speaks disparagingly of Nazareth.  But readers of the New Testament understand that Christ, although raised in Nazareth, was born in Bethlehem.  "No deceit," my study bible says, means both having a pure heart and being straightforward with others.  Nathanael is definitely not trying to use flattery or charm for any purpose!

Nathanael said to Him, "How do You know me?"  Jesus answered and said to him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you."  Nathanael answered and said to Him, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!"  Jesus answered and said to him, "Because I said to you, 'I saw you under the fig tree,' do you believe?  You will see greater things than these."  My study bible notes that what occurred under the fig tree is not precisely stated.  According to St. John Chrysostom, this was the meeting place of Philip and Nathanael, and Jesus was praising Nathanael for being so diligent and careful in His search for the Messiah.  Jesus' foreknowledge and ability to see into the heart of Nathanael stir him to this confession of faith.

And He said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."    Here the title Son of Man is introduced in this particular Gospel.  It is a title of the Messiah that had a level of mystery in its meaning, according to my study bible.  It indicated a man of heavenly origin who would usher in the Kingdom of God.  This title is originally found in the prophecy of Daniel (Daniel 7:13-14).  In another Old Testament prophecy, Jacob dreamed of a ladder which connected earth to heaven, and upon which the angels of God were ascending and descending (Genesis 28:12-15).  By his own words, Jesus teaches us that He is in fact this "ladder" who unites earth to heaven; and therefore He is this Son of Man.

It is important right from "the beginning" (John 1:1, Genesis 1:1) that we understand who Jesus, the Son of Man, truly is.  John has established in the first verses of His Gospel, that Jesus is the Word, the Son, made incarnate as human being.  In yesterday's reading, this truth of His identity -- including His relationship as Son to both Father and Spirit -- was revealed to John the Baptist, who testifies of the vision he was given.  So, right from the start, John's Gospel establishes Christ as creator of the universe, that "all things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made."  But in the great and overarching poetry of the Gospel, nothing is lost in the facts of the Son of Man.  For even as our Creator, through Whom all things were made, Jesus' story, as Son of Man, is entirely one that is steeped in the humble, in the small and personal and particular.  One by one, His disciples are chosen.  It is approximately His thirtieth year of human life as Jesus, and now is the time He is revealed, only to John the Baptist, as the One upon whom sits the Holy Spirit (see yesterday's reading, above).  As Jesus is the ladder that unites earth to heaven, so the Gospel gives us a portrait of the Son of Man -- God condescending in human form to earth as the man Jesus, and we are given these intimate pictures of Jesus' life and beginning ministry.   When Jesus prepares His disciples for His Crucifixion, He gives us another image of the even tiny, small, intimate thing that manifests a tremendous -- seemingly impossible to quantify -- harvest, and compares Himself and His sacrifice on the Cross to a grain of wheat that falls to earth (John 12:24).    It was this paradox that turned the entire classical world to the mystery of Christ.  That is, the infinite contained in the small, the tiny, the finite -- God in humility descending to be one of us, and to suffer every injustice of the powerless in this world, even as One who never sins, compounding that injustice.  What we find in this tremendous story is the greatness of an entire and infinite universe contained in the personal and the finite.  Even in Nathanael's plainspokenness, we receive the wisdom of the Gospel.  As one of us, the Son of Man unites heaven with earth, making it possible for us to be like Him and with Him.  This remains the story behind the story, which we should never forget, because that story is made just for us -- each one of us, in our most intimate and humble times of our lives.  He is here for each one of us and so commands that we should remember at all times (see this reading).







Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!


 The next day John 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 is preferred before me, for He was before me.'  I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water."  And John bore witness, saying, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him.  I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water."  And John bore witness, saying, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him.  I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.'  And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God."

Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples.  And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, "Behold the Lamb of God!"  The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.  Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, "What do you seek?"  They said to Him, "Rabbi" (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), "where are You staying?"  He said to them, "Come and see."  They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day (now it was about the tenth hour).  One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.  He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which is translated, the Christ).  And he brought him to Jesus.  Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, "You are Simon the son of Jonah.  You shall be called Cephas" (which is translated, A Stone).

- John 1:(29-34)35-42

Yesterday we read the testimony of John, when the religious leaders sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?"  He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ."  And they asked him, "What then?  Are you Elijah?"  He said, "I am not."  "Are you the Prophet?"  And he answered, "No."  Then they said to him, "Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us?  What do you say about yourself?"  He said, "I am 'The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  "Make straight the way of the Lord,"' as the prophet Isaiah said."  Now those who were sent were from the Pharisees.  And they asked him, saying, "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?"  John answered them, saying, "I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know.  It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose."  These things were done in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

The next day John 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 is preferred before me, for He was before me.'  I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water."   The Gospel gives us another day ("the next day" or the second day of this beginning week of Jesus' ministry, paralleling the creation story of Genesis.)  This second day specifically parallels the separation of water above from the water below on the second day in Genesis 1:6-8.  My study bible explains that John's declaring Jesus as the Lamb of God recalls Isaiah's "Servant of God" who dies for the transgressions of His people (Isaiah 53:4-12).  Christ, who is the true Paschal (or Passover) Lamb, offers Himself for our deliverance from both darkness and death (1 Peter 1:18-19).  According to St. John Chrysostom, Jesus came to John this second time so that John could make this declaration, thus stopping anyone from thinking that Jesus needed baptism to wash away sins. 

And John bore witness, saying, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him.  I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water."  And John bore witness, saying, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him.  I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.'  And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God."  That the Spirit remained upon Him teaches us that Christ possesses the Spirit in His fullness from all eternity.  He did not receive the Holy Spirit at baptism.  Instead, we are to understand that the vision that John saw revealed the truth of Christ -- that the Holy Spirit had always rested upon Him.  Thus, this is called Epiphany (in the East) or Theophany; it is a manifestation or showing forth of God the Trinity.

Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples.  And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, "Behold the Lamb of God!"  The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.  Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, "What do you seek?"  They said to Him, "Rabbi" (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), "where are You staying?"  He said to them, "Come and see."  They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day (now it was about the tenth hour).  One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.  He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which is translated, the Christ).  And he brought him to Jesus.  Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, "You are Simon the son of Jonah.  You shall be called Cephas" (which is translated, A Stone).  The Gospel gives us the third day in these verses, in which John the Baptist sends two disciples to Christ, whom Jesus gathers to be His own.  One of them, Simon, is immediately given a name which declares him to be the foundation of the Church (see also Matthew 16:18).  This third day of John's Gospel parallels the gathering of the waters and the establishment of growth on the land on the third day in Genesis 1:9-13.  Jesus' first disciples were first followers of John the Baptist; these would grow to include not only Andrew and Simon, or Cephas, mentioned here, but also in tomorrow's reading will expand to include Philip and Nathanael (also known as Bartholomew).  There is in addition an unnamed disciple in today's reading (one of the two of his disciples with whom John stood), who according to some patristic writers is John, the author of this Gospel.  It was, in Christ's time, a common literary device for a writer not to give his own name (see Luke 24:13-18, in which only one disciple is named of the two traveling the road to Emmaus). 

As John's Gospel unfolds the story of this beginning of Jesus' ministry, we can take a perspective on how great things grow.  That is, we see the unfolding of these events day by day.  There is no great declaration to the world that an Empire has begun, or some great event that shakes the foundations of material power.  Instead, the Christ is revealed by the one who prepared the way for Him, but not to the great powers of the world and its rulers.  Jesus begins gathering disciples one by one, from John who is the witness to the Spirit and the voice of the Father who declares Christ the Son.  It starts in God's time, and on God's terms.  Almost all of the events of Jesus' life start "small," so to speak.  Even the feeding of five thousand in the wilderness begins with simply a few provisions at hand (Matthew 14:13-21).  If we could but look at how God unfolds God's plans in the world, we may be given insight as to our own lives and our own plans, and how things work on levels we don't know.  Our lives are not about spectacular declarations and devices.  Instead, we live with God in mind, with prayer, and with an investment in time that allows what is worth having, being, and doing to unfold through God's purposes.  We don't know the blessings that may be infinite which are contained in one person we meet, one happenstance or chance calling in life.  Out of the relatively small things we think are present to us, we may receive uncountable blessings if used in the proper way, at the proper time, and for the right purposes.  We simply can't discount what is possible with God.  What is striking about today's reading is its "smallness" and "privateness."    There is nothing grandiose here, even in an age of grandiosity, in a place in which Herod the Great had set the tone for building of Empire.  Everything is done in humility, a quality for which John the Baptist is exemplary as a saintly figure.  The Baptist does not reveal Christ to the religious leadership nor to the state rulers.  This is a vision given to him about which he later testifies; the most immediate revelation is simply to two of his disciples that this is the Lamb of God.  All things unfold from there.  If we are to take this story seriously, we are to understand that God does not work the way we work, and that we can but leave things to God's hands, and ask that we participate with our own lives in that continual unfolding as God works within us.