Come and See - Epiphany 2
The next day as John [the Baptist] stood there again with two of his disciples, Jesus went past,
One of these two who became followers of Jesus after hearing what John had said was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother and say to him, 'We have found the Messiah' -- which means the Christ- and he took Simon to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, 'You are Simon son of John; you are to be called Cephas' -- which means Rock.
John 1. 35-42
This is the second Sunday after Epiphany, the part of the church year where we focus on moments in the life of Jesus when his identity or his mission are revealed, or made manifest, to onlookers. On the feast of Epiphany itself, we reflect on the coming of the Magi to Jesus when he was still a baby. The arrival of noble persons – perhaps kings – from far off lands to pay homage to the star-born one signals the universal reach of the 'newborn king'. This is the One who will be proclaimed as the light not just for the Jews, but for all peoples.
The following week, the readings take us into the story of Jesus' baptism by John, and the descent of the Spirit in the form of a dove, and the voice from heaven proclaiming delight in God's own Son. In this story, the Three-in-One God weaves a moment of revelation for those with eyes to see – Jesus the Son receives his full empowerment, the presence of the Spirit, and his full identity, embraced in the loving voice of the Eternal Father.
Now, this small passage from the gospel of John that we read today invites us to step imaginatively into the shoes of those first disciples, who either saw or heard about the coming of the Anointed One, and who went to find out for themselves whether this was someone worth following.
The repeated motif throughout this passage is looking and seeing.
John the Baptist 'looks' at Jesus, and directs his two disciples also to 'look', to 'behold' the Lamb of God. Jesus 'saw' the disciples following him, and invites them to 'come and see' where he is living. And then Jesus 'looks' into Simon and gives him a new name.
The 'looking' that occurs in this sequence is more than ordinary seeing with normal eyes. This is a 'looking' that has depth and consequence, and that provokes change. This is the kind of looking that becomes a metaphor throughout the rest of the gospel of John. It is contrasted with the 'blindness' of those whose eyes work perfectly, but whose hearts darken and distort what they see, or who come to false conclusions on the basis of prejudice or ignorance.
The 'looking' in this passage is about the heart being illuminated to grasp the true meaning of what is seen - the kind of insight that leads to action, and witness.
John the Baptist invites his own disciples to see in an ordinary man a revelation of God's salvation of humanity, and the one who would suffer on behalf of others – the Lamb of God. Their first look is enough to draw them away from following John, and to move toward Jesus. They ask Jesus where he lives, and Jesus invites them to 'come and see.' It's a beautiful invitation. There are no administration checks or theological discussions. Jesus doesn't say 'do you know who I am? He doesn't begin by trying to explain his identity or his purpose or his mission, or the ten principles and values of his organisation. He invites them into a process of deep watching, heart-seeing, trusting that as they spend time with him, his truth will unfold in their depths.
And when Simon arrives, we are let in on what it means to really see, to look with such clarity and love that you can re-name a person in accordance with their deepest potential. When Andrew takes Simon to Jesus, we are told that 'Jesus looked at him.' What exchange of knowing took place in this moment? What illumination of Spirit quickened that look of Jesus? On the basis of this 'looking', Jesus names Simon with his ordinary name, and then gifts him with a new name, that hints at his hidden strengths. Do you know anyone who sees others with this kind of insight and compassion?
Something I heard Alexander Shaia say in passing last year was that this 're-naming' isn't so much a decisive moment of identity change for Simon Peter, but the affirming of something deeply true and yet latent within him. Throughout the rest of the Gospel, when he is referred to, his name switches back and forth between Simon and Petros (which is the Greek form of the Aramaic Cephas.) Simon is his habitual, half-asleep self, and Cephas is a description of his true self - who he is when he's 'awake'. It's like the pounamu that hides within the grey stone, that can only be seen when the stone is split open. We each of us have this inner pounamu, this truth about us which is beautiful and holy. And when Jesus looks at us, he calls forth the green stone from the grey surroundings that hide and protect it.
These holidays I watched the TV series 'The Monastery', which showed in the UK in 2006, about five men who chose to spend 40 days living in a Benedictine monastery. One of these men, Tony, went into the experience non-religious, and came out having had a deep and transforming experience of God. One of the most profound moments for him was when his spiritual director, Francis, gave him a white stone – a reference to the book of Revelation where the saints receive a white stone with their true name written on it. It was a reminder for Tony that when he went back out into the 'world' again, that his best self was known and loved and seen by God, and that he would be able to touch into that place within him as a compass for his ongoing growth and vocation.
Paul, in Colossians, tells us that 'your life is hidden with Christ in God.' This passage that we have read from John today says that, as well as that hiddenness, there is also revelation. When we are present to Christ, and present to each other, when we learn to see deeply and truly with the eyes of our hearts, then our true selves are revealed, and we also glimpse each other's deepest beauty as well. As Paul goes on to say – and I think this is not just for the future, but an unfolding present reality – 'When Christ is revealed...you, too, will be revealed with him in glory.'
There is a strong link between going deeper with what we see, and how we are seen, and giving voice to those things – what the Bible often refers to as 'testifying.' This passage calls us to 'Come and see' and also to bear witness to what we have seen – in Christ, and in each other. The psalm that we read earlier made much of the fact that experiencing and seeing God's care in our own lives and in the world flows out into true speaking – not hiding away the goodness we have tasted, but drawing others into the circle of seeing what we can see. One of the Desert Fathers, Abba Poeman, said 'Teach your mouth to say what is in your heart.' Those of us who have been exploring the notion of 'vulnerability' will know just how hard, and how important it is to apply that ancient wisdom. And it is something that we have to 'teach' ourselves to do, because mostly, what our lives have taught us is that to say what we really think and feel can put us in danger of rejection, and risk exposing our most raw or tender truths.
So we have some questions to live into...
Questions on OHT, then Silence. Invite sitting with just one of them in prayer, or alternatively doing a visualisation exercise with the story.
How do we sharpen up the eyes of our heart, and look with a pure heart that sees truly?
To what extent are we conditioned to see poorly – what blinkers limit or distort our seeing?
What role does 'bearing witness' play in our lives – do we have the courage to 'testify' to what we have seen, even if we are unsure, or ambivalent about its meaning?
When you take up the invitation to 'come and see' Jesus, what is it that you see or experience that has made you want to stay and follow? How do you articulate this to yourself...or others?
What do others see in you – your inner pounamu – that when they see you they also glimpse the Christ? Has anyone ever named this for you?