In last Sunday’s gospel reading we hear Saint John’s account of how Jesus gains his first disciples. And we hear just how easy it is to become one. No application needed!
Where would we be without all our modern technology and labour-saving devices?
Well – for a start we’d be without all those instruction booklets. I suspect that we are not the only household with piles of instruction booklets and manuals that lie in various places around the house. Instruction booklets that seem to be ridiculously thick – and often thicker and more complicated the smaller and more straightforward the appliance or gadget they’re supposed to help with. And so, by and large, they go unread. And all is fine until something goes wrong – and then comes the cry, “It’s not working! Why isn’t it working?”
To which there are two responses:
- Did you read the manual?
- Have you tried switching it off and then back on again?
The reality is that much of modern technology is actually very simple to use. It just seems complicated, perhaps. And is fine until it goes wrong. And then our brain starts to hurt as we try to work out the problem.
Today we are going to be thinking about something that’s really simple, even though we often make it complicated. Something that is so simple that it really doesn’t require our brains to hurt at all and doesn’t need instructions. Following Jesus. Following Jesus is really simple – so simple, that we assume it must be so much more complicated and often make it so.
We hear today how John the Baptist sees Jesus coming towards him and immediately says, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” And then he goes on to tell those around him about Jesus’ baptism, concluding with the words, “this is the Son of God”.
And then, the following day, he is talking to two of his disciples. He watches as Jesus walks by and says again, Look, here is the Lamb of God!” As a result of that comment the two disciples go after Jesus.
And then we hear a most remarkable story. And it’s remarkable because it’s a story not just about how Jesus collects his first disciples, but about how simple it is for anyone to become a disciple of Jesus.
The writer of John’s gospel always presents us with multi-layered material – nothing is ever as straightforward as it seems, there is always a deeper meaning. And that deeper meaning that the writer is seeking to convey here is how simple and straightforward it is for anyone to become a disciple of Jesus.
And we see this in the very simple conversation that goes on between Jesus and the two disciples in today’s gospel reading. Just three sentences between them, yet they tell us more about the simplicity of following Jesus than perhaps anything else in the gospels. We’ll look at each sentence in turn.
So, to our first sentence. As we have heard John the Baptist has been standing with two of his disciples. They’ve heard John describe Jesus as the Son of God. And they’ve heard him – twice now – describe him as the Lamb of God. And they decide to leave John and go after Jesus.
And Jesus turns, sees them, and asks, “What are you looking for?”
That’s perhaps better translated as, “What are you seeking?” And this is a question not from someone who is annoyed that they are being followed, but from someone who is genuinely concerned to know what it is that the two are seeking. Now, it’s important to recognise that these are the very first words that Jesus speaks in the Gospel of John. And the question is posed not just to the two disciples, but to everyone who will read the Gospel – and therefore to everyone who would follow Jesus. It’s a question that Jesus poses to each of us here this morning. What are you looking for? What are you seeking?
Which brings us to our second sentence. In response to Jesus’ question the two disciples do not give an answer but instead ask a question of their own. Each of us, of course, will respond differently to the question Jesus asks, “What are you looking for?” And on the surface the response of the two disciples seems rather strange, perhaps. They have come face to face with the Son of God and he has asked them, “What are you looking for?”
Now, given the opportunity to ask the Son of God anything, the question they come up with might have been a bit more profound:
- What is the meaning of life?
- Why is there so much suffering the world?
- If you’re the Lamb of God like John says then how exactly will you take away the sins of the world’s?
Something like that, possibly. But no, instead, they simply reply to Jesus, “Where are you staying?”
And though that perhaps seems a wasted opportunity it’s the right response. The two disciples are not seeking profound teaching on life’s great questions. Rather they are simply seeking to be with Jesus. So they ask him where he’s staying. Which, in the context of the time with a huge societal emphasis on hospitality, is letting Jesus know that they want to come to his house. And then they wait for Jesus to issue the invitation. Because they just want to be with him and to get to know him. That’s it. The message of the writer of the Gospel here is that the only response needed to the question of Jesus ‘What are you looking for’ is ‘to be with you Jesus’.
And their simple question challenges the Church today to examine what we are seeking – are we seeking simply to be with Jesus, or are we over-complicating our response by adding or expecting so much else of ourselves and others?
And then what does Jesus say back to them? Well, he responds as we see by giving them the invitation they seek. And this is the most fascinating part of the exchange – the third sentence in this conversation. For this is a great example of the multi-layered meanings in the Gospel of John. At one level, Jesus’ reply, “Come and see,” can simply be read as an invitation to the two disciples to come and have a look at Jesus’ lodgings. But remember how the writer of the Gospel intends what he writes to be interpreted at a much deeper level. For at this deeper level these words are a call to discipleship – not just to the two disciples in the story but to all of us.
The words, “Come and see,” are the equivalent to Jesus’ call in the other gospels, “Follow me.” And what is particularly significant about the invitation come and see is the order of the words. Think about it for a moment. What often happens when we think about Jesus and when we think about how to be his disciples is that we think we must spend time getting to know Jesus, understand who he is, what he is about, how he wants us to behave before we can make the decision to follow him. That is, we feel we – and others – must really understand Jesus, See him if you like, before we can follow him, before we can respond to his invitation to Come.
But Jesus doesn’t put it that way round. Jesus says, “Come … and see.” Come – follow me along the way of discipleship. And then you will see all you need to know.
How often the Church gets this wrong! Someone walks in the door of a church and before you know what’s happened they are expected to sign up to Bible reading notes, or join a newcomers’ course, or are told how they need to behave as a Christian, or that they need to join this group or that, or they need to have completed a course of study on the book of Deuteronomy, or give up alcohol and rock music – and then, at the end of it all are asked, “Now you’ve done all this are you ready to follow Jesus?” That’s not how Jesus calls people to him. He first says, “Come.” Just come and follow me – that’s all you need to do! And he says it to everyone – no matter their background, or character, or way of life.
And these words of Jesus, “Come and see,” are not just an invitation to follow him. They are also a promise to us as well that once we follow Jesus will show us, tell us, all we need to know. The two disciples go to where Jesus is staying and they spend time with him and talk with him. And as a result of their time with him they come to see exactly who he is. And then as we see they go off to bring others to Jesus.
Following Jesus is so simple, so simple you don’t need an instruction book to tell you how to do it.
And the Gospel writer sums the simplicity up in the three sentences that are exchanged between Jesus and the two disciples. And which, by extension the gospel writer is telling us Jesus will share with us.
Jesus asks, “What do you looking for?” He asks it of you and of me and of everyone who walks in through the door of this church.
To each and everyone who responds like the two disciples in the gospel reading, “I’m looking for you, Jesus, I want to come and be with you” he reaches out his hands and says, “Come and see. Come and be with me. Spend time with me. And you will see all you need to see about who I am and who you are and who I call you to be.”
“Come,” said Jesus, “and see.”