4 January – Gospel

Commentary on John 1:35-42

Today we have an introductory encounter between Jesus and his first disciples. The context is somewhat different from that in the other Gospels, and it is a very meaningful passage that describes the revelation of Jesus to Andrew and Peter (in that order).

The passage opens again with the words, “The next day…”. John the Baptist is there with two of his own disciples. Just then, Jesus walked by. This is a common feature of Jesus in the Gospel, and it reminds us that Jesus also walks by us so many times in our ordinary day. Are we aware of that? And how do we respond? As Jesus passed by, John says:

Look, here is the Lamb of God!

Perhaps the disciples had already heard what John had said about the Lamb, and so they began walking after Jesus. They are not yet disciples, but were more moved by a kind of curiosity about this man.

We will be told later in the account that one of the men was Andrew. But who was the other? A tradition likes to think it was John. Very likely it is the ‘Beloved Disciple’ – not yet called that because his/her discipleship is just beginning. As such, it could have been anyone. It could be a man or a woman. So why not put oneself there with Andrew and share the experience with him? It makes this passage very meaningful if we do so.

At that point Jesus turned, saw them walking behind him, and asked:

What are you looking for?

It would be good for us to hear Jesus asking that question of us too. We think we are following Jesus in our Christian life, but have we ever felt that we have been asked that fundamental question: “What are you looking for?” And indeed what am I looking for in my life, or from God? It is good to realise that God asks me that question. We often tend to think that it should be the other way round, that we should be asking God what he wants from us. But the answer to the first question is very revealing. Our answers could be very trivial, or very self-centred, or very altruistic. The answer to the question tells me a lot about where I stand with God, with other people, and with myself. If my life depended on it, what would I ask of God? And my life in the fullest sense does depend on it.

How did these two men answer Jesus’ question? They asked him one of their own:

Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are you staying?

Now, of course, that can be taken at face value in the sense of asking Jesus where his residence was. But in this Gospel, it has a much deeper meaning. Where does Jesus stay? ‘Stay’ is a key word in John’s Gospel and translates as the Greek verb menein.

Where can Jesus be found? He is not in any one place – he can be found anywhere. Later on, Jesus will tell his disciples that he stays in the Father, and that he also stays in them. Again, we need to reflect on the answer to this question. Where do I think Jesus stays? Where can I find him in my life? In what places, in what people, in what situations? Is he only to be found in the tabernacles of our churches? As we read through the Gospels we will find that Jesus is to be found in many places, some of them quite surprising.

What is Jesus’ answer to their question? He says to them:

Come and see.

It is the only way they will find out. Knowing where Jesus stays is not to be found in theology or catechism books or in listening to theoretical lectures. The only way we can know where Jesus stays is by personal experience of meeting him where he is. That is something which everyone can do, and it is something we need to be doing all the time. As the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins said:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God…

There is in fact no place, person or situation where he cannot be found.

So the two men went with Jesus and they stayed with him. They went and they saw. What did they see? We are not told, but we do know the outcome of their experience. It was that the experience of staying with Jesus was something that simply had to be shared with others. One of the two men was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. He went to his brother and said:

We have found the Messiah!

They had discovered the true identity of this Jesus. And then Andrew brought his brother to Jesus, who said:

You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas…

Here we have a perfect example of evangelisation. Andrew himself finds Jesus, stays with him, comes to know who he is, and then goes to bring his brother to share the experience. It was another “Come and see” situation and Peter, the fisherman, was hooked! It is also worth noting that Peter, who would become the leader of the new community after Jesus left them, was not called directly by Jesus, but by his brother.

How many people, who could do great things for Jesus and the Kingdom, are waiting for me to bring them to Jesus? I should also reflect with gratitude on the many people who have brought me in so many ways to a deeper personal knowledge of Jesus.

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