John 1:29-42 – Second Sunday after Epiphany – for Sunday, January 19, 2014
“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world…” (John 1:29)
I’ll bet it was fifth grade when I renamed a classmate. He was pudgy and shy (so was I, but he was a smidgen more of both than me). We usually did school stuff with the same group of friends. His last name was Repp, which led me to dub him . . . Reptile.
Everybody thought it was funny, for a week or two.
Ha. Ha. Ha.
Well, not everybody. A kid named Repp wasn’t so happy. But hey, that’s what kids do . . . right?
I thought about my juvenile insensitivity while recently hearing snippets of talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin.
As I tuned into their radio programs, I felt like I was back in elementary school. If that’s the case, why listen to them? Because I’m intrigued with politics and try to keep informed. Nowadays, one national election cycle blurs into another. Sure, it’s easy to grouse about modern elections, but I remain fascinated. And, with Limbaugh and Levin, I wanted to learn how others, with views different than mine, were reacting.
Do I have to tell you anything about Limbaugh? My local radio station refers to his show as “the most listened to radio talk show in America.” In the land of labels, I’d call him conservative and me liberal. I suspect there is not too much we would agree on.
I listened to Limbaugh call Hillary Rodham Clinton . . . Hillary Rotten Clinton. And that was one of his more “polite” references. He was demeaning, petulant and arrogant. After a few minutes, I felt like I should take a shower.
Why? Why so insulting? Why so much apparent hatred? I rationalize that only a tiny, shrinking group of voters like Limbaugh’s strident voice and share his divisive values.
Still tuned to that station, I later listened to the unknown (to me) Mark Levin. Over a period of a half-hour, he insulted caller after caller. Even if someone agreed with Levin, he found a way to belittle the person. More insults. More arrogance. He lambasted most Republican candidates as hypocrites and was far, far worse on Democrats.
Why did I stay tuned? On the one hand, I’d rather listen or read people who “agree” with me. But the other hand reminds me I don’t have all the answers. Open the hand. Open the mind. Try to listen and learn.
Later on, I Googled Mark Levin and found his web page, expecting to find more hatred. And I did . . . here, there and everywhere at his digital home. However, the first thing I found was a dog. Levin, a New York-based radio host, certainly used his site to hurl additional insults towards people, but he was also hyping his 2007 book*, “Rescuing Sprite.” I’ve now read passages from Levin’s book and know it tells about and honors a beloved pet named Sprite. Spewing and brewing hatred and yet, like me, Levin’s also a dog lover. Go figure.
Name calling. How awful it can be.
In the opening of John’s Gospel, when Jesus was first introduced, John the Baptist referred to the Nazarene as “the Lamb of God.” Hey, that’s name calling!
I like what writer Frederick Buechner mused in his “Wishful Thinking” about this moment (John 1:29-42):
If somebody claims that you have to take the Bible literally, word for word, or not at all, ask him if you have to take John the Baptist literally when he calls Jesus the Lamb of God.
The Baptist was a name-caller. Was Jesus really a wooly creature longing for a nice stretch of grass for an afternoon graze? Of course not, the name was metaphorical. It was theological, even uplifting and complimentary.
In the same passage, Jesus also became name-caller. Upon meeting Simon, Jesus immediately renamed him Cephas. Or Peter. Or, more literally, The Rock.
Was Jesus’ name-calling an insult? After all, Simon-renamed-Peter would have many dense-as-stone moments. But I believe the name was metaphor. Theological. Uplifting.
In the Gospel’s passage with “the Lamb of God,” there was considerable name-calling: lambs, rocks, and rabbis. And there was also a transformative question. As some began to follow Jesus, he turned to ask these new companions, “What are you looking for?”
If I ever run across Mr. Repp, my long-ago fellow fifth grader, I’d apologize. I was just a kid. It was just playground nonsense. But, if only for a few weeks, I gave him a “new” name that was insult.
And people, supposedly grown up, still do that kind of name-calling. But those same people, like everyone, like you and me, are complex. Insults and invectives create big ratings. Bashing politicians has always been a blood sport. And yet, a dog is revered. Go figure.
Jesus asked that question . . . what are you looking for?
The names we use to describe others (whether demeaning or uplifting) more likely reveal who we are, and will determine what we find (or never find) on our searches.
All metaphors considered, as a grown-up, I’d prefer to look for a lamb.
*I couldn’t bring myself to provide a link to Limbaugh or Levin’s web pages, but I will happily direct you to Levin’s dog book!
Lamb image from here.