What are you looking for? Where are you staying?
Come and see.
We could meditate on those three simple phrases for a month – or a lifetime! What John gives us here is not so much history, as theology and spirituality. He gives us an introduction in this opening chapter of his gospel to themes that he is going to explore throughout – the theme of seeing and the theme of staying.
Let’s spend a little time with each of these phrases. ‘What are you looking for?’ asks Jesus, when he realizes that Andrew and his friend are stalking him. Now this isn’t like Petrina’s polite enquiry to someone in the fresh produce department at Woolies! This is the question we might all ask ourselves as we think about our relationship with Jesus. What are we actually looking for when we come to church, or try to pray? What are we looking for along our life’s journey?...
It has been a tough time in our country and world the last few weeks. So, it may be that we are looking for hope; or perhaps for sanctuary; or maybe for healing for ourselves and our world. Whatever it is, it is important that we are honest with ourselves and with God. What is it that we are looking for?
Strangely Andrew and his friend do not answer the question. We don’t know what they were looking for.
John Clifford suggests:
“Maybe they were looking for an adventure, for new experiences, to see the world beyond the sleepy little village where they had spent all their lives. Maybe they were looking to make a difference, to be a part of a movement to resist the Roman occupation and the corrupt leadership of Judea. Maybe they were looking for meaning and purpose in their otherwise aimless lives. Perhaps they were looking to “find themselves,” so they joined the cult of John the Baptist with visions of utopia dancing in their heads. . . . While Scripture does not reveal what they were looking for, is it possible they were looking for some of the same things twenty-first-century churchgoers seek?”
Instead of answering Jesus’s question – and let’s face it, answering any question Jesus answers is always difficult! – they offer one of their own, “Rabbi, where are you staying.?” Notice how they establish a relationship – rabbi- before asking the important question. And relationship is key to feeling at home and moving forward. Now of course at the literal level this could be a practical question – it’s getting late, we need somewhere to stay, maybe you’ve found a good place…But this is John’s gospel, and nothing is at the literal level. We need to remember that in Greek there is one word, meno, that we translate in English with many other words, ‘stay, remain, dwell, wait, abide’ – so if we hear any of those, we need to be alert that they all connected to each other.
As the gospel of John unfolds, we discover where it is that Jesus is staying – and it is not at the inn down the road, or even at his favourite house in Bethany with Mary and Martha and Lazarus, the headquarters of the Jesus movement! No – as Jesus tells his disciples in his final words to them – ‘in my Father’s house are many dwelling (‘staying’) places, and I go to prepare a place for you’. Jesus stays in God. God is his true home and our true home as well.
Being homeless- even for a short period – is a very frightening and dislocating experience – and that is true whether the home is physical or spiritual. As those whose homes have been lost in recent natural and human made disasters both here and overseas know only too well, we are creatures who value familiarity and thrive best when our environment is settled. Even packing up for a holiday, exciting though that is, can be stressful, because it reminds us that we are not in control. However, once we realise that our true home is in God, then our home travels with us and we can be at home wherever we are and no matter our outward circumstances. Entering into the fulness of that realisation however takes us a lifetime of practice to work out.
And practice is the right word – for as Jesus says in the last of our phrases for today ‘Come and See.’ Like all the best teachers, he invites exploration rather than simply giving instructions. We are invited to come along and find our own way home in relationship with Christ and that takes practice – the practice of prayer; the practice of trust.
Can you hear the invitation? Come and see who Jesus is for you. Come and see what God wants for you and from you. Come and see.Will we come? Coming implies movement. It involves allowing ourselves to be disturbed from our comfortable grooves. Yet if we are to find our way home – to discover where we can truly stay – then we have to keep moving, both as individuals and as communities of faith. And we have to keep on moving, for the invitation to ‘come’ never stops. In a multitude of ways Jesus invites us to come – to explore our relationship with God more deeply; to act on that faith in the world with greater passion; to express that faith in new words and ways for our own time. Jesus desires that we come – can we respond with all the longing of our hearts?
For when we come, we also see. We see more deeply how Christ sees us – with love and compassion. And in the strength of that loving gaze, we continue our path home. So may we have the courage to keep coming into relationship with Christ and in Christ find our true home. Amen.
by Penny Jones, season of Epiphany 2020.