Dispatch Twenty-Four

Posted: December 24, 2013 in Sixth Bundle
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

JOHN 1:29-42

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I 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.’34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When 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?” 39 He 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. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42 He 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).

“Look, here is the Lamb of God!” With remarkable frequency the words of the Bible in poetry, prophecy, story and song call us to open our eyes: Look! Behold! Awake! See! Why is that?

Simply because it is our tendency not to be spiritually alert and perceptive. We get lulled into the trance of ordinary consciousness, put to sleep by the dogmatic yet spiritually irrelevant instructions of our tradition. While all around us the splendor of divine radiance flashes and shines through creation, our eyes are glazed over and our souls are nodding away. Wake up! Look here!

When John pointed to the passing Jesus and announced Behold, the Lamb of God! he wasn’t expecting his audience to literally see a lamb walking by. Clearly this was a metaphor. But for John it was a designation that pulled back the veil on the deeper truth of Jesus of Nazareth.

The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world was a conflation of two essentially separate images, one from the Exodus tradition and the other from the Wilderness tradition of Israel’s story. In Egypt lambs had been slain and their blood smeared on door frames for protection of firstborns against the angel of death. This sacrifice, then, was associated with protection and deliverance, for it made possible the escape of the firstborn from captivity.

In the wilderness, after the great exodus had secured new life for the Hebrews, a scapegoat sacrifice annually removed the guilt of the people and set them free from the accumulated burdens of the past.

                                                                                             

What John the baptist is saying about Jesus – or more likely, what the author of the Fourth Gospel is saying about Jesus through the literary figure of John the baptist – is that he (Jesus) is the one who can set us free from the regime of captivity as well as from the long chain of guilt and regret. By fusing the two distinct sacrifices and their traditions, the author invented a new symbol for seeing into the deeper truth of Jesus.

Just as the Exodus tradition and the Passover sacrifice was essentially about being delivered from death and given a second chance at life, so do Jesus and his gospel rescue us from the fear of dying. They do this not by the promise of personal immortality, but rather by lifting us into God’s eternal purpose and helping us see infinitely beyond ourselves.

And just as the Wilderness tradition and the Atonement sacrifice was essentially about being exonerated from guilt and given a clean slate to begin again, so do Jesus and his gospel save us from the oppressive weight of self-disappointment and constant blame.

In combining these symbols and their distinct meanings, the author of the Fourth Gospel was doing something both unconventional (and therefore shocking) and highly creative. In effect, he is saying to us: Behold!

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