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St. John’s Tutorial on Evangelization

While the synoptic Gospels recount that Jesus recruited his first disciples while walking by the Sea of Galilee, St. John’s Gospel offers us a different perspective on this moment in Jesus’ life.  Interestingly enough, St. John’s account also includes the changing of Simon’s name while the synoptic Gospels tell of this much later in Peter and Jesus’ relationship.  Finally, while the synoptic Gospels tell us that it was Peter who confessed that Jesus was the Messiah - a confession which Jesus states comes from the Father in heaven - St. John tells us that Andrew revealed Jesus as the Messiah to Peter.  So it is obvious that this passage from St. John’s Gospel is revealing something new.

Much has been said by the last three Popes about “new evangelization.”  Indeed, today’s Gospel may be a way for us to understand the process of evangelization better.  If we follow the progression of details as St. John writes them, we can see that evangelization has five steps. 

1.       A believer introduces Jesus

2.       With a specific name or title

3.       And then leads the newcomer to Jesus

4.       Who recognizes the newcomer

5.       And confirms his/her conversion.

So in this instance John (1) points out Jesus as the Lamb of God (2) and sends his disciples to speak to Jesus (3).  Jesus asks what they are looking for (4) and then invites them to follow him (5).  John (the Baptist) has thus evangelized two of his disciples, one of whom is Andrew.  Then Andrew goes to his brother Simon and tells him about Jesus (1) whom he calls the Messiah (2).  When he takes Simon to Jesus (3), Jesus recognizes Simon (4) and then changes his name to Peter (5).  This passage is followed by two similar encounters as first Philip and Nathaniel are evangelized or introduced to Jesus.  The process is again repeated in chapter six when Jesus meets the woman at the well of Sychar. 

Historically speaking, we know that the Gospel of John appeared long after the synoptic Gospels and was written for a Gentile community.  (This explains why John is constantly translating Jewish words for his readers as he does here in telling us that “rabbi” means “teacher” and that “Cephas” means “Peter” or “rock.”)  We also know that St. John’s Gospel is the product of years of reflection by the community on the life, ministry, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, leading them to believe that Jesus was God made human.  St. John details at the end of the Gospel that it was written so that “you may come to believe.”  His purpose is that of evangelization.  Chapter one of the Gospel introduces us to how evangelization is done and implies that we, the latter day disciples of Jesus, are to continue the process as we introduce others to Jesus and express our own faith in him.

It has been said that Pope John Paul II introduced us to the term “new evangelization,” that Pope Benedict XVI gives us the motivation and the content of that evangelization, and that Pope Francis leads us in the work of evangelization.  It is not “new” in the sense that it has not been done before.  It is “new” in the fact that it is using new means and involves a new beginning in new circumstances.  In fact, as the Scriptures keep admonishing us, it is Jesus who is constantly new and who teaches us to sing a new song.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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