Sunday, January 14, 2018
Come and you will see
The call of the first Disciples
1. Opening prayer
Good Shepherd, my Father, today You also come down from the eternal mountains and bring with You Your flock and lead it towards green pastures, of fresh grass, of good water. Today You send ahead of You Your dearest or favorite lamb, the Lamb whom You love with an incommensurable love; You give us Your Son Jesus, the Messiah. Behold, He is here! I beg You, help me to recognize Him, to fix my gaze on Him, my desire, my expectation. Make me follow Him, that I do not separate myself from Him, that I enter His house and remain there always. His house, oh Father, are You, yourself. I want to enter in You, I want to live. May the breath of Your Holy Spirit attract me, support me and unite me in love to You and to Your Son, my Lord, today and forever and ever. Amen.
a) To place this passage in its context:
This passage introduces us to the beginning of the evangelical account of John, clearly showing the succession of one day after another in of a whole week. Here we are already on the third day since John the Baptist began to give his witness of Jesus with the invitation to the disciples to follow the Lord, the Lamb of God. The ministry of Jesus begins during these days, with the Word of the Father who descends in the midst of men to meet them and to speak with them and dwell among them.
This place is Bethany, beyond the Jordan, where John baptized. Here the encounter with the Word of God takes place and the new life begins.
b) To help in the reading of the passage:
vv. 35-36: John the Baptist lives a very strong experience of encounter with Jesus, in fact it is precisely here, on the third day, that he recognizes Him fully, that he proclaims Him with his whole strength and shows Him as the true way to follow, as the life to be lived. Here John diminishes himself to the point of disappearing and grows as witness to the light.
vv. 37-39: Having accepted the witness of their master, the disciples of John begin to follow Jesus. After having listened to His voice, they meet the Word and allow themselves to be challenged by it. Jesus looks at them, He knows them and begins His dialogue with them. He takes them with Him, introduces them to the place of His dwelling, and makes them remain with Him. The Evangelist indicates the exact hour of this face to face encounter between Jesus and the first disciples.
vv. 40-42: Immediately, the witness flares up and spreads; Andrew cannot keep silent about what he has seen and heard, what he has experienced and lived, and immediately becomes a missionary, calling his brother Peter to come to encounter Jesus. He, fixing His look on that man, calls him and transforms his life: he was Simon, now he becomes Peter.
John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, "Behold, the Lamb of God." The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following him and 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 you will see." So they went and saw where Jesus was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus. He first found his own brother Simon and told him, "We have found the Messiah" — which is translated Christ —. Then he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas" — which is translated Peter.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
I remain in silence and allow that these simple, but powerful words, envelope me, take possession of my life. I allow Jesus, who is coming, to fix His look on me, I allow Him to ask me, like He asked them: “What are you looking for?” and I allow Him to take me with Him, to His house. Because, yes, I want to dwell near Him...
4. Some questions
Now, I try to listen more attentively to this passage, by taking every word, every verb, being attentive to the movements, and to the looks. I really try to encounter the Lord in this page, allowing myself to be searched and known by Him.
a) “The next day John stood there again”.
In these words I feel the insistence of the search. I feel the faith of John the Baptist which grows. The days are going by. The experience of the encounter with Jesus is intensified. John does not give up, does not get tired, but rather, he always becomes more sure, more convinced, and enlightened. I place myself in contrast to John the Baptist: Am I one who is there, who remains, or rather, do I withdraw, get tired, or become weak and allow my faith to die out? Do I stand there, or do I sit down, do I wait or I do not wait anymore?
b) “Fixing his look on Jesus”.
Here is a beautiful verb which signifies “to look intensely”, to penetrate with the look” and this is repeated in verse 42, referring to Jesus, who looks at Peter to change his life. Many times in the Gospels it is said that Jesus fixes His look on His disciples (Mt 19:26), or on a particular person (Mk 10:21). He fixes His look to love, to call, to enlighten. His look never leaves us. I know that I can find peace by exchanging this look. How can I pretend not to see? Why continue to turn my look from here to there, fleeing from the Lord’s love which has been given to me and has chosen me?
c) “They followed Jesus”
This expression referred to the disciples. It does not only mean that they began to walk in the same direction with Christ, but much more: that they consecrated themselves to Him, that they committed their life with Him and for Him. He is the one who takes the initiative. He tells me: “You, follow Me”, like with the rich young man (Mt 19:21) and with Peter (Jn 21:22). How do I respond? Do I have the courage, the love, the ardor, to tell Him: “Master, I will follow You wherever You go!” (Mt 8:19), confirming these words with the facts? Or do I also say, like the one in the Gospel: “I will follow You, but first allow me to....” (Lk 9:61)?
d) “What do you search?”
The Lord Jesus pronounces the first words in John’s Gospel and they are a very concrete question, addressed to the disciples who are following Him and to me personally. The Lord fixes His look on me and asks me: “What are you searching for?” It is not easy to respond to this question. I must go deep into my heart and listen to myself. What am I really searching for? My energy, my desires, my dreams, my investments, to what purpose are they aimed?
e) “They remained with Him”
The disciples remain with Jesus, they begin to live with Him, and to have the house in common with Him. Perhaps, they began to feel and experience that the Lord himself is their new house. The verb which John uses here can simply mean to dwell, to stay, but also to dwell in the intense sense of indwelling one in the other. Jesus indwells in the womb of the Father and also offers to us the possibility of indwelling in Him and in all the Trinity. Today, He offers himself here, to me, to live together this indescribable, splendid experience of love. Therefore, what do I decide? Do I also stop like the disciples and remain with Him and in Him? Or do I leave or withdraw from the love and run to seek something else?
f) “And leads them to Jesus”.
Andrew runs to call his brother Simon, because He wants to share with him the infinite gift which He has received. He announces and proclaims the Messiah, the savior, and has the strength to take his brother with him. He becomes a guide. This is a very important passage. I do not know if I am sufficiently open and enlightened to witness to Him, who reveals Himself to me so clearly. Perhaps I am afraid, I am embarrassed, I do not have the strength, I am lazy, or I am indifferent?
5. A key for the reading
a) The Lamb of God:
In v. 36 John announces Jesus as the Lamb of God, repeating the cry which he had already given the day before: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”.
The identification of Jesus with the Lamb is overflowing with Biblical references, both from the Old and the New Testament.
The Lamb already is mentioned in the Book of Genesis, in chapter 22, at the moment of the sacrifice of Isaac; God provides a lamb, to be offered as holocaust instead of the son. The lamb descends from heaven and takes upon himself the death of man; the lamb is sacrificed so that the son may live.
In the Book of Exodus, in chapter 12, the Pascal Lamb is offered, a lamb without blemish, perfect; His blood, which will be poured, will save the sons from the exterminator, who goes from house to house, during the night. From that moment, every son of God will remain signed and sealed by that blood of salvation. The way is opened to freedom, the way of exodus, to go to God and to enter into the land promised by Him.
The element of sacrifice, of the slaughter, of the total gift, constantly accompanies the figure of the lamb. The books of Leviticus and Numbers continually place before us this holy presence of the lamb. He is offered every day in the daily holocaust. He is sacrificed in all the sacrifices of expiation, of reparation, of sanctification.
The Prophets also speak about a lamb prepared for the sacrifice: a mute sheep, sheared without opening its mouth, like a tame and meek lamb led to the slaughter (Is 53:7; Jer 11:19). The Lamb sacrificed on the altar every day.
In the Gospel, it is John the Baptist who announces and identifies Jesus as the true Lamb of God, who takes upon himself the sin of man and cancels it by the shedding of His precious and pure blood. In fact, He is the Lamb sacrificed in the place of Isaac. He is the Lamb roasted in the fire on the Pascal night. He is the perennial sacrifice to the Father, offered for us. He is the suffering servant, who does not rebel himself, does not recriminate, but surrenders himself silently out of love for us.
Saint Peter says this openly: “You have been liberated from the futile way of your life thanks to the precious blood of Christ, like the lamb, without blemish and spotless”. (I Pt 1:19).
The Apocalypse reveals openly all things concerning the Lamb. He is the one who can open the seals of history, of the life of every man, of the hidden heart, of truth (Ap 7:1-12; 8:1); He is the one who obtained victory, the one sitting on the throne (Rev 5, 6). He is the king, worthy of honor, praise, glory, adoration (Rev 5:12). He is the spouse who invites us to His wedding banquet (Rev 19:7). He is the lamp (Rev 23), the temple (Rev 21-22), the place of our eternal dwelling. He is the Shepherd (Rev 7:17) whom we shall follow wherever He goes (Rev 14:4).
b) To see:
Expressions concerning seeing are repeated five times. The first one is John, who already has the eye accustomed to see at a depth and recognize the Lord who passes by. He had to render witness to the light and for this reason has the eyes enlightened from within. In fact, near the Jordan River, he sees the Spirit coming down on Jesus (Mt 3:16); he recognizes Him as the Lamb of God (Jn 1:29) and continued to fix His look (v. 36) on Him to indicate Him to His disciples. If John sees in this way, if he is capable of penetrating beyond appearances, it means that he had already been joined by the loving look of Jesus. He had been enlightened before in the same way we are. In v. 38 it is said that Jesus sees the disciples who follow Him and the Evangelist uses a very beautiful verb, which means “to fix the look on someone, to look penetratingly and intensely”. The Lord truly does this with us. He turns towards us, gets close to us, takes to heart our presence, our life, our path following Him, and looks at us, for a long time, above all, with love, intensely involving himself. His look never leaves us alone. His eyes are fixed within us. They are designed within us as Saint John of the Cross sings in his Spiritual Canticle.
And then the Lord invites us, in turn, to open the eyes, to begin to see in a true way. He says: “Come and see”. Every day He repeats this to us without getting tired of addressing this tender and strong invitation, overflowing with promises and with gifts. “They saw where He was dwelling” John points out, using a different verb which indicates seeing profoundly, which goes beyond superficiality. It enters in understanding, knowledge, and in the faith of what one sees. The disciples – and we with them – saw that afternoon where Jesus dwelt. They understood and knew that His true dwelling place is not a place or a space.
Lastly, we have the same verb as in the beginning. Jesus fixes His look on Simon (v. 42) and with that light, with that encounter of eyes, of souls, He calls him by name and changes his life and makes him a new man. The eyes of the Lord are also open in this same way on us and they wash us from the ugliness of our darkness, enlightening us with love. With those eyes He is calling us, making a new creation of us. He is saying: “May there be light”, and there was light.
c) To remain – to dwell
This is another very important verb, very strong, and another precious pearl of the Gospel of John. It is repeated three times, with two different meanings: to dwell and to remain. The disciples immediately ask Jesus where He dwells, where is His house, and He invites them to go, to enter, and to remain: “They remained with Him that day” (v. 39). It is not a physical, temporary remaining. The disciples are not only guests passing by who will leave soon. No, the Lord makes space for us in His interior place, in His relationship with the Father, and there He accepts us for always. He says: “Like You Father, are in Me and I in You, may these also be in us... I in them and You in Me...” (Jn 17:21-23). He allows us to enter and He also enters. He allows us to knock and He himself knocks. He makes us dwell in Him and puts His dwelling place in us together with the Father (Jn 14:23). Our call to be disciples of Christ and to announce Him to our brothers and sisters has its origin, its foundation, its vitality, in this reality of the reciprocal dwelling of the Lord in us and we in Him. Our true and lasting happiness springs from the realization of our remaining in Him. We have seen where He dwells, we have known the place of His presence and we have decided to remain with Him, today and always.
“Remain in Me and I in You... The one who remains in Me and I in him bears much fruit... If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask for anything that you want and it will be given to you... Remain in My love” (Jn 15).
No, I will not go with anybody else, I will not go anywhere else but only with You, Oh Lord, my dwelling, my place of salvation! Allow Me, I pray, that I may remain here, near You, always, Amen.
6. A moment of prayer: Psalm 34
Refrain: Your face, Lord, I seek, do not hide Your face from me.
I seek Yahweh and He answers me,
frees me from all my fears.
Fix your gaze on Yahweh and your face will grow bright,
you will never hang your head in shame.
A pauper calls out and Yahweh hears,
saves him from all his troubles.
The angel of Yahweh encamps around those who fear Him,
and rescues them.
Taste and see that Yahweh is good.
How blessed are those who take refuge in Him.
Fear Yahweh, you his holy ones;
those who fear Him lack for nothing.
Young lions may go needy and hungry,
but those who seek Yahweh lack nothing good.
Come, my children, listen to me,
I will teach you the fear of Yahweh.
The eyes of Yahweh are on the upright,
his ear turned to their cry.
They cry in anguish and Yahweh hears,
and rescues them from all their troubles.
Yahweh is near to the broken-hearted,
he helps those whose spirit is crushed.
Though hardships without number beset the upright,
Yahweh brings rescue from them all.
7. Final Prayer
Father, I thank You for having given me the presence of Your Son Jesus in the luminous words of this Gospel; thank You for having made me listen to His voice, for having opened my eyes to recognize Him; thank You for having placed me on the way to follow Him and to enter into His house, Thank You because I can dwell with Him, in Him and because He dwells in You, You are in me. Thank You for having, once more, called me, making my life new. Make of me, I beg You, an instrument of Your love; that I may never stop announcing Christ who comes; that I may not be embarrassed, that I do not close myself, do not give up, but always become happier, to lead to Him, to You, the brothers and sisters whom You, every day, make me encounter. Amen.