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You Pointing at ME?

Would a better nickname be “John the Finger”

by Jennifer Johnson

Gospel Reading John 1: 29-42

For Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011: Year A - Epiphany 2

Can we give it a rest already?

To tell you the truth, I’m a little tired of John the Baptist. He keeps showing up like the cat who refuses to take the hint when I’ve thrown him off my lap for the twentieth time.When John appeared during an Advent themed Sunday School class back in November, I decided to bring in pictures of him. What I noticed about the depictions of John is that he points. Artists portray him in his leather belt with that long index finger extended, and his eyes are gazing from the canvas to me as if he’s saying, “Hey. Look at that.”

That is Jesus, the Lamb of God, and this passage if filled to the brim with names for that Lamb. So we have John the Baptist saying, “Behold” (Look at that), and we have John the Gospel writer as well with his plethora of names, too, saying, “Yeah. Do look. Look at him as Son of God, as Rabbi, as the Messiah, as the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. Look. Look. Look.” And if the names aren’t enough to make you do it, consider the action in the story. John the Baptist points and speaks, and two of his disciples follow Jesus.

Everything John says and does in this passage is about pointing people away from himself to Jesus.

“Are you lookin’ at me?”

John’s message is in effect, This isn’t about me. It’s about this guy. Yeah. There he goes. He’s the one. Him. Lamb of God.

I find it ironic that with so much effort that John the B. puts into drawing the attention away from himself to Jesus, that the lectionary has shoved him down our throats for these Sundays throughout Advent, Christmas, and now Epiphany. It reminds me of a kid who looks at your finger instead of the object you’re pointing at.

“Don’t look at me. Look there. Over there.” And finally in exasperation you rush over and manually turn the little tyke’s head. “See? The Lamb of God.” Maybe we’re guilty, too, of being too infantile to realize we’re supposed to be beholding the Lamb and what he’s about.

One thing you have to admire about Jesus’ apostles. They get who the finger points to. They drop John like a hot potato and go to see what Jesus is about. The four o’clock mention suggests these men likely stayed the night with Jesus, and that time motivates Andrew to become the pointer as he finds his brother Simon and tells him about (points him to) Jesus. Both Andrew and Simon become Jesus’ followers.

John preached. John baptized. John pointed.

John did not follow. He seemed so sure at first, but later he asks from prison, “Are you the One?” Why? Was it because he, like others, expected a political Savior?

I’m guilty, I know, of making it about John again. But seriously. I get that his job was to prepare the people of that day (and us) for Jesus Christ, but why does he have to be on the fringe of Jesus’ ministry? Why couldn’t have he been in the Apostolic inner circle? If he’s so important that all four Gospels mention him at the initiation of Jesus’ ministry, how come John the B. has such a tiny role once Jesus gets up and running? Why didn’t he hang out with Jesus, and if he did, how come the Gospel writers don’t record it?

The Hardest Question

Why didn’t he follow his own darn finger?

Jennifer Johnson is an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church (USA). She is the associate pastor for family and children’s ministries at First Presbyterian Church in Ashland, Kentucky. Her alter ego of the same name writes romance novels, and she has had four novels published since 2008 with two more books due out in 2011. She thinks God is pretty awesome for blessing her with a wonderful community of faith, a loving family, a smart dog, and the passion for writing sermons and stories.


  1. Donna Aros says:

    Thanks–good insight abt JBap. (and I’m excited to see you are in Ashland! just down the road. I am UMC clergy in Louisa.)

  2. Jennifer says:

    Hey Donna,

    Maybe we ought to pose some hardest questions to each other over lunch time :-)

  3. Jim says:

    Nice! Never thought about it in this way. It’s a good question!

  4. Pastor Trey says:

    My response was a reflective, “hmmm?” Good question.

  5. Margaret Ray says:

    John the Baptist was already the focus of Herod’s hatred. If he had accompanied Jesus, Jesus would have been killed along with John the Baptist, before Jesus’ ministry got started.

  6. Jonathan Weldon says:

    Perhaps John didn’t follow because he was in prison for standing up to Herod.

  7. Jennifer says:

    Thanks to the Hardest Question and to all of you for challenging me with this text and your questions/comments.

    Maybe John was already in prison and that’s why he wasn’t a part of Jesus’ ministry. Maybe Jesus would have been arrested earlier if John had been with him.

    I love the tension, and the potential, of the ‘maybe’

  8. Kellan says:

    Pointing was the assignment God gave John. He had other players in mind for the apostles.

  9. Jennifer Andone says:

    Thanks for a fresh angle on the text.

  10. Patricia Evans says:

    A seminarian came to me as a mentor for his studies. It’s been nearly 33 years since my ordination – that’s a lot of ministry water under the bridge. I see the church changing – needing to change – and am embracing the needed newness as best as I can. He comes to me for guidance and inspiration and I ask, “Is the seminary you are attending really able to equip and empower you to serve the church that is becoming?” Just a question that points to possibilities I can not even begin to name. “If I had it to do over, knowing what I know now….” The thought can’t be completed but sense the completion of it would take me into an uncertain future and directions I’m not sure I have it in me to travel. But I point away from myself – out there into that uncertainty, insecurity. Will he have what it takes to do what a part of me wants to do, but don’t feel up to? I know what I am doing – my beloved ministry – is meaningful and worthwhile. It is enough; I can live with the unsettled feeling that I am being beckoned out where the new begins. And he moves away and I am amazed at what he is learning and doing. Maybe that’s why John the Baptist didn’t follow.

  11. AJ says:

    To build on Margaret Ray’s comment, perhaps you already answered your own question. Why didn’t John follow Jesus? Because he needed to keep on preaching. Keep on baptizing. Keep on pointing. Or maybe he simply needed to step aside behind the curtain and get out of the way so the focus would be on Jesus. I am reminded of Bill Clinton who often takes the lime light away from Obama whenever they are together.

How do you read?