When Jesus turned and saw them following, he 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 see.”
What are you looking for? The first words of Jesus in the Gospel of John are this question: What are you looking for? What are you seeking?
Thirty years ago, the band U2 had one of the biggest pop hits ever with their song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” People resonated with the constant refrain of spiritual seeking in the song, the lyrics quest for the kingdom come. The singer speaks of climbing highest mountains, running through fields, scaling city walls, all to be with someone, but the refrain keeps going, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”. Maybe you can still resonate with a quest of ever searching, seeking for something. And so, Jesus’ question keeps ringing down through the decades. What are you looking for?
Love? Security? Happiness? To work less? To work more? I was at a dinner party the other night and the host said “I believe everyone deep down is looking to have wealth, to be happy, that’s what drives people.” In church culture from the last few decades, there’s been a lot of ink spilled about churches that are friendly and accommodating to those who are seeking answers to life’s big questions. It’s called the Seeker sensitive church movement. Mostly it means communicating a version of the Christian faith using the buildings, music, informality, and styles of generally white, middle class, and North American popular culture. While that movement might not be our cup of tea, they certainly recognize that Jesus has not stopped asking: What are you looking for? And maybe that’s a question you’d like to sit with for a little while: what are you looking for? I think it might be a good question for our whole parish to sit with too.
Now the disciples in the gospel story – how did they respond to the question – What are you looking for? Well, as a friend put it, what they replied was not a high water mark of disciple repartee. Maybe they hoped Jesus wouldn’t see they were trying to follow him. Maybe a lot of us hope Jesus won’t notice we’re trying to follow him because truth is, down deep, we’re not really sure why or how to do that. Well, they looked down, around, and said…”Uh, oh, great teacher, rabbi, where are you staying?” They didn’t say something noble or eloquent like – “We’re looking for the nature of truth”, “how to love”, “how to do the right thing.” I don’t know, maybe when God asks you directly what are you looking for, maybe it’s actually so soul searching that you’re speech stops short. And then again, maybe they want Jesus to tell them – he’s the Teacher after all. The one they heard John the Baptist call the Lamb of God. So they say – well, where are you staying?
And, Jesus, so simply says, “Come and See.” Come and See. No explanation, no giving them answers to the question they couldn’t yet answer. Just Come and See. An invitation. Check it out for yourself. Lots of people think Jesus is a character trying to tell them what to do, trying to guilt them into being a certain way. No. Jesus does not coerce, force, or manipulate. Jesus asks questions, makes invitations, tells stories, teaches, even commands but doesn’t force. Everyone is left to make a choice. What are you looking for? Come and See.
And the disciples decide to do just that. And they remain with Jesus, the story goes, until 4:00pm the next day. Now it appears, the disciples and their bit thick question – where are you staying – wasn’t so bad after all. Indeed, it seems Jesus used their halting, confused questions as an opportunity to respond to what they were really looking for. Because there’s no thing they’d be looking for that would satisfy in the long run. U2’s song was as true for them as it is for many of us – We still haven’t found what we’re looking for. There’s no permanent, lasting answer to the question: what are you looking for. Because it turns out, it’s not a what but a who. It’s not a thing or state that satisfies – it’s a relationship, a changing transformative relationship. Where are you staying? They don’t know it yet, but it’s an awesome question, a further along question than “what are you looking for?” Once we’ve exhausted the focus on ourselves and what we’re looking for, maybe we can say, “But You, where are You staying, where can You be found?”
In the Greek that the gospel is written in, the word the writer uses for “stay” is meno. Meno in the gospel means a heck of a lot more than hey, where are you spending the night? It means where are you abiding? Where do you remain? It has a quality of deep indwelling – it’s more like asking, hey, where are you most at home? Where and why and how are you so rooted? The disciples, hazily, and in God’s good time, are beginning to realize that Jesus has this quality of rootedness, that he is at home in the world in a way they hadn’t experienced. So their stumbling response, asking Jesus where he is staying, ironically, is bang on. And when they go and see, they find themselves remaining too. They get grounded and rooted in a relationship.
Now staying with Jesus looks a little different now in our time then it did then. It means reading the scriptures with the appropriate means of interpretation. It means sitting down with others who are trying to follow Jesus and trusting that he is with us at the table here. It means hearing Jesus’ voice through the words of true friends and trusted counselors. It means seeing Jesus close to the sick, the rejected, and the enemy. It means recognizing his Spirit courses through the trees, fields, and oceans. It means regular prayer in the myriad ways that are possible. Finding out where Jesus stays is a bit different now, but all your stumbling questions and hesitations are welcome. The invitation remains the same: Come and See.