29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. 30 He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’ 31 I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” 32 John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him. 33 I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the holy Spirit.’ 34 Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34)
Context. We begin the new liturgical year’s ordinary time with the beginning of John’s gospel. What precedes our Sunday gospel is the very rich and complex Prologue to the Fourth Gospel. Where Mark begins with the gospel message, Luke and Matthew begin with the birth narratives, John takes us back to the time before Time to reveal the eternal purpose of God.
John 1:1-18 is the prologue and outlined here by Fr. Raymond Brown to show the eternal purpose that all of creation began with God through the Word, and through the Word Incarnate, Jesus Christ, all the created world will return to God.
No sooner than this sweeping revelation of eternal purpose is revealed, the opening chapter in the Fourth Gospel begins to lay out 7 days of new creation via an artistic first week in the good news recalling the first week of the creation story in the Book of Genesis. Both Genesis and John’s Gospel begin with the identical phrase, “In the beginning.” This “re-creation” story is embedded a whole list of witnesses to Jesus who, one by one, identify Jesus for John’s audience. From the very beginning they are told who and what Jesus is.
New Creation. As detailed in the Collegeville Bible Commentary [892-3] the testimonies flow as follows:
First day (vv. 19–28).
Witness: John the Baptist to priests and Levites.
Testimony: John is not Christ, nor the expected Elijah of Mal 3:23 (4:5 in some versions), nor the prophet of Deut 18:15, 18, but “the voice of one crying out in the desert,” himself unworthy to untie the sandal strap of the one coming after him.
Second day (“next day” of vv. 29–34).
Witness: John the Baptist at sight of Jesus.
Testimony: Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”; he who ranks before John; he on whom the Spirit descended and who baptizes with the Spirit; God’s chosen One.
Third day (“next day” of vv. 35–39).
Witness: John the Baptist to two of his disciples, who go to Jesus about 4 p.m. and stay.
Testimony: “Behold, the Lamb of God.” (This would be a reference to the paschal lamb and/or to the suffering servant of Isa 53:7, silent before its shearers.)
Fourth day (vv. 40–42).
Witness: Andrew to Simon.
Testimony: “We have found the Messiah.”
Fifth day (“next day” of vv. 43–51).
Witness: Philip to Nathaniel.
Testimony: “the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets.”
Testimony: “You are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”
Seventh day (“On the third day” of 2:1–11).
Witness: Jesus’ Cana miracle.
Testimony: “ … and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him” (2:11).
Such is the context for our Sunday Gospel.
- Bergant, Dianne, and Robert J. Karris. The Collegeville Bible Commentary: Based on the New American Bible with Revised New Testament. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1989) 982-983