(See the readings for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jan. 18)
“Come and you will see.”
John the Baptist points to Jesus and says: “Behold the Lamb of God.” Two of John’s disciples then follow Jesus who turns and asks: “What are you looking for?” They in turn say: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Jesus replies: “Come and you will see.”
The short interchanged is packed with significance. The Baptist’s ministry is to prepare for the coming of Jesus. In a sense John’s mission is now complete. Jesus has arrived. John makes him known to his disciples. The disciples then leave John to follow Jesus.
John calls Jesus the Lamb of God. The words signify Jesus’ sacrificial death that will come at the end of the Gospel. The significance is related to the paschal lamb which is sacrificed every year to commemorate the Passover and the Exodus from Egypt where the Israelites had been enslaved.
Jesus is the new lamb who will take away the sins of the world. Through him and his sacrificial death mankind will be reconciled with God. This reconciliation brings life. This is the mission of Jesus, a mission in which all will be called to participate.
The two disciples follow Jesus. They walk in his footsteps but they do not know where he is going. Is it curiosity that makes them follow? Do they recognize the significance of John’s words? What makes them follow Jesus? Since they are disciples of John we can presume that they rely on his word and direction. Yet they must make the choice now either to leave John and follow Jesus or to stay.
When Jesus asks, “What are you looking for?” he recognizes a longing in them for something more, and something more than this world can offer. Something inside them desires to be with Jesus, hence the question they use to respond: “Rabbi, where are you staying?”
Calling Jesus “Rabbi,” which means “teacher,” indicates that they want to learn from him. Not only can he teach them about life, but they will discover soon that he can offer them life.
Jesus offers the invitation: “Come, and you will see.” The way to life is Jesus. As they walk along the road with Jesus they will come to know not only what he teaches or what he does, they will come to know him.
The choice of words here is significant. Jesus uses the image of sight — “come and you will see.” Sight and the way we use this term can have multiple meanings. In a physical or biological sense “seeing” is quite literal. It means that I can, with my sense of sight, have vision of what is in front of me, provided of course that there is enough light and no obstacles.
The other meaning of “seeing” deals with insight and knowledge. Take, for example, a conversation in which someone is explaining something to us. When we begin to understand it is not uncommon to say “I see.” Jesus is using this expression more so in the second sense than the first.
The answer to the question that John’s disciples pose is not so much an invitation to where he lives but an invitation to life that comes through knowing him. Jesus invites the two to know him, and as he teaches them they will discover, in knowing him, they will come to know the Father.
Jesus’ choice of words here is similar and related to one of the themes that runs through the Fourth Gospel. “Seeing” requires light. Jesus is the “Light of the World” (John 8:12, 9:5 cf. 14:6) and the light that dispels darkness (cf John 1:5). One place the theme is expressed later in the Gospel is Jesus’ encounter with the man born blind. Since the man is blind he cannot see. Jesus, the light, heals him of this blindness and restores him to sight.
Yes a miracle has occurred but there is also a healing expressed beyond the physical in the encounter with Jesus. Jesus offers life, which is dramatically brought out in the interchange with the Pharisees. They obstinately refuse to believe and so stay in the realm of darkness and death (cf. John 9:1ff).
Jesus offers the invitation. In other words, he “calls” disciples to himself “so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (cf. John 10:10). The first invitation to discipleship and life is given to the two unnamed disciples. In a sense, they represent all people. Everyone is invited to life through Christ Jesus. This is the vocation or calling of all humanity.
The passage continues with two named disciples – Peter and Andrew – who will have a particular role or vocation within the larger call (Andrew being one of the previously unnamed disicples). Andrew recognizes Jesus as the Messiah and he brings his brother Peter to Jesus. When Jesus sees Peter he says: “You are Simon the son of John, you will be called Cephas,” which as the evangelist points out, means “Peter.”
Before Peter can receive this unique vocation, he first has to come to Jesus. Jesus then gives him a special role although at this point in the encounter Peter does not know what that means. Only by staying with Jesus will this become clear.
All of us have a vocation. We are all called to follow Jesus, to stay with him so that we might have life. He is the one who gives meaning to our lives because he is the meaning of our life. He is the one who dispels the darkness so that we can see clearly the way. He is the one who speaks the truth for he is the truth that sets us free. He is the one who gives life because he is the life (cf. John 14:6).
We live 2,000 years after Jesus offered this invitation or “calling.” The vocation and call continue today. The Scripture readings for today’s Mass give us insight into some of the ways this calling is communicated. In the Gospel account, John the Baptist and Andrew have roles of pointing out Jesus to others. John identifies Jesus as the “Lamb of God” to the two unnamed disciples. Through John those two came to know Jesus. Later, Andrew brings Peter, his brother, to Jesus.
While Jesus offers the invitation he sometimes does it with the help of others. Indeed as we will see, as the Gospel unfolds, everyone who is called has a role in calling others. The life that Jesus offers is not for me alone, it is a life to be shared and offered to others. Everyone is called and everyone who is called has a role of inviting others to share in the call.
The first reading from First Samuel also gives us an insight to how the “call” takes place. Yet even in this story the call does not happen in a purely private manner. Someone is needed to help Samuel to identify the call and then to respond appropriately. Samuel hears the Lord calling but he does not at first recognize the voice as the Lord’s, he thinks it is Eli. This happens three times before Eli realizes what is going on and explains it to Samuel saying: “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
The story helps us to understand that the Lord calls us in the depths of our hearts, quiet yet very real. He stirs up in us a desire for life and goodness; or more specifically a desire for communion with him who is life and goodness. Many times we hear this voice when we slow down from the busy-ness of the world (which might be considered “noise” that obscures his voice). In the silent stillness of our hearts we can hear that call for it is constantly present.
Jesus comes to offer us life. He calls us to himself just as he called those two unnamed disciples of John. For some he also gives a specific call to a specific role in his mission like he did for Andrew and Peter. May our response follow the example of those who were first called and followed Jesus; may the words of Samuel be ours also: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.
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