Thursday, May 6, 2010

Making the Connection: Look...Here...

“The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God.’’
—John 1:35

The gospels, it would seem, give us two rather different images of John the Baptist.

There is the John the Baptist found in the synoptic gospels. He is the lone voice crying out in the wilderness to make straight the way of divine life in this world. This John the Baptist is a solitary figure who stands outside the walls of the city and apparently outside the boundaries of worldly convention. He is oddly dressed and exists, we are told, on a diet of locusts and wild honey—a diet whose precise nature still apparently confounds some scholars. This John is not known for his reserve. His is a voice of confrontation and provocation. “You brood of vipers,” he says to the crowds, “who warned you to flee the wrath that is to come.” This John is one who calls the multitudes to repentance.  He challenges those who would listen to move...

...out of the place where they are living quietly but desperately so that they might turn, change and be changed, live in some new way, and bear fruit that is indeed fitting to who they really are. This John the Baptist is wild and untamed, good but by no means safe, gaunt and strident, haunting, even threatening to those clinging to their own power, an unwelcome and yet divine disturbance,  an alien, other-worldly being it would seem, breaking in as it were from another orbit, cracking open the very soul of humankind so that the divine life that is already here, that is already present, might find some greater toe-hold in this world and be given traction through those already created in the very image and likeness of God.

There is another John the Baptist as well—the one found in John’s gospel. Remove the filter of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, remove the more formal language of the prologue to John, and this John the Baptist would appear to be rather more approachable. This John the Baptist engages the religious leaders from Jerusalem in conversation and discussion as they inquire about the unfolding activity of God among them. This John the Baptist speaks quite openly but with a distinct simplicity and humility. He confesses rather matter of factly, as John describes it, that he is neither Elijah nor the long awaited messiah. This John the Baptist has no pretensions, and yet he is keenly aware, deeply perceptive, divinely awake. This John the Baptist knows the way with a quiet but unwavering conviction. He has somehow caught the vision that there is one full of life who is already there, already among them, calling them all into life.

This John the Baptist appears to be rather more gentle and familiar. In the first chapter of John's gospel, we see him just standing there. He is simply hanging out with two of his disciples, we are told. The simplicity and familiarity of the scene is stunning. “The next day,” John writes, “[the Baptist] was standing with two of his disciples.” There is nothing more to it than that. He is just standing, quietly. He is doing nothing (except, of course, watching). When Jesus walks by, however, the silence is suddenly broken. “Look,” John says. That’s it. Nothing more. Then he points. “Here,” he says. “Here is the lamb of God!

It’s just two solitary words accompanied by a single gesture. Look. Here.

As the poet William Blake would come to write centuries later, “All we need do is cleanse the doors of  perception, and we shall see things as they are—infinite.”

That is John’s intent. He wants his disciples to see something. He wants his disciples to see something divine, something right there, something right then, something right in front of them if they would but dare to open their eyes. That’s why he points. That’s why he speaks. Two words. One gesture. Their tone and the movement together forming a single exclamation, carrying within them a certain presence, a certain conviction, a certain knowing and consciousness that awakens desire within those two disciples. There is something about it, so much so that they can only follow, can only ask, are compelled to ask, are driven to inquire and in turn to hear for themselves the invitation of Jesus to “Come and see”—to come and see the fulfillment of their heart’s desire.

What a story. Two words and a gesture. A connection made. Eternity opened.

It is an image of evangelism—a word, a gesture, an impulse, a movement that bids desire and relationship to meet; a wonderfully creative act, simply making the connection that brings the humanity within us into all its fullness among us.

What a gift it is that we are so graciously invited to share.

It can be difficult, if not frequently impossible, to see it when we are so immersed in the detail and dailyness of life. But I know with all my being that the kingdom is here. I know too that the work of the kingdom is being embraced wonderfully, faithfully, creatively, mysteriously, gracefully, generously in ways we cannot even see—in us, by the spirit of God working, praying, speaking in and through us, by our love, by our willingness to be participants in a work that is infinitely greater and more wonderful than we can imagine. I for one am grateful just to be a witness to the mystery and gift that is our life together.

Look. Right here. Right now. Isn’t it amazing?

Life in all its fullness is already among us.