Sunday, January 8, 2017

John 1.29-42: Brothers

Brothers. The gospel reading for Epiphany 2A (John 1:29-42) features the call stories of one set of brothers who were part of the original twelve. James and John are the other pair, but here we read the story of Peter and Andrew. That is usually the order in which they are given, with Peter taking the first spot. Peter is such a vivid character in the gospels with his impetuous behavior, his impetuous speech, his impetuous...well, you know. Andrew is seen more infrequently. His name is mentioned twelve times in Christian scripture. By contrast, his brother's name is mentioned more than 150 times.

You'd think Andrew might be jealous. You'd think there might be some sibling rivalry. You might think any number of things, but you wouldn't know. Because scripture seems decidedly uninterested in the sibling relationship of Andrew and Peter.
Ossip Zadkine. The Van Gogh Brothers. 1956. Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art.
It would have been interesting to know who was older (would you hazard a guess based on what you know from scripture?), how they talked to one another when Jesus wasn't around. Was one more artistic than the other or one more athletic than the other? Did they share the same dominant hand or was one a righty and the other a lefty? Was Andrew an introvert, or does he only seem introverted because he is often standing next to his brother? Those are things we don't know.

What we do know is that Peter indeed steps to the forefront of the brothers - and of the disciples. But had it not been for Andrew, perhaps Peter would never have been there at all. In fact, almost every time we see Andrew in scripture, he is bringing someone else to Jesus. Andrew found the boy with five loaves and two fish and brought him to Jesus. When several Greek inquirers want time with Jesus, Andrew advises Philip to take them to him.

One brother known. Both brothers valuable.

I was reminded of another set of brothers: Vincent and Theo van Gogh. Most people, even those with a minimal knowledge of art history, are familiar with Vincent's name. His paintings, a couple of events in his life. People know that. Many have never heard of Theo van Gogh. But without Theo, the world probably would not know Vincent.
Ossip Zadkine. Vincent and Theo van Gogh. 1964. Zundert, Netherlands.
Theo van Gogh was an art dealer. About four years younger than Vincent, Theo was unfailing in his support of his brother. Theo supported Vincent emotionally and financially both before and after his (Theo's) marriage. He sent Vincent art supplies like canvas and paint and money for living expenses. Theo tried to run interference between Vincent and their father. He admired his older brother and believed that his talent was true and timeless. He was one of few people in the world who did.

Theodorus van Gogh, father to Theo and Vincent, was a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church. Vincent reflected in a letter that Father van Gogh referred to the story of Jacob and Esau when talking about the brothers. Vincent wrote: Pa sometimes mulled over the story of Jacob and Esau with regard to you and me — not entirely mistakenly — although happily there’s less enmity, to mention just one difference, and in the Bible itself there are examples aplenty of better relations between brothers than existed between the aforementioned venerable patriarchs. 

The relationship between adult brothers is often quite complex. There are layers of memories, resentments, love, irritations. But for many brothers - regardless of the resentments and irritations - there is still the love. That is what artist Ossip Zadkine set out to depict in the two sculptures shown here. Both have the van Gogh brothers as their subject. Note how the figures lean toward one another. In the smaller piece the brothers' heads are together. In the larger outdoor piece, located in Zundert, the van Gogh brothers' hometown, the brothers are standing. Their heads are still together, and in this piece they seem to share a heart as well.

Though the point of the gospel reading is Jesus' call and the disciples' answer, it is important to note that Jesus didn't call only people like Peter and that it was the non-spotlight brother Andrew who was effective in finding the people who could help Jesus fulfill his mission. Two brothers. Both valuable. As each disciple is.

"Behold the lamb of God!" said John when he saw Jesus. Here's another lamb. Find out more about it on our Facebook page. 

For additional thoughts on John 1:29-42, click here.

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