The Rev. Melanie L. McCarley
Here’s a question for you Biblical trivia enthusiasts: What is the first question Jesus poses to the disciples in the gospel of John? Spoiler--it’s in today’s lesson. First, we hear John the Baptist proclaim that he has seen the Spirit of God descend upon Jesus like a dove at his baptism and goes on to announce that Jesus is the Son of God. Simon and Andrew follow Jesus. Our Savior turns to them and asks: “What are you looking for?” That’s it…the first question. “What are you looking for?”
The Gospel lesson today is suffused with the language of looking and seeing. “I saw the Spirit,” John says, and again: “I myself have seen and testified.” And now this question--What are you looking for?
It reminds me of a game many of us cannot resist playing with toddlers--“peek a boo.” Holding our hands over our eyes or using a pillow or other object to cover our face we quickly remove whatever is hiding us from sight and say: “Peek a boo--I see you!” Done correctly this results in an eruption of delighted chortles and smiles all around. What is it that brings such astounding joy to young and not-so-young alike? It’s seeing. It’s not only seeing another--but being seen by them. For a child, to see and be seen is to be made real.
Looking. Seeing. Finding. The Gospel for this morning revolves around these actions. The Gospel begins with John the Baptist seeing and testifying to what he saw--and, with a remarkable generosity of grace, allowing his disciples to leave so that they can follow Jesus. Jesus then invites these same disciples to keep looking; to “come and see”. But first he hands them this whopper of a question that we would do well to ask ourselves: “What are you looking for?”
What are you looking for--in your heart, in the quiet places of your soul? What is your heart’s desire? Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that this first question of Jesus is enough to stop us in our tracks. It’s far from the banal questions which fill our days--“What are we having for lunch? How long till we get there? What show are you streaming lately?” It’s a question which resonates to the core of our being: “What are you looking for?” It’s a question about hope--and it’s answer isn’t found in a philosophy, logic or science--but in a person. Jesus. Like the child’s game of Peek-a-boo, the culmination, the game’s great delight, is beholding the person and being seen by them in turn.
Interestingly, the Gospel doesn’t give us Andrew and Simon’s response to the question posed by Jesus. Presumably, Andrew and Simon are looking for the Messiah. And they say “Teacher, where are you staying?” And Jesus responds with an invitation: “Come and see.”
Theologian Debi Thomas writes: “The invitation to “come and see” is an invitation to leave our comfortable vantage points, and dare to believe that just maybe, we have been limited and wrong in our certainties about each other, about God, and about the world. To “come and see” is to approach all of life with a grace-filled curiosity, to believe that we are holy mysteries to each other, worthy of further exploration. To come and see is to enter into the joy of being deeply seen and deeply known, and to have the very best that lies hidden within us called out and called forth.”
Like the game of Peek-a Boo--seeing another isn’t complete without being seen. What makes that children’s game so engaging over the centuries is that there is joy not only in seeing another, but by being seen by them as well. Which brings us to the other aspect of today’s Gospel lesson. As important as our seeing is--at its heart, the story of the Incarnation is about what God sees. And what God sees is ourselves.
One of the great symbols of this season of Epiphany is that of light, and it too is closely related to seeing. This is a season of God’s manifestation. It begins with a star, guiding the wise men to the Christ child, it continues with John recognizing Jesus as the Messiah, the disciples, seeing this and following, and Jesus, in turn, seeing them. Jesus looks at Andrew and Simon, and sees their curiosity, their hunger, their hope and their trust. Jesus looks at Simon and says: “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter”.) Jesus sees who we are--not just the parts of us which are flawed but what we are capable of at our best as well. Jesus looks and sees us.
Herein is a challenge for ourselves during this season of Epiphany. Like Simon and Andrew we are to ask ourselves what we are looking for and to look and see Jesus. Truth be told, there are many ways of finding him. In the Bible, surely, through time spent alone with God and in the creative embrace of nature. But one of the best ways of seeing Jesus, perhaps the finest, is to discover him in the face of others. Look at the people around us; those we love, but also those whom we don’t know, those who make us uncomfortable, others who challenge us and perhaps even those of whom we are afraid. Looking--searching--and seeing Jesus.
This weekend our country celebrates the life and legacy of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His vision was a world in which people of every color would live in equality and peace. That is what he was looking for. He once said: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of the skin, but by the content of their character.” What The Rev. Dr. King advocated was the ability for us to see--past what meets our eyes to the content of who we are. Imagine, if we were to see Jesus in others, what a different world this would be. In this world compassion would outweigh skepticism, rivalry, suspicion and hate. We would, indeed, be able to work for the betterment, not simply for ourselves; but for the Kingdom of God. In this coming week ask yourself the question Jesus first posed to the disciples: “What are you looking for?” And embrace the epiphany actions of looking, seeing and finding--finding Jesus. In our Savior’s name. Amen.