2nd Sunday after Epiphany January 15, 2017
When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?”
I went shoe shopping on Monday. Shoe shopping is different from other shopping. When I shop at the hardware store I’m looking for specific nuts and bolts. When I shop at the grocery store I have a list, I know exactly what I’m looking for. But when I go to the shoe store, I have an idea of what I’m looking for. On Monday I was looking for a dressy/walking shoe, but I had no idea about price, style, or fit.
The first store had two clerks, one serving another customer, and the other just kind of hanging out. I anticipated this one to ask, “What are you looking for?” But he didn’t.
I know I could have asked him for help, but again, I didn’t know exactly what shoe to try, because I didn’t know.
I’d just wait for the other clerk.
Soon the other customer left, and I expected him to now approach and ask, “what are you looking for?” But he didn’t. He too seemed distracted.
I felt awkward. Perhaps it was me. So I left. I went to the next store. The clerk immediately welcomed me and asked, “What are you looking for?”
I’m looking for a dressy/walking shoe.
He immediately responded, I’ve got just the shoe for you.
I’m interested in how Jesus’ ministry begins in each of the four gospels. In Matthew Jesus begins with a sermon, The Sermon on the Mount. In Mark Jesus begins casting out a demon. In Luke Jesus teaches in the synagogue. But in John, Jesus begins his ministry asking a question. The first words he speaks in John is question.
He asks John the Baptist’s two disciples,
“What are you looking for?”
John’s gospel is going to be about asking questions, asking deep questions about faith.
When Jesus asks these two about what they are looking for, he’s really asking them, “What are you searching for?” What is it that gives your life meaning and purpose?”
I don’t want to compare the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to shopping for shoes. Still, when we look at these two disciples of John the Baptist, like me in the shoe store, they don’t really know exactly what they are looking for. They’re following Jesus, but they don’t really know why, at least not yet.
Know that these two are disciples of John the Baptist. John had a following before Jesus came to Judea.
James Carroll, in his book Christ Actually, reminds us that Judea was living under Roman occupation. He states that John the Baptist was part of a Jewish counter culture seeking release from the Romans.
We know how John fled Jerusalem and the temple. He know how John became anti-establishment. We know how John, in fact, criticized those in religious circles who had accommodated to Roman ways. In Advent, remember, his call was to repent.
Carroll states that John would have the Book of Daniel in his hand, a book that proclaims God’s victory over the Babylonians in the end times. John sees that same happening with Israel’s deliverance from Rome. God would deliver Israel through an apocalypse, through forces outside of the world.
So, the two disciples in our gospel this morning are following John and this movement.
But now Jesus appears in the story. Carroll writes that John the Baptist was the most charismatic Jew of the age, and that’s what attracted Jesus to John.
But John the Baptist is confused.
Twice John the Baptist introduces Jesus as the “Lamb of God.”
Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
But notice too that twice John the Baptist acknowledges,
I myself didn’t know him.
While Jesus is attracted to John’s rebuke of the religious establishment’s accommodation to Rome, Jesus will not embrace John’s apocalyptic tone. Jesus’ ministry will not be about escaping the world, but about God becoming flesh within the world. God enters the world not in end times, but in ordinary times.
James Carroll writes that now with Jesus, the focus shifted from a future longed for, to a present to be responsible for.
In our gospel it is understandable, that these two disciples of John don’t know now, exactly what they are looking for.
Is John the Baptist the faithful way? Or is Jesus of Nazareth the faithful way?
And so Jesus asks:
“What are you looking for?”
These two disciples answer Jesus with a question back.
Where are you staying?
The Holiday Inn?
A strange question until we understand that the question is really theological. These two are asking Jesus, “Where do you dwell?” “What is your core?” “Who are you Jesus?”
And Jesus answers,
Come and see.
Jesus doesn’t tell these two, “I am the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He doesn’t say. “I am the Messiah.” Nor does he say, “I am the Son of God.”
Jesus simply invites.
Come and see.
The only way to find what we are looking for, to answer the deep questions, to connect with the eternal; is to begin walking with Jesus.
Faith is relational. Faith is experiential.
The way of Jesus seeks not to escape the world, but to engage with the world.
Picture the people in your life who are meaningful to you. The people you care about.
Know that to everyone of them, you could ask,
What are you looking for?
Humanity seeks to connect with one bigger than oneself. Humanity seeks the eternal. Humanity seeks some anchor, some foundation, which guides life.
I’m convinced that every soul seeks God in some way, shape, or form.
Remember St. Augustine’s prayer, “Our hearts our restless until they rest in you.”
Everyone is looking, but they don’t know exactly what they are looking for.
As people of faith, our response to a searching humanity, is not “Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus didn’t say that, John the Baptist did.
Instead Jesus says, “come and see.” Come and try out the Jesus way. See that a life of faith is not about escaping the world, it is about diving into the world, and the needs of a suffering humanity.
Our family and friends, and the world in which we live is not looking for a sermon to find God, they are looking for an invitation.
The good news of the gospel this morning is that these two disciples of John,
came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.
We hear that one of these disciples was Andrew, who invited his brother Peter. As we continue reading John we see how Jesus attracted his own following. And near the end of John’s gospel we will hear the prayer of Jesus on the night before his death.
As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
To be one in Christ, is to be one in God, and that is where we find what we are looking for.
It all begins with,
Come and see.