Sunday, January 19, 2014

Second Sunday after Epiphany

John 1.35-42
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘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. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).

So where would Jesus live?

It may not have the resonance of ‘what would Jesus do,’ a phrase for bracelets and license plates, but it does kind of leap off the page:

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. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.

Two remarkable things are happening here: one (we learn the time of day) for no seeming reason, and the other (an afternoon at Jesus’ place) as an opportunity to get acquainted. I don’t know about you, but I find this idea of Jesus’ place both intriguing and just a little bit troubling.

The troubling part, to begin there, is the idea that this itinerant-rabbi-healer and Lord of All would have something has mundane as an address. I want him to be free, unencumbered by junkmail or one of those single-cup coffeemakers that everyone seems to have. It seems limiting to put him in an apartment, or even a room, and have him call it home.

The intriguing part, the part that captures the imagination, is related to the troubling part, insofar as having a dwelling meant having something: Some straw on the floor, a Billy bookcase for Gold, frankincense and myrrh, and at the very least a table. I’m surmising a table because it was Jesus’ natural habitat, to be at table with friends, eating and drinking, being convivial as only Jesus can.

So we have a time and a place—what about a purpose? For today, for the reading from John, the purpose is getting to know his newest followers, spending the afternoon, and beginning the long journey we call his earthly ministry. These men were friends of John the Baptist, and were no doubt interested to understand the one John endorsed and freed them to follow.

Now, in the more familiar call story, Jesus finds them by the seashore, tending their nets, and he says “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men and women.” It is more directive, more forward-focused, and it defines the very fabric of this faith we follow. Follow me makes sense, it is part of our Christian DNA, so to hear another invitation (“Come and see”) simply feels strange.

But if we follow this new invitation, this variation on a theme, what will we see? What will Jesus present to us, and how will it help us develop as believers in the same manner that we might respond to ‘follow me’?

Part of the answer comes from a query sent by John the Baptist himself, through messengers, who ask: “Are the one, or should we look for someone else?” And the reply, paying close attention to seeing: “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Luke 7)

It is a remarkable summary, a statement of his entire project of healing, teaching and bringing new life. Little wonder that the invitation was ‘come and see’ since seeing even half this program would be a convincing snapshot of the work of God in the world. And of course, there is more:

John 4: 45 When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, for they also had been there.
Luke 5: 26 Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”

John 12.21: [Some Greeks] came therefore to Philip, who was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, ‘Sir, we would see Jesus.’

There is a remarkable amount of seeing in the Gospels, so much in fact, that begin to get a sense that ‘seeing is believing.‘ And that becomes problematic. So problematic, that at the end of John Jesus will say this to doubting Thomas: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Now there’s an issue: the invitation was ‘come and see,‘ the invitation to witness all that Jesus would say and do in the Galilee, and Judah, and on to Jerusalem. It was an invitation that leads to the conclusion that seeing is believing, when the concluding words are “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” So somewhere between ‘come and see‘ and ‘unless I see‘ (words from Thomas) is the truth about faith and seeing.

Now, we all like proof. We all like to know that the facts as presented have been verified or seen by a variety of people. In recent years we have seem a growing trend in visual verification while online, with something called a ‘captcha.‘ Somewhere near the ‘go‘ button there will be some distorted word or phrase under the heading ‘are you human?‘ and the opportunity to prove your humanity by reading something that seemingly computers can’t read. They have become ubiquitous, to the point that we thoughtlessly type in our response without taking stock of the fact we are human.

So seeing proves we’re human. Or at least it is human to want to see, to see and believe, and therefore we look for proof. But Jesus is suggesting that what’s real, what’s believable, will not be seen by many, and they are to be called blessed precisely because they are believing without seeing. And even St. Paul gets onboard with this idea, when he insisted this to the church at Corinth:

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4)

Some claim that the final verse inspired the Matrix series of movies, the notion that what we see is an illusion and what we cannot see is real. True or not, there is a convergence between Jesus and Paul on the weakness of sight, or sight as proof, when what we really need to believe is invisible to our eyes.

And this suggests another verse from Paul, another seeing verse, that for me at least helps put much of the Christian faith into perspective. There, almost hidden among the introductory verse of the letter to the Colossians is this: [Jesus] “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible.” (Col 1.15)

Jesus is the visible image of this invisible God we glorify, but also the Lord of all that is, the visible and the invisible. And this points us back to John, and in particular John’s prologue, where in the beginning was the Word, and the Word with with God and the Word was God: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

I didn’t set out to be this philosophical, but the words seem to take us there. Jesus says ‘come and see’ and we seek to see proof of something, some evidence that we are then told cannot be seen. We see Jesus, and in seeing we see the visible of image of an invisible God. But this earthly Jesus is temporary, he will depart from this earth, and then we will see him no more, but then again, what cannot be seen is eternal.

We seem to live in the tension between a desire to see, and an inability to see; a Saviour who calls for us to see, but blesses those who believe even when they cannot see. We are all too human: believing that seeing is believing, when believing is something best not reserved for something as mundane as sight. Some Greeks said “sir, we would see Jesus,” and then returned home, to a place where Jesus lives in memory, in the heart, now and forever, Amen.


Post a Comment

<< Home