January 18, 2015
When I was a parent-to-be, people gave me advice whether I wanted it or not. When someone would ask me about if I was ready to care for a baby, I would smile smugly and reply,
“I have been babysitting since I was 11.”
“I am good with babies. In fact, I am great with babies.”
“I have taken care of other people’s babies. I’ve helped take care of my niece and nephews. I got this baby thing down!”
I heard repeatedly that I would be tired. I’d respond by telling this person that I was well aware of how tired I would be because my sister had my first nephew in Nashville instead of Athens. That meant that Benjamin came home to our house and lived with us for the first month. I heard him crying at night. I understood. Even after they went back to Greece, whenever she would come home for a visit they would stay at least a month. Again, I heard him crying. Sometimes I’d even get up with her. I knew it was going to be tiring.
People would also tell me that having a baby would change my life forever. Our world was going to be turned upside down. Nothing would ever be the same again. I would nod and smile, again rather smugly.
“I have it all planned out.” Then it was the other person’s turn to nod and smile. I never heard anyone say, “Let me know how your plan works out,” but I know now that they were thinking it.
Hearing someone else’s baby cry at night, even a baby that I loved and adored, is not the same as being up with your baby all night. Being good with babies and excelling at babysitting does not prepare you for what it means to not only take care of, but be completely responsible for this little person you’ve brought into the world. I might have been a good babysitter, but I lost count of the times I felt clueless when it came Io caring for my own babies. Once, in tears, I called my mother because the baby books said that I was doing this parenting thing all wrong. My mom reassuringly told me, “Amy, the baby books are fine, but the babies never read the same books.”
No matter how many babies I’d held and loved and cooed over in the past, nothing prepared me for what it would feel like to hold my own babies in my arms. Nothing prepared me for that rush of overwhelming love and joy and protectiveness. There are some things you have to see to believe and some moments you have to feel and experience to understand.
“Come and see,” seems to be the main thrust of the passage before us in John’s gospel. This first chapter in John marks one of the ways that this gospel is distinctly different from the three synoptic gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke record Jesus being baptized by John in the Jordan River. However John’s gospel does not give an account of Jesus’ physical baptism. Instead we read John the Baptists’ testimony to Jesus and to his identity.
If we were to read this chapter in full, we’d see that it takes place over a few days. Our glimpse into this passage begins on the third day. The day before John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”
This declaration follows a conversation from the day before. John was questioned by religious leaders who wanted to know who he, John, was. They wanted to know the full scope of John’s identity. But John tells them about another One. John tells them that he is not the Messiah, but there is one who is the Messiah they’ve been waiting for.
We move to the third day, our day. On this day John was standing with two of his disciples when Jesus walked past them. As Jesus passed, John proclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” When John’s two disciples heard this, they left John and followed Jesus. This is another interesting point of departure from Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It is not Jesus who makes the initial call to the disciples. John testified to Jesus’ identity and the disciples chose to follow.
Now we come to the crux, the heart of this passage. Jesus saw them following him, and he asked them, “What are you looking for?” They called him “Rabbi” which the gospel writer makes the point of translating as “teacher.” The question they asked him seems unexpected and unusual for this particular moment and meeting – at least to our way of thinking. These new followers asked, “Where are you staying?” Jesus responded not by giving them directions or details about a geographical location. He just said, “Come and see.” And he led them from that point on.
It bears repeating that every question in John’s gospel means more than what it seems. When John’s disciples asked Jesus “where are you staying?” they were not merely asking him about his place of residence. They were not looking for a house tour or a place to hang out for a few days. They were not inquiring as to whether he checked into a bed and breakfast or the Jerusalem Hampton Inn. They wanted to know about his relationship with God. Perhaps another way their question can be heard is, “Look our teacher, John, has proclaimed you to be the Lamb of God, so we want to know for ourselves. If you are indeed the Lamb of God, the Rabbi, the teacher we’ve been looking for, then what is your relationship to God? Are you in intimate relationship with him? Are you staying with God? Teacher, where are you staying?”
Consider the call narratives found in the first three gospels, one of which we will hear next week. Jesus called his disciples away from their work, their families, their homes, their lives – everything and everyone they ever knew. And in these other call accounts, Jesus gave them a hint about what discipleship would mean. Yet in John’s gospel, these first disciples heard the Baptizer’s testimony and followed. When Jesus asked them about this, their response was to ask a question about his relationship to God. Jesus did not give them definitive answers. He just invited them to come and see.
Discipleship is something that you will have to experience for yourself. You will have to follow me to witness and know my relationship with the Father. You will have to follow me to experience who I am and what I have come to do. If you want to be a disciple, you’re going to have to take a look for yourselves. You must come and see.
So that’s what these new disciples did. John’s witness did what it was meant to do. It pointed them in the new direction God was taking. They left John and followed Jesus. They took a leap and they took a look. Other disciples followed suit. Andrew told his brother Simon, “We have found the Messiah.” Simon then went to Jesus and Jesus gave him a new name. “You are to be called Cephas.” Peter. The rock.
The next day, Philip and Nathanael joined the growing queue behind Jesus. Like Andrew, when Philip heard Jesus’ call he shared his discovery with Nathanael. I believe that this is the only time we hear about Nathanael. But his small part does not diminish the importance of his response. When Philip told him that the one that was foretold by Moses and all the prophets had been found, Nathanael was skeptical.
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to Nathanael what Jesus said to Andrew. “Come and see.”
All of these disciples decided to take a look, to go and see Jesus, to experience him, to be in relationship with him. They followed him so that they could witness and experience for themselves the truth of this man – this Lamb of God, this Son of God, this Rabbi, this Messiah. Nathanael pronounced him both Son of God and King of Israel. Once he took a look, his skepticism was replaced with belief.
Take a look. Come and see. Jesus beckons us to follow and see for ourselves what discipleship and being in a relationship with him is and what it means. Take a look, come and see.
It’s interesting that in this first chapter alone, Jesus was called by at least eight different names or titles. In one chapter! Jesus acknowledged them all. We know that none of these names fully revealed or defined the fullness of who Jesus was, who Jesus is. They cannot convey the glory of Jesus and what he came to do. But each of these disciples saw Jesus and recognized Jesus in the way they most needed. John saw him as the Lamb of God, the one who takes away the sins of the world. These first disciples, wanted to learn about him; they wanted to understand him as both Rabbi and Messiah. Nathanael, who was startled by Jesus’s knowledge of him, made a great profession of faith. Jesus was the Son of God, the King of Israel. They named him in the way they understood him. They understood him, they recognized him, they experienced relationship with him because they went and took a look.
Take a look. Come and see. It’s such a simple invitation. But when the disciples accepted that invitation, when they looked for themselves, their lives were irrevocably changed. The invitation remains. We are invited, over and over again, to come and see; to look for ourselves. We are invited to follow, and in following to be in relationship with the Lamb of God. When have you heard that invitation? What happened when you took that look? Here’s the good news – the really, really good news – the invitation doesn’t stop with us. In fact, it isn’t meant to be issued by Jesus alone. We are invited to come and see, to be in relationship; but more importantly when we accept the call to follow, we are also called to invite. Andrew invited Simon Peter. Philip invited Nathanael. When we get right down to it, this is what evangelism is. Our call is not to force belief on others, or make them think a certain way. Our call is to invite, to open the door for them to see, just as that door was opened for us.
Take a look for yourself. Come and see the love I’ve experienced. Come and see the hope I’ve found. Come and see the relationship I have with the God of relationship. Come and see what I see, and maybe just maybe, you’ll see it too. Let all God’s children say, “Alleluia!” Amen.