Epiphany is a season, not just a single day. It is a time - almost nine weeks this year before the beginning of Lent on February 22nd- when we tell stories of Christ’s breakthrough into the lives of people and their response. It is also a time for us to reflect on how that breakthrough occurs in our lives.
The gospel for the Second Sunday of Epiphany (John 1:29-42) begins, The Next Day…that is, the day after John had this particular exchange,
… the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He…confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”
They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet? ”He answered, “No.”
Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer … What do you say about yourself?”
John replied in the words of Isaiah, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”
Now the Pharisees … questioned him, “Why do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
John’s words, borrowed from Isaiah…I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Make straight the way for the Lord… indicate that he lived his life in expectation of encountering the Lord, God. He sensed that the person and the moment was imminent: ‘that someone stands among you.’
Then came the realization with the next words of this morning’s gospel.
…John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’
I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”
It is not clear to whom John was speaking. Those sent by the Jewish leaders might have still been watching him and John could have been addressing them. He might have been speaking to his disciples, (whom we meet a few verses later) as well. Or his words may have been a personal exclamation, overheard by others.
John seems to have had an ‘epiphany moment’. His words, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, combine recognition, reflection and astonishment at the same time.
Even before Jesus had spoken to John the Spirit inspired that ‘epiphany moment’ by directing John’s attention to Jesus. John said,
“I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’
John’s concluding words in these opening verses, I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One, solemnly confirmed his sense that something momentous had happened. Seeing Jesus, hovered over by the Spirit, affirmed John’s ministry. Pointing to Jesus was what his life was about.
The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
“Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.
As he did the day before, John referred to Jesus as the Lamb of God. One reference for this phase comes from the book of Ezra, who led the second group of Jews returning from Babylon captivity to Jerusalem. After the return, the exiles … sacrificed burnt offerings to the God of Israel: …seventy-seven male lambs. (Ezra 8:35) Like John the Baptist, one of Ezra’s major themes was spiritual reform, signified by the sacrifice of lambs.
John’s disciples took his words seriously. They left John and followed Jesus.
Their curious exchange… Jesus…asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” … hints that they did not fully understand their own reactions to Jesus. Where are you staying sounds like the first thing that popped into their minds. It was a trivial question. It suggests that Jesus’ effect on them was a novel experience for which they had no articulation.
This morning’s gospel concludes with the following,
Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.
After several hours of being with Jesus, Andrew identified him as the Messiah. In his joy, he went and found his brother Simon to share the good news.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).
This was Simon Peter’s epiphany moment, when an introduction to Jesus changed not only his name but his life’s trajectory from fisherman to a ‘holy everyman’, chosen by Christ for a great and specific role, despite his many failings.