Second Sunday after Epiphany | John 1:29-42
John is out by the river Jordan, baptizing people in the water. According to what the Gospel of John says, this other John is only out there to call attention to Jesus. This John is out there baptizing with water, biding his time until one comes who will baptize with fire.
Seeing Jesus walk by, John sends two of his own disciples to follow Jesus. Far from growing his own following, John is sending people away.
Clearly, he does not know how to build an organization.
From the time of Constantine, the Christian ideal has focused on building bigger congregations, bigger churches, gathering more members. Most religions do.
Jesus never did. It is easier to find stories of Jesus sending people away than it is to find him calling them together. He seems to have chosen only twelve core followers, and one of them was a failure.
There are many implications in this passage from John’s Gospel. One is that Christians may have the wrong idea about how to measure a successful church. Another is that outward baptism by water may have been a stopgap measure, an introduction to the inward baptism of the spirit. A third has to do with all of this walking and following—we are more likely to think we have arrived, but the first name for the Jesus movement was not Christianity: it was the Way.
On a more personal level, we might consider whether we are pointing to ourselves or to God. John the baptizer did not believe that he was the center of God’s universe. John pointed to someone greater than himself. He even sent the men who would have followed him to the end to follow someone else.
A religious man would have focused on building the organization. It takes faith to send people on the Way.