Epiphany 2, Year A, RCL: Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-12, 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, John 1:29-42
We are conditioned, at least in my mind, to pay attention to “first” things. We keep track of a baby’s first steps and first words with fevered intensity. Growing up, I remember each year’s “first day of school” as being a touchstone by which I knew a certain amount of time had passed. First kiss, first car, first love, first job… generally the first time something happens, we take note, and remember. “Firsts” make memorable milestones in our own lives and our relationships with others.
Our reading from John today contains Jesus’ first words in the fourth gospel. Yet, all too often, they get buried – buried under the incredible poetry of John’s prologue, perhaps overlooked next to John the Baptist’s two successive proclamations, given in Jesus’ presence, for those around to “Behold the Lamb of God!” We may often miss them, but there they are, right in the middle of today’s reading:
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?”
When he sees his new followers, Jesus asks them: “What are you looking for?” At first glance, this sounds like a rather ordinary, almost corrective question, like when a security guard asks an errant pedestrian “may I help you?” when they get a little bit off the prescribed path. Jesus’ question, though, is no mere pleasantry, because the people who hear it – both those who first left John to follow after the Lord on that day, and people like us, who read the fourth gospel two thousand years later, are well informed as to who Jesus is. It is, in fact, an invitation, issued from the mouth of a loving God to a beloved world.
For those who first left John to follow Jesus, it was abundantly clear who they were walking after; John’s words are clear: “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him… I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” When we read Jesus’ question from John’s text today, we’ve already encountered that big, bold statement in the prologue: “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us… and to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…”
When God asks you what you’re looking for, how do you answer?
What are you looking for?
The people follow after Jesus in today’s lesson seem to know who Jesus is, and they reply to Jesus’ question with another one: “Teacher, where are you staying?” Their question, like Jesus’ previous one, at first glance seems relatively banal, a kind of pleasantry exchanged as a matter of a typical conversation with a person travelling from out of town. Yet the question can also be translated on a deeper level: “Teacher, where do you remain? Where do you abide? Where do you dwell?” Jesus’ response: “Come and see.”
When Jesus invites you to the place where God dwells, how do you answer?
What are you looking for?
“Come and see,” Jesus invites us. In today’s reading from John’s gospel, the people do; they follow after him, and do go and see the place where Jesus was literally staying that night. But the text tells us, “they remained with him that day.” But one of the ones who followed after him, Andrew, went and got his brother Simon first, and told him, “We have found the Messiah.” And Simon, Jesus then says, will be called Peter, Cephas, Rock.
This is a different kind of discipleship story then we’re used to. The three other gospels have brought another story of Jesus to front of our minds: the calling James and John by the Sea of Galilee – where the Lord says, “follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Perhaps we think of the story of summoning of Matthew the tax collector to discipleship from his tax both with the single command, “follow me.” We certainly know that story of Jesus saying “if anyone would be my disciple, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
That call-response dynamic is certainly part of our life together with Jesus. Following after Jesus does mean hearing his call, and taking up his cross, and following. But today, John reminds us that it’s also a grand invitation to share in the life of God – an invitation to come and see that place where God dwells – where God abides.
Saint Augustine famously wrote in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Jesus’ question to his new followers, “what are you looking for?” speaks to their hearts, and it speaks to ours, because that one question defines so much of our lives. We’re all looking for something; and often, what we’re looking for is a better understanding of God; we’re looking for rest for our restless hearts. “No one has ever seen God,” John writes in the prologue, “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”
When Jesus gives those great words – “Come and see” – to those who would follow after him, he offers nothing less than an invitation to come and dwell in God’s fullness, for just as surely as God creates us, God gives us the grace – in Jesus Christ – to find our rest in him. God gives us grace upon grace in Jesus to truly know God, and live in God.
This is a grand invitation – come and see where God abides. Come and see where God dwells. Come find your rest. No wonder, then, that Andrew goes to tell his brother Simon about what who he has seen and the invitation he has received – “we have found the Messiah,” he says. Because the invitation to share in the life of God is one that cannot be hoarded, cannot be kept to ourselves. It’s an invitation that must be shared with others, because it is an invitation to life itself – the life of God who is the source of all life. It is truly good news. No wonder this was is the first message Jesus sends to those would be his disciples…
“Come and see,” Jesus says.
“Come and see,” Andrew repeats, “We have found the Messiah!”