John’s Disciples Follow Jesus
35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples.36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.
40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).
This is a New Testament passage that doesn’t seem to get much attention, but it seems to me that it’s one followers of Jesus should make a point to turn to regularly because it poses a question we need to ask ourselves from time to time.
After the introduction to his gospel, John relates several stories about John the Baptist. John interacts with representatives of the Hebrew religious leadership, insisting that he is not the Messiah, but rather one sent to prepare the way. Later, John points out Jesus to some of his own disciples, and reports that when he baptized Jesus, he had seen the Spirit descend on him like a dove.
Now in today’s reading, he points out Jesus once again to his disciples, and identifies him for the second time as “the Lamb of God.” Two of John’s disciples turn immediately and follow Jesus. And when the New Testament speaks of people ‘following Jesus,’ it means following him as a disciple, not just following him down the street out of curiosity.
And here is the part of this passage that seems pretty important to me: Jesus turns to the two disciples and asks them, “What do you want?”
Presumably, being God and all, Jesus knew who these men were. Just the day before he had been near to John and his disciples, so Jesus might have recognized the two. He might even have remembered them from the time of his own baptism. So this question probably shouldn’t be read as an expression of suspicion or annoyance with the two, but rather as a plain question. What did these two men want from him?
That, it seems to me, is a question this passage is meant to ask each one of us. What do we want from Jesus?
I suppose a lot of people follow Jesus because they hope to “go to heaven” when they die to this earthly life. Maybe all of us would admit that that’s at least a part of our motivation for following him. It’s sometimes said (either honestly or crassly, depending on your tastes, I guess) that some people follow Jesus as “fire insurance” – just to avoid the fires of hell after they die.
It seems safe to say that quite a few of the people who call themselves Christians go to church because they think that’s what “good people” do. For those people, participating in the Christian faith is a matter of good citizenship.
Others, I suspect, see that hour of worship each week as a chance to escape from the stresses and pressures of life, and to find rest and refreshment. For them, the place of worship really is a ‘sanctuary’ in a difficult and scary world.
Still others keep participating in the faith because it re-connects them to earlier and simpler times in their lives, and reminds them of bygone days when life seemed better.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, it seems to me. But it seems to me that settling for them misses out on the real “abundant life” Jesus offers to those who are willing to commit their hearts to him in the here and now. Jesus planted the kingdom of heaven in this world, and invites his followers to join him in the adventure of bringing it to fulfillment. And he invites us to sit at his feet, and make his teachings the focus of our lives. And Jesus also invites us to become people of prayer, going deeper and deeper in our relationship with him. Jesus offers us the profound joy he himself experienced in his relationship with the other persons of the Trinity.
I can’t recall ever meeting someone who said they had made a deep commitment to serving Jesus – and serving others in his name – who had found it disappointing. I don’t remember anyone saying that they had made a point of immersing themselves in his teachings and living in imitation of him who found it a waste of time. On the contrary, people who have committed themselves to that kind of discipleship are among the most joyful people I’ve ever met. And it seems to me that Jesus freely offers these blessings to anyone who comes looking for them.
Now, it’s important to distinguish between living a life of deep discipleship and “church work.” Helping out with committees and projects and programs is a good thing, and it helps the church as a body. But if that’s the whole focus of our life of faith, ultimately we’ll burn out. But going deeper in a devoted relationship with Jesus will cause us to be built up, not burnt out.
So today, as we read and think about this passage from John, it’s an invitation to ask ourselves the question Jesus asked the two men: What do you want from following him?
Let’s pray. Lord, let your Spirit guide our hearts as we embrace this question, and ask ourselves what it is that we want from our relationship with you in Jesus. Let us not be satisfied with shallow faith, but cause us to long for a deep sense of your presence in us, and the joy that comes from that presence, each day that we live. Amen.
(The listed readings for today are Psalms 26 and 130; Judges 8:22-35; and Acts 4:1-12; and John 1:43-51.)