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Towards God together

Fr. Lou DelFra | Thursday, April 7, 2011

John’s Gospel opens with an unexpected twist, a twist perhaps important to note especially as our community unites again to mourn the loss of one of our members. John the Baptist is preaching by the Jordan River. Suddenly, a figure appears in the distance. John stops his preaching and points in the direction of the figure. He says, “Behold, there is the Lamb of God, the one I have been preaching about.” And a couple of the disciples, curious, start to follow Jesus as he passes by.

Jesus seems to realize he is being followed, so he turns and asks, “What are you looking for?” Perhaps like us in tragic times, they don’t have much of an idea, at least not one they can well articulate. So they ask Jesus a question in return: “Teacher, where do you live?” And Jesus, succinctly but beautifully, responds, “Come and see.”

And then, the twist, the impact of which we might even miss, in the midst of a culture that prizes individualism and the challenge and adventure of “how far can you get on your own.”

For thousands and thousands of years, the Jews, who comprise the audience that has been listening to John the Baptist, have been waiting for the Messiah. Now, John — who has whipped them into a frenzy with prophecies that this Messiah who is about to arrive — abruptly stops talking and says simply, “There he is.” A courageous couple of disciples begin to pursue Jesus. And then Jesus himself turns to them, looks them in the eye, and says, invitingly, “Come and see.”

So, what should be the next movement in the story? Something like: “So the disciples followed breathlessly, overjoyed that the one they and their ancestors had been waiting for through the millennia had possibly, finally, arrived!”

But, surprisingly, this is not the next movement in John’s narrative. Instead, we hear that Andrew, one of the disciples who is pursuing Jesus, after being invited to “come and see,” departs from Jesus, and begins searching for his brother Simon. When he finds Simon, he says to him, “We have found the Messiah.” Might this not be important, that the first declaration of the finding of Jesus in John’s Gospel is not “I have found the Messiah” but “We have found the Messiah” — the “we” apparently referring to Andrew and the second disciple who had first been pursuing Jesus. Finally, John concludes this interlude with a simple, poignant sentence: “And Andrew brought his brother to Jesus.”

Immediately afterwards, in case we missed the crucial point, Jesus calls Phillip to follow him, and an identical cycle ensues. Again, John interrupts the natural flow of the story to report that, after Philip begins to follow Jesus, “Phillip left and called his friend Nathanael, and he brought Nathanael to Jesus.”

The whole point of writing a Gospel, it seems fair to say, is to invite people to encounter and follow Jesus, Yet, in John’s Gospel, as soon as a disciple begins to follow Jesus, John interrupts the story to tell us, “But first that person went and got someone else.”

Clearly, John is trying to get an important point across about the Christian life: it is not, has not, and never will be about a solitary journey. The journey towards Christ always involves other people, and takes place in the context of community.

We can’t nourish the presence of Christ, so needed in days like these, by ourselves. Otherwise, when Jesus said, “Come and see,” the next line of John’s Gospel would be, “And they took off, left the others behind and had Jesus all to themselves.”

These Lenten days ask us to examine the quality of our discipleship, to search more deeply for the presence of God in our lives. John’s Gospel issues a clear challenge that included in this self-examination must be questions like: With whom am I following Christ? Who am I bringing to Christ? Who am I allowing to bring me closer to Christ? Am I giving time to the relationships in my life that are gifts — indeed, necessary gifts — from God in my journey towards God? For, like the first disciples, we journey towards God together.

Fr. Lou DelFra, CSC, is the Director of Campus Ministry Bible Studies and the ACE chaplain. He can be reached at delfra.2@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.