2 January – Gospel

Commentary on John 1:19-28

From today until January 5 inclusive, we will be reading from the beginning of John’s Gospel after the Prologue and up to the story of the wedding at Cana. This corresponds to Chapter 1 and the beginning of Chapter 2.  It begins with John the Baptist’s testimony about himself, and then Jesus revealing himself to his first disciples.  It finishes with the wedding feast at Cana, described as the first of the ‘signs’ performed by Jesus.  There are seven such ‘signs’ altogether in his gospel.  The whole section covers just one week which reflects the first week of creation in the book of Genesis.  Here there is a new creation under way.

The section is divided as follows:

  1. John the Baptist’s negative testimony about himself.
  2. His positive testimony about Jesus.
  3. The revelation of Jesus to Andrew and Peter (in that order).
  4. The revelation of Jesus to Philip and Nathanael (also in that order).
  5. The wedding feast at Cana.

Today we look at the first section, John the Baptist’s negative testimony about himself.  It is clear that John the Baptist was causing something of a stir with his preaching.  As such, officials were sent out from the Temple in Jerusalem to make some enquiries.  Because he said he was not the long-awaited Messiah, they wanted to know who he was.  He said he was not Elijah come again (whose re-appearance was expected to signal the imminent arrival of the Messiah), nor was he a Prophet like Moses.  But his questioners persisted, as they had to bring back some information to the authorities in Jerusalem.  John answered them with a modified version of words from Isaiah:

I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord’.
(Is 40:3)

This still does not satisfy, and now some Pharisees – distinct from the priests who were all Sadducees – want to know why John is baptising when he is neither the Messiah, nor Elijah nor the Prophet.

John says that he is just baptising with water:

I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandal.

By these words, he implies that someone who is really a Prophet is on the way, and bringing with him a much greater baptism.  John is simply preparing the way by a baptism whose emphasis is on purification and repentance.  The new baptism will bring the power of God’s Spirit.

Obviously, there is much in John the Baptist’s role with which we can identify.  John preceded Jesus in time, and prepared people for his coming.  We, rather, are called to precede Jesus in other ways by making it possible for other people to come to know him and to follow him.  We are not the Light, but we are called to give constant witness to the Light.  Jesus said that he was the Light of the World (John 8:12), but he also said to his disciples:

You are the light of the world. (Matt 5:14)

And so we must ask, do I see myself as reflecting the light of Jesus to others?

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