On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me a call to come and see – John 1: 35-42
The author of a play takes great care with the first words spoken by the main protagonist. These words must grab our attention and they usually reveal something of that person’s character. Here we read the first words spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of John. It begins with Jesus addressing John’s disciples who are following him. Jesus always asks pointed, direct questions in the Gospel of John. The question is not a teaching, a precept, or a challenge (as we might expect), but a simple question address directly to them: “What are you looking for?” or “What do you want?” That’s a good question, isn’t it? The two disciples are asked a deceptively simple question.
Jesus asks about our desires so that he can respond to them. At one level, the question asks why are they walking after him or following him. But fundamentally, this is the existential question asked of any potential disciple: What do you seek when you come to follow Jesus? Are you looking for a comfortable life? Are you looking for the glory that comes from being one of God’s servants? Are you looking for praise and recognition? Or are you ready to do whatever it takes to serve in God’s kingdom – even if it means suffering the way Jesus did? Are you ready to take up a cross in order to follow Jesus?
Such a searching question, ‘what are you looking for?’ may also have many responses, ‘I’m not looking for anything! I am just trying to survive.’ But in sober moments we realise that we would like our lives to amount to more than just getting and spending, eating and sleeping.
Today, the call of Jesus is written all over this and every Gospel. In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus calls the disciples away from their fishing boats to follow him (Matthew 4:18-22). In the Gospel of John, the disciples come to Jesus as the result of John the Baptist’s witness rather than in response to Jesus’ call. Instead of leaving their boats, the disciples leave their apprenticeship under John the Baptist. Our lives of witness are therefore imperative to evangelization.
Note the pattern of witnessing that occurs in these verses. John the Baptist witnesses to two of his disciples concerning Jesus. One of these disciples, Andrew, witnesses to his brother, Simon Peter, who becomes a key figure in the Gospel story. The ripples move ever outward, and only God can predict how far they will reach.
There are personages in today’s Gospel that can teach us a thing or two
1. John witnesses to his own disciples, saying of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”—with the result that the two disciples stop following John the Baptist and start following Jesus (1:37). At that point, having accomplished his witnessing task, John fades from the picture. We see him only once more in this Gospel, when his disciples ask him about Jesus, who has become quite popular (3:26). John tells them, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (3:30). A life-changing moment unfolds before our eyes. The disciples are directed towards the wandering Rabbi. Spiritual awareness is highlighted today. John knows his own prophetic call. He recognizes Jesus for who he is, and delights in the power of the Spirit at work. He is free to let his disciples move away to follow Jesus. This “decrease” in the amount of his own followers is a mark of John’s success as witness, not of his failure as preacher
2. While Andrew will not achieve great stature among the apostles, he brings people to Jesus on three occasions, this being the first. Later, he will bring a boy with loaves and fishes to Jesus (6:8-9). Finally, he will bring a group of Greeks (12:20-22). “You can accomplish anything if you don’t care who gets the credit.” Andrew bears evidence of the truth of that old saying. He never achieves prominence in the Gospels, but he uses his unique gift of inviting to great effect. From the very beginning, Jesus gathered around him the most ordinary people. People like Andrew, ordinary people who possess only ordinary gifts, still do most of Christ’s work today. If only highly talented people responded to Christ’s call, the church would be stunted and crippled.
3. Andrew and his companion set aside their day to be in Jesus’ company. Impressed, they decided to be followers of his. When we meet a new person, we must first give ourselves a chance to get to know them. Then, if we like what we see, we are attracted by everything they stand for. Do we give Jesus a chance in our busy lives so that the attraction of his person can work on us?
4. Can you recall the occasion when you first met Jesus and were drawn to follow him? The Gospel of today pinpoints the great moment for the two disciples–four o’clock in the afternoon!
5. Spending time with Jesus transforms the disciples, as seen in the change in titles they use to refer to him. At first, they call him “rabbi,” a title of respect to be sure. But when Andrew speaks of Jesus in verse 41, he refers to him by the more significant title of “Messiah.” One disciple after another encounters Jesus and has a transformative experience that leads him to tell others, so they too will “come and see” this man from Galilee and be changed by that experience.
So, let us pray
Lord, may I grow in spiritual awareness. Bless me with a clear sense of my call. Make me sensitive to the action of your Spirit. Give me freedom to witness to you in in my current situation.