In the Gospel we heard a couple weeks ago at Sunday Mass (John 1.35-42), John the Baptist pointed out Jesus to two of his followers — “Behold, the Lamb of God.” One of them, Andrew, reports back to his brother, Simon, that they had found the Messiah. There are several interesting features of this account.
First, in each of our lives, there is someone (more likely, numerous someones) who has pointed us to Jesus. Our parents or grandparents, perhaps. Or the priest who baptized us (even if we don’t know or cannot remember his name); a catechist, teacher or mentor in faith who pointed us to Jesus for the first time, or led us (as the Gospel describes Andrew as doing) to Jesus. We should perhaps meditate on this mystery of God’s providence and love for us in having us encounter Jesus and coming to know Him through the mediation of others. Divine grace always employs a human instrument or agent. We didn’t happen or stumble upon Jesus. He was pointed out to us, and we were led to Him.
Second, note the conversation they had with Jesus. As they approach Jesus, He asks them a direct question: “What are you looking for?” It’s a question He continues to ask each of us as we encounter Him: What do we seek? What do we yearn for? What are we looking for? I find it somewhat amusing that Simon and Andrew respond to Jesus’ question with a question.
Think of how often we do that. Jesus addresses a question to us: We hedge our bets, so to speak, and answer His inquiry with our own question, putting limits on our response to Him, to safeguard ourselves from the kind of commitment He desires and expects of us. Asking a question in response to Jesus’ question is a way of “pushing back,” a mode of hesitation or the sign of a partial (and by no means total) commitment to Him.
Their question — no doubt without their realizing it at the time — introduces one of the most important elements of Jesus’ own teaching as it is presented in the fourth Gospel: They ask Him (in Greek) “pou meneis?” — “Where do you stay?” The Greek verb “menein” means “to stay” or “to remain” or “to dwell” or “to abide,” and occurs a whopping 42 times in the Gospel according to St. John. (It occurs only 11 times in the three synoptic Gospels together). Recall Jesus command that we “remain in my love”; or His teaching that only by (as branches on the vine) “remaining in me” that we can bear any fruit. Each of these employs the same verb.
Our discipleship is fundamentally a matter of learning to remain with Jesus, to abide with Him, to dwell with Him in a deep intimacy that He opens up for us with Himself. To “learn” Jesus we have first to spend time with Him and to come to know Him personally, by which I mean coming to know the person of Jesus, with less focus on how I self-reflexively experience that encounter. (We may or may not “feel” any different at all — which matters little; the fact is, we have met Jesus and He dwells in us by grace). It’s the difference between knowing about someone and knowing someone. Husbands and wives can teach us that there is a significant difference in the depth of their “knowing” each other that happens when they have dwelt together for some time. A new, deeper dimension of “knowing” is made available to them.
Jesus’ response to their question, itself responding to His question, is now an invitation: “Come, and you will see.” He refuses to “tell” them about it or to “describe” it for them to assuage their hesitancy or satisfy their curiosity (in the Gospel, Jesus evidences little patience with those who seek Him merely out of curiosity) or to “put them at ease.” He demands that they come and see for themselves, to experience life with Him, in His company day in and day out, to dwell with Him and only in that way come to know — in a profound way — who He is.
In the early Church (as witnessed especially in the Letter of St. James), one of the gravest obstacles to faith was “double-mindedness” or “dipsychia:” being of “two minds” about Jesus and His call to faith, of wanting to have Jesus and still to live as the “old man,” as St. Paul would describe our life of sin; to have one foot in Jesus’ Kingdom and the other in the comfortable world we construct for ourselves and our own egos. Such “double-mindedness” is exactly the obstacle Jesus is anticipating by His invitation to Andrew and Simon, soon to be renamed “Peter:” If you wish to follow Me, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t just “test Me out” or “check into Me and my teaching.” The only way to come to know Jesus is to live with Him, every day, and every moment of every day. Some things have not changed in 2,000 years.
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