When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.
In our calendar of Sunday scripture readings, we’re in the year of Matthew’s Gospel. But this is one of the Sundays when we get a little chunk of John’s Gospel for some reason.
Next week we’ll hear Matthew’s version of the calling of Jesus’ first disciples. That might be more familiar: Jesus walks along the shore of the sea of Galilee and calls these young men away from their nets and their boats.
John’s version of the calling of the first disciples isn’t really a calling at all. It’s more of a sending.
Andrew is a disciple of John the Baptist. He’s already left home and work and family to follow a rabbi, a teacher.
But then his rabbi, John the Baptist, tells him that Jesus is the real deal. The Lamb of God.
So Andrew and another guy go follow Jesus.
And Jesus, naturally enough, sees them following him and asks, What’s up?
Actually, he asks: What are you looking for?
This question makes a lot of sense when we realize Jesus surely knew that these men – who may have been quite young, teenagers even – have literally just walked away from John the Baptist to start following him.
This rabbi-hopping suggests that they were seekers, looking for someone to offer them meaning, purpose, hope, a way to spend their days.
So he asks: What are you looking for?
And they don’t know how to answer.
I love that; it’s so real. I wouldn’t have an answer ready either.
I’ve had those moments, when somebody asks an unexpectedly profound or intense question, and I just stare at them and say, “Um. Huh.”
And then maybe I say something like, “So where are you staying while you’re in town?”
Which is what Andrew and the other guy do.
And Jesus says, Come and see.
So they go with him to where he is staying. Some cheap first-century AirBnB or hotel room in a nearby village, probably.
It’s clear that the where isn’t really that important.
The who is what’s important.
The text notes that it was about four o’clock in the afternoon. Maybe that means it was coming up on dinnertime by the time they arrived, so they decided to stick around.
Some commentators think we’re meant to assume it was a Friday, so sunset and the Sabbath were approaching, and that these disciples ended up spending the Sabbath with Jesus – Friday evening and all day Saturday.
I wonder what happened, during those hours. Was Jesus preaching or teaching? Were they just sitting together over some simple food and a little wine and talking, talking, talking about the world?
Were they doing ordinary everyday things? Was Jesus, whom Mark describes as a carpenter, doing little woodwork to earn his keep? Maybe building a bench, or a storage box, or a cradle?
Who knows? Just being around him, being near him, listening to him, awakened something in Andrew.
Curiosity. Hope. Love. Loyalty.
We meet someone like that, now and then, in life… Someone who earns our esteem or our devotion very quickly, for reasons it’s hard to put a finger on.
And sometimes it turns out that our first instincts were wrong. Sometimes charisma misleads us; sometimes people who are compelling, who draw others to them, turn out not to have much substance, or worse, to be selfish, exploitative, abusive.
But other times, when you keep abiding with that person, you find that they are what they seem to be, and more. Not perfect, but true. Not perhaps always nice, but good.
A person who looks at you and you can see in their eyes that they really do love you just the way you are, but also, they’re not going to leave you that way. And you want to step up to being the person they know you could be.
A person who you just want to hang around because they are going to make something happen, something that matters, and you want to be there to see it.
Andrew finds something like that, in his hours abiding with Jesus.
Something that makes him give Jesus a particular name, when he describes him to his brother Simon: We have found the Messiah.
John offers us a translation of Messiah, a Hebrew word. It means, the Anointed. (In Greek, that’s Christos – the source of the word Christ, which is a title we give Jesus, not part of his name.)
What would that word have meant to Simon – to Andrew? To say that Jesus was the Messiah?
Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg wrote a piece just this week about the history of the idea of the Messiah. The practice of anointing someone with oil as a sign of their taking on a new special, sacred role begins in the time of Moses, during the wilderness journey, with the ordination of Aaron and his sons as priests to serve God in the tabernacle, the sacred tent.
Anointing as a mark of a new status came to extend to kings as well as priests, in the following centuries.
After the time of King David, the peak of Israel’s political and economic power, expectations that God would send an Anointed One focused on a King, a political leader who would bring back the good old days. Ruttenberg writes, “The hope for a Messiah was a hope to get back to how things should be soon in the current timeline.”
But as first the Northern Kingdom, then Judea, are conquered by the great empires of the time, hopes for an earthly king start to feel more and more distant.
The Messiah becomes e a more otherworldly figure. Someone who will bring in the World-to-come, the coming Age.
Our Isaiah text this morning hints at that turn: extending the vision for God’s Holy One beyond restoring Judah to its pre-conquest state, to bringing Light and Salvation to all nations of the earth.
That’s the vision of Messiah that would have been circulating in Jesus’ time – someone sent by God to transform the world.
That’s the name Andrew puts to what he is hearing and seeing and experiencing as he spends time with Jesus.
That’s what motivates him to bring Simon along – Simon Peter, who will become one of Jesus’ closest friends and, later, the central leader of early Christianity.
I want to turn back to Jesus’ words in this Gospel passage.
What are you looking for?
Come and see.
I think John kind of means for Jesus to break the fourth wall, in theater terms, when he asks: What are you looking for? When he says: Come and see.
I think John’s Jesus is looking directly into the camera when he says these lines.
The Gospel writer we know as John is well aware that the readers of his Gospel will not have a chance to abide with the earthly Jesus. That’s why he’s writing a Gospel: to try to pass on something he finds so important, so compelling, so transformational, that he urgently wants to share it, to pass it on.
He wants his readers to be drawn into this scene. To hear Jesus speaking to them. To us.
And both of the things Jesus says – the question, the invitation – point towards an important word that’s hiding in today’s Gospel.
The word is Abide.
Well: In New Testament Greek, it’s meno.
In reading about this passage, I saw somebody say that it’s a very Johannine word – a word typical of John’s Gospel.
Well, I didn’t take their word for it – I looked it up. There are tools for this kind of thing!
That word is used three times in Matthew’s Gospel.
Twice in Mark’s. Six times in Luke’s.
And somewhere in the ballpark of forty, in John.
So. Okay. Fair to say this word matters to John.
In John’s often poetic and mystical writing style, there are lots of words that mean more than they mean.
(That’s one of the reasons I wish we had a John year in the lectionary is that we could really explore that and follow through!)
So Meno means remain. Also translated as dwell, stay, and abide.
It’s an important term for John, somehow.
I wonder if John chapter 15 is the key text for understanding what “abide” means. This is part of Jesus’ long speech at his last supper with his friends.
Jesus tells them, Abide in me as I abide in you.
I am the vine, you are the branches; the branches can only be sustained by the vine if they abide in the vine.
As the Father has loved me, so I love you; abide in my love.
I like that the NRSV, the Bible translation we usually use, chooses the word Abide here.
It’s not an everyday word and it makes us pause and perhaps think about how abiding is different from just staying or remaining.
“Remain in my love” just doesn’t have the same feel.
But I wish that our translation used abide other places too, to make it clearer that this is a core word for John. In fact, by the time we get to the disciples staying with Jesus in chapter 1, verse 39, John has used meno three times already.
John the Baptist twice says that he saw the Holy Sprit abide on Jesus at his baptism. And the disciples’ question uses meno too – Where are you abiding?
I find Abide to be a beautiful and evocative word.
“Abide” is related to “abode”, a place where you live; “dwell” also captures this sense of really settling in somewhere with intention, not just hanging around between other things.
For me “abide” – as opposed to “stay” or “remain” – has overtones of slowing down, being present, belonging, putting down roots.
And even though John’s Jesus won’t talk about the deeper meanings of abiding until much later, his words in this Gospel text invite abiding.
What are you looking for?
The question takes our outward-bound energy and turns it inward: what’s this really about? What feels unfulfilled or insufficient in you, that’s driving your busy-ness, your seeking and striving?
What do you really need? What do you want, deep down inside?
I don’t think it bothers Jesus at all that they can’t answer.
That I can’t answer.
It’s a question to sit with – to abide with.
But in the meantime, while we’re asking ourselves, What am I looking for?… in the meantime, John’s Jesus says, Come and see.
Next week we’ll hear the call of Simon and Andrew again.
In Matthew’s version, Jesus’ first words to them are: Follow me.
Follow me. A command, an invitation? A little of both?
Here, instead, John’s Jesus says: Come and see.
It is a command, grammatically speaking.
But it’s an interesting contrast with Follow me.
Follow me calls for movement: get up and go.
Come and see invites arrival followed by attentive presence.
Follow me means decide, commit, NOW. Immediately.
Come and see calls the disciples closer – calls us closer – but leaves the next step in our hands.
In Greek as in English, the meaning of “see” spreads out beyond literal sight to mean understand, comprehend, experience, know.
If we come and see – if we abide a while with Jesus – will we find something there that deepens our love, our loyalty, our curiosity? Our hope?
There’s a lot to wonder and a lot to say about what it means to abide with Jesus when we can’t sit down for a meal or watch the sunset with the living breathing man, as Andrew could.
But I’m grateful to know John’s Jesus.
I do strive to follow Jesus, with all the energy and direction that implies.
But it is a balm to my soul to be reminded that movement and activity isn’t the only thing – or in John, even the primary thing – that Jesus asks of us.
I’m grateful for Jesus’ invitation, here, to abide with my own deep self, to wonder what I am really looking for.
And I’m grateful to be reminded that in my life with Christ, when I’m not sure where to go, it is sometimes okay to just be.
Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg on the Messiah idea: