43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”
It’s unusual for there to be a question about grammar in John’s Gospel. His writing is elegant, simple, poetic. But here, there is a puzzle. The subject ‘Jesus’ doesn’t show up until the final verb “Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me.’”
The subject is undetermined at the beginning: “He decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me.’”
Was it Jesus who went to Galilee and found Philip? Or was it Simon Peter to whom Jesus has just spoken?
When you look back we find John the Baptist pointing to Jesus saying: “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Two of John’s disciples then follow Jesus and ask where he ‘abides’ – meaning not just “staying”(so NRSV) but all that we will learn about Jesus abiding in the Father and us abiding in Jesus. Jesus answers them, “Come and see” – again, suggesting not just that they will see where he has pitched his tent, but ‘see’ that he abides in the Father. Andrew then goes to get his brother, Simon, saying, “We have found the Messiah/Christ.” Andrew brings Peter, and Jesus names him Cephas.
My Bible has a paragraph break here and a section header that makes it seem like we’ve moved on to a new topic. But John gave us no section headers (no paragraph breaks or periods, either, for that matter). So, once Jesus says, “you will be called Cephas”, ‘he’ goes to Galilee to get Philip.
If the ‘he’ is Peter, then the narrative goes like this: John points Andrew to Jesus, Andrew gets Peter, Peter gets Philip, and Philip finds Nathanael.
Each of these is brought to Jesus, has an encounter with him and makes a confession about his identity: Lamb of God, Messiah/Christ, the one promised by Moses and the prophets, Son of God and King of Israel.
We, however, are so used to the story from the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke where Matthew and Luke follow the basic outline created by Mark), where Jesus walks along the shore of Galilee summoning disciples, that we tend to bring that picture to bear in our hearing of John. We assume Jesus is summoning disciples. But John shows us believers bringing others to Jesus, who then ‘see’ and acclaim him.
Mark gives us a story where Jesus calls disciples, but the disciples are dimwitted and don’t understand anything. Matthew softens the picture a little, but adds that the risen Jesus opens their minds to understand. Luke adds the dramatic story of Pentecost, where the disciples are transformed from fearful refugees to bold witnesses.
But in John, the present and past combine. In John, the followers of Jesus are already participants in the gathering of a community around Jesus. They see and then bring their friends to see. And the voice of Jesus sometimes morphs into the voice of the community. When, for example, does Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus end and the testimony of the community begin? The plural pronoun ‘we’ is used in 3:11. Does Jesus say, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son?” or is that the voice of the community? Or both? John’s story is not just about Jesus; it is about us.
The Gospel of Mark wants to be sure that we hear in Jesus the power of God’s word/command: “Follow me.” This is the same voice that stills the storm and casts out demons. This is not absent from John, but John wants us to recognize that we are part of the story. We are a community in Christ, bearing witness to him who is the light and life of the world. And we are gathering others into Christ, that together we might share in the Life that does not perish.