Readings: Isaiah 49:1–7, 1 Corinthians 1:1–9 & John 1:29–42
Today’s first reading, from the Book of Isaiah, is the second of what are known as the four ‘Servant Songs’ in Isaiah. The ‘Servant Songs’ are often thought by Christians to be prophecies about Jesus. This is especially true of the last of the four, which can be found from verse thirteen of chapter fifty-two to verse twelve of chapter fifty-three. If you read that passage you will understand why this is the case. But for the people of Isaiah’s time, the ‘Servant’ was considered to be either the nation of Israel, or a specific individual, such as the prophet Isaiah himself. In today’s reading, the reference appears to be to the prophet Isaiah rather than to the nation of Israel.
The verse that really stands out for me in the passage is the one where God says to the prophet “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Elsewhere in the Book of Isaiah and the Old Testament, it was written that God had promised He would not only restore the people of Judah from exile in Babylon, but that He would also restore the people of the northern tribes of Israel, who had been exiled two centuries earlier by the Assyrians. But in today’s passage from Isaiah, God is saying is that He will actually make the prophet a light for all the nations of the world, so that rather than just bringing the people of Judah and Israel back to God, all the nations of the world will be drawn to God.
It is very easy to again think of Jesus as the ‘Servant’ when we read this particular verse, because in the New Testament, especially the Gospel of John, Jesus is referred to as the light of the world. And in his letters, the Apostle Paul was consistently saying that all people, the Gentiles as well as the Jews, were reconciled to God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Whether we believe this verse is talking about Jesus or the prophet Isaiah, or perhaps even the nation of Israel, is not really important. What is important, however, is the fact that the ‘Servant’, whoever they might be, has been called by God to bear witness to God in the world. By bearing witness to God, the ‘Servant’ is making other people in the world aware of God, and aware that they too have been reconciled to God. That is precisely what the Apostle Paul did through his ministry to the Gentiles.
In our reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul begins the letter with a traditional greeting of the time. “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, to the church of God that is in Corinth.” The Greek word for apostle (apostolos) meant “one who has been sent”. Paul had been called, and sent by God, to bear witness to Jesus (and therefore God) in the world of his time. And we know from history that Paul was perhaps the most passionate, committed and successful witness to Jesus the world has ever known.
The themes of call, servant and witness are repeated in today’s passage from the Gospel of John. The passage contains John’s account of the calling of Jesus’ first disciples, Andrew and his brother Simon. We learn from the passage that Andrew was already a disciple of John the Baptist, who himself bears witness to Jesus in this passage when he twice refers to Jesus as the Lamb of God, and who also makes the bold statement, “And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
Having heard John the Baptist call Jesus the Lamb of God, Andrew and another of John’s disciples who is with him, decide to follow Jesus. When Jesus realises he is being followed, he turns to them and says, “What are you seeking?” This is different to the translation we heard in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible which reads, “What are you looking for?” The Greek word which has been translated as “looking for” actually means “seek”. It may seem a subtle distinction, but I think it is an important one. The question, “What are you seeking?”, suggests a deeper, inward search than does the question, “What are you looking for?”.
Andrew and the other disciple had been following John the Baptist perhaps because they believed he was the Jewish Messiah. But when John calls Jesus the Lamb of God, Andrew finds himself questioning this; perhaps it is Jesus, not John, who is the Messiah, and he wants to find out for himself. After spending the day with Jesus, Andrew is convinced that Jesus is in fact the Messiah, because he later searches out his brother Simon and tells him that he has found the Messiah, testifying to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah. The passage ends with the call of Peter, because when Andrew brings Simon to Jesus, Jesus looks at him and says, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
So what is the relevance of today’s readings for us?
I believe we can answer that question with several subsequent questions.
How might God be calling each of us today?
How might each of us serve God in answer to His call?
How can each of us bear witness to God in the world today?