Historical Cultural Context
How to Evangelize
New Testament scholar Jerome Neyrey identifies an interesting pattern of missionary activity in the Gospel of John. Today’s reading presents two of four successive examples.
(1) A believer in Jesus evangelizes another person (2) by using a special title of Jesus. (3) The evangelizer leads the convert to Jesus (4) who sees the newcomer and confirms his decision. (5) The conversion is sealed.
Example 1: John 1:35-39
(1) The Baptist evangelizes two of his own disciples (Jn 1:35) (2) using the title “Lamb of God” (Jn 1:36). (3) As a result, the two disciples followed Jesus (v. 37). (4) Jesus sees and invites them to “Come and see” (Jn 1:38-39). (5) They came, saw, and remained with him that day (Jn 1:39), which was a Friday, or Sabbath eve (4 P.M.). This means the new converts stayed with Jesus until the Sabbath ended.
The Baptizer is a true herald of Jesus: “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God ... Look, here is the Lamb of God!” (Jn 1:34-35). He evangelizes two of his disciples who switch their allegiance from the Baptist to Jesus.
Example 2: John 1:40-43
One of these new converts is Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. (1) Andrew goes to evangelize his brother, Simon Peter (Jn 1:40) (2) using the title “Messiah” (Jn 1:41). (3) Andrew the evangelizer leads Simon Peter to Jesus (Jn 1:42) (4) who looks at the newcomer and confirms him: “You are Cephas” (Jn 1:42). (5) The sealing of Peter’s conversion is not mentioned but known from the tradition.
Believers familiar with the Christian tradition are surprised to see Jesus change Peter’s name here at the beginning of his ministry when in the Synoptic tradition that does not occur until later in the ministry (see Mt 16:18). Moreover, Andrew tells Peter now that Jesus is Messiah, and in the Synoptic tradition Peter doesn’t seem to arrive at this conclusion until midway into the ministry (see Mk 8:29).
John the evangelist has compacted the development of discipleship into several striking scenes. In actuality, the process is longer, just as the Synoptic record indicates.
Example 3: John 1:43
In the case of Philip, the pattern seems truncated. The Greek text is not clear about exactly who found him: Peter or Andrew. Still, Jesus confirmed that conversion by inviting Philip to “follow me.”
Example 4: John 1:45-50
(1) Philip evangelizes Nathanael about Jesus (Jn 1:45) (2) describing him as “the one about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote” (Jn 1:45). (3) In reply to Nathanael’s skepticism (“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46), Philip invites Nathanael to meet Jesus: “Come and see.” Nathanael stands out in this series as a difficult convert, not easily persuaded. (4) Jesus nevertheless confirms the conversion with the judgment: “Here is truly an Israelite in which there is no deceit!” (Jn 1:47). (5) The conversion is sealed with Jesus’ promise: “You will see greater things than these” (Jn 1:50).
The missionary pattern is present in the story of the Samaritan woman as well. After being evangelized by Jesus, she in turn evangelizes the people of Sychar: “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” (Jn 4:29). They came, and saw, listened to Jesus, and ultimately became confirmed disciples (Jn 4:39-42)
The evangelist sets out a challenging pattern of evangelization. The first people to be evangelized preached Jesus in their turn to relatives, friends, and even to strangers.
John J. Pilch
John J. Pilch was a biblical scholar and facilitator of parish renewals.
Liturgical Press has published fourteen books by Pilch exploring the cultural world of the Bible.
**From Saint Louis University