In the Gospel for today, the disciple Andrew figures more prominently than he does anywhere else in the New Testament. By this account Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist, and having heard John identify Jesus as “The Lamb of God,” along with a companion he decided to follow him, and find out more. After a conversation that lasted the remainder of the day, Andrew has this remarkable insight – “We have found the Messiah.”
Why is this insight so remarkable? The answer is revealed in part by the other daily readings. The passage from Deuteronomy sets out what the Israelites hoped for, and believed that God had promised them – material prosperity, health, political pre-eminence and, rather chillingly, the ability to ‘devour’ other nations without mercy. The sole condition for this success was keeping faith with God, and rejecting all alien gods. The psalm appointed for the day (Ps. 105) echoes these hopes, and praises God for the spectacular deliverance from slavery that resulted from all the plagues inflicted upon the Egyptians, and the “fear of Israel” that seized them as a result.
Over the course of many historic setbacks, these “messianic” hopes nevertheless remained alive, up to the time of Jesus and beyond. For Andrew to identify Jesus as the Messiah who would realize them seems absurd – until we see that it signals a most profound and remarkable transformation of those hopes. The God whose “judgments cover the whole world” is not revealed in military might, economic success, or political greatness, but on the cross. Grasping this truth is as hard for us as for anyone. The season of Lent is a time to set about taking it to heart once more, and as the passage from Paul’s letter to Titus says to “renounce godless ways and worldly desires.” The fact that someone as ordinary as Andrew should grasp it after a few hours in Jesus’ company gives us real grounds for hope that we can also. St. Andrew is an especially important part of the cloud of witnesses that surrounds us.
Professor Gordon Graham