John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”
And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
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).
There is something slightly comical about the beginning of today’s reading from the Gospel. John the Baptist has amassed something of a following; disciples who have come out into the wilderness to listen to him rant about sin and society and the coming Messiah. Well, John has found the Messiah, has baptized Him, and in today’s reading is trying hard to get folks to follow Him, but no one is seems to get it. Its like going to a concert and the crowd refuses to let the warm-up band off the stage. “Are you ready to hear the Rolling Stones?” John shouts into the microphone after running through a set of his own songs. But day in and day out the crowd just sits in their seats tapping their toes to the tune John is humming.
Why don’t they get it? Some of the responsibility lies with John’s followers. They simply don’t understand. But I think the lion’s share falls on John the Baptist. His message just doesn’t connect with his audience – and boy do I know how that feels. Listen again to what John says:
“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
“This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”
“I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”
“I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.”
“I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
All of that is a real mouthful. Now, I consider myself to be an educated person, I have several academic degrees, and I’m not sure I understand everything John is trying to say here. Its doctrinal. Its creedal in nature. Its deeply theological. And apparently for John’s followers, it is not intelligible because they do nothing with the information.
So the next day John tries a new strategy; a back to the basics approach. When he sees Jesus walking by he says to his followers, “Look, here is the Lamb of God.”
Well, that is plain enough and John’s disciples seem to take the bait. Two of them approach Jesus and He asks them what they are looking for. Their response is very telling. They address Jesus as ‘rabbi,’ which means teacher. Apparently they are looking for more of the same deep, theological insight that they got from John. They did not understand His message and give every evidence that they will be happy not to understand Jesus as well. “John told us now we need to follow you so that you can talk over our heads the way he did.”
Jesus’ response is also very telling. They want to know where He is staying and so the one they called ‘rabbi’ says, “Come and see.” Typically rabbis sit down to teach, directing their followers to gather around for instruction. It is a passive, intellectual approach to discipleship. When Jesus says “come and see” it is the exact opposite of “sit and listen.” For Jesus, discipleship begins with a willingness to be on a journey and to be open to all that unfolds along the way. Yes, there will be times of instruction, but from Jesus’ perspective experience is the great teacher and learning arises from reflecting on the meaning of what has happened.
Today, at our Annual Meeting, we elect four new members to St. Paul’s Vestry. There are only two criteria to run for this office: first, the person has to be at least sixteen years old and second, he or she must be a member of the parish in good standing. We don’t ask candidates to recite the books of the bible in order. We don’t have them write an essay. We don’t make them stand in front of the congregation and give a speech. The one single thing each of these four candidates has done is to respond to the invitation, “come and see.” They are willing to undertake a three-year journey and to be open to God’s call along the way. That is what Jesus was looking for in His disciples and that is exactly what we need in parish leadership.
Think about it. You can only learn so much about sailing tied up at the dock. The maps you draw of the world will be pretty vague if you never leave your home port. Yes, you can fall in love with the sea by listening to a salty old sailor tell his tales, but at some point you have to set sail yourself. Come and See: with just three words Jesus communicates to Andrew and the other disciple that He is not about doctrinal statements, not about creedal formulas, and not about theological discourses. Discipleship in the Kingdom of God as Jesus understands it involves movement and reflection.
As the gospels unfold we see that this movement always leads to encounters with human beings; people in need of healing or forgiveness or purpose or correction. These encounters inevitably lead to questions:
• Who is worthy in God’s eyes?
• How are we to understand God’s commands in light of our own circumstances?
• How should we treat one another?
The questions that arise from human encounters invite reflection and give birth to deep, new insight. This is the path of discipleship that Jesus offers to those early followers of John, and to us.
Well, it must have made an impression on Andrew because after meeting Jesus he runs off and summons his brother, Simon. “We have found the Messiah”, he tells him. I wonder if Simon thought to himself, “Perfect, another Rabbi to put me to sleep with his dry, dull teaching.” But off he goes with his brother to meet not a Rabbi who says “sit down and listen to me while I pontificate,” but the Messiah who says, “get ready to follow Me wherever I may lead you.”
Well, the Gospel reading ends as curiously as it begins. Jesus, upon meeting Simon says, “From now on, let’s call you ‘Peter’.” Why the name change? At this point in the story, who knows. But it indicates something very revealing about Jesus’ “come and see” approach. On the journey of experience the meaning of a thing is not always obvious at first. It may come only after a period of reflection. It would take years for Simon to understand why Jesus wanted to call him “the rock,” but for now, simply moving, following, getting involved is enough.
Jesus invites each one of us to come and see, to be a part of His kingdom as we continue on with the journey of life, to be actively engaged in Christian ministry and reflection, and to live comfortably with mystery knowing all the while that God, in God’s time, will help us to understand all things.