The Gospel of John starts at the beginning—and also in the middle. Sounds confusing but what I mean is the Gospel of John starts (literally) “In the beginning,” using beautiful poetry to explore Jesus in the grandest, big-picture way. These lilting phrases are stunning in their composition and in the depth and complexity they present. At the same time, this gospel—unlike the three before—does not start with the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life. Instead, we move from Jesus as the light that shines in the darkness directly to the beginning of his earthly public ministry, around the age of thirty.
The Gospel of John quickly introduces us to John (the Baptist)—though it doesn’t offer the qualifier here that the other gospels do. This John is not the author of the Gospel of John. According to tradition, the Gospel of John—along with the Epistles (letters) of John and the Book of Revelation (which, together, are known as the Johannine works)—was written by John the Apostle, one of Jesus’ original twelve disciples. This John is known by several names, including John the Evangelist and the Beloved Disciple.
Today, many scholars dispute the notion of a single author for the Johannine works—and even whether the Gospel of John was written by John the Apostle. However most scholars agree that the Gospel of John and the three letters were written around the same time (90-110 ce) and from the same community, probably Ephesus (now part of modern-day Turkey). The Book of Revelation was likely written by a different author, John of Patmos (also known as John the Divine or John the Revelator). Clearly a lot of important folks in the Bible were named John—and we would be helped by first, middle, and last names!
Now back to this week’s passage and supporting actor John (the Baptist). Perhaps because of John’s bold preaching and teaching, many began to wonder whether he was the long-awaited Messiah. But despite John’s quirks (eating locusts and wearing a coat of camel’s hair), he is clear in his response: He is not the Messiah. Further, John says, he isn’t even worthy of untying the sandal of the One. Impressive humility.
John continues to testify, proclaiming Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world;” this phrase is recognizable to many as we recite it during the Gloria at the beginning of Holy Eucharist. Inspired by John’s witness, two disciples—Andrew and his brother Simon Peter—begin to follow Jesus.
The next day, more followers, including Philip, come to Jesus. Nathanael joins the bandwagon too, but only after expressing some skepticism: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” This off-hand comment might seem achingly familiar to any whose hometown is a subject of derision: Can anything good come out of Appalachia? Or Kentucky? New Jersey or Oakland? Jesus, as always, turns a sneer on its head with a simple invitation: “Come and see.” With God, good can—and does—come from any place.
The final part of this week’s reading shares the first of Jesus’ signs (or miracles): He turns water into wine. Like some other well-known stories, this story of the wedding in Cana is only found in the Gospel of John.